It is one of the most cherished rings I own, yet it has no precious stone, no valuable metal, nor beauty of design. But this ring is a symbol of the way I strive to live my life, and a reminder that each day that passes is one to be cherished.
Shortly before I came to have such a ring in my possession, I arrived as a student at a Canadian university in France. It was my third year and I had made the decision months before that I would spend a semester abroad that fall. Initially I’d been hesitant about applying to the school, and didn’t know if, when the offer of admission came, I would actually follow through with my application. But when the offer letter came in the mail, I think it took all of two seconds after opening it to make the decision that I would go for it. I would go to France for four months that fall.
I have always been glad that I did. L’Universite Canadienne en France was nestled high in the hills above the city of Nice, and overlooked the beautiful and ever-changing Mediterranean Sea. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that going there changed my life.
It wasn’t long after I and the other students had arrived to the school that September that we began to hear about our ‘school ring’. Nothing that the school had organized, it had become a custom for UCF students to purchase a particular ring from a tiny little shop in neighbouring Eze, a village also tucked away in the French hills. The story goes that one year a student from the school died tragically in a car accident, and each subsequent year after that the students would buy these rings in memory and in tradition. The most important part of the experience was not procuring the ring itself – it was in living the life that the ring advised. For it was inscribed with these very words:
By that time we’d all seen the movie Dead Poet’s Society and knew the meaning of these two Latin words. Seize the day. In remembrance of a student who unknowingly went away a few years before to a planned fun year abroad and ended up giving his life to it, we students would wear these rings to remember. We would wear them not only to make sure that we lived to tell the tales of our own escapades, but to make sure that we really lived.
Who could resist buying a school ring that had such a meaning? One day several of us hiked the airy hill-paths to Eze, and crammed into the shop to see them. Mine was silver and I bought it to fit the middle finger of my left hand. I remember being excited that part of its design included a sundial – a single hole in the band and inside numbers where the sun was supposed to shine to tell the time. Aside from its main message that was inscribed into the top, flat section, it also featured age-old metaphysical symbols. I was captivated by its imperfection as mine was slightly misshapen. Perhaps the ring had been forged by an ancient hand that had some wisdom to impart to whoever would wear it.
I wore the ring all term, and I lived the life I wanted to live. I spoke French, I drank wine, I ate Lindt chocolates and baguettes. I made friends and travelled throughout Europe. I cut my hair to symbolize that something had changed within me. I found love. Always on my hand, the ring became a part of who I was becoming.
Many years have passed since I walked those French hills. Although I don’t wear the ring anymore, it still holds a place in my jewellery box and it still holds a place in my heart. I still try to live my life according to the wisdom of carpe diem, and I hope when it’s all said and done that I will be able to look back on it all and say that yes, I did – I lived.