The moment I left campus 6 months ago constantly replays in my mind. I hold onto the memory as if it’ll disappear forever if I don’t because it’s the last time I distinctly remember feeling like life was normal. It was the last time I had seen some of my friends face to face. It was the last moment I had lived in my college dorm, and it was the last time where I felt when life was predictable. When I knew what was going to happen tomorrow, and the day after that. It’s when I could make plans and not have them canceled. It was a life filled with “see you laters” and the stress of catching up on assignments. That was all before. And now I’m living in the after.
Six months ago if you told me I’d be in a different country, I wouldn’t have believed you. I had a plan, this was supposed to be my year. I had landed my dream summer internship at the James Cancer Center and was going to be rooming with a friend I was fond of. I was going to spend my fall semester sharing toasty junior moments with my friends, possibly celebrating my best friend/roommate’s 21st birthday, and planning my own birthday bash. After that, I would have gone to Pakistan for winter break, and then shipped myself off to Denmark for my study abroad program in the spring. I felt for the first time in my life everything was happening. It felt like my time to flourish, to thrive, to conquer.
And now? Well, now I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow or the day after that or the day after that. My internship went remote and while it was a great experience, I missed out on having my own place. I celebrated my best friend’s 21st birthday on the phone with her while she drank mimosas and I got the time difference wrong. Toasty junior moments were replaced with late-night house party chats. On top of that, who knows if I’ll ever step foot in Copenhagen next year, and frankly I don’t even know if I want to go anymore because it means that I’ll go another semester without seeing my friends. And my winter break trip to Pakistan became my new reality instead of a quick visit.
I think the most change I experienced in these last 6 months or so is the fact that suddenly, I had to grow up. I saw new realities that I never knew before; nothing in my life was normal.
I didn’t know that I would watch an old friend lose her older brother to a motorcycle accident and feel her grief so intensely. I found myself lost in grief that was not my own and struggling to let myself out. Suddenly, I was dealing with the sudden deaths of everyone around me like a cascade of dominos toppling over and it reminded me of the unpredictability of life. I let myself experience the emotions and reflect. Now, I hold my loved ones close not knowing when it will be the last time I see them. I forgive the person I used to be and embrace the new one who is kinder, more caring, and more present than ever.
I didn’t know that I would also see my mom get sick to the point I wouldn’t recognize her. The surprise of seeing her cry for her own parents as I’d cry for her when I had a cold or felt unwell was scary. I was shaken to my core because for the first time in my life I had to care for her and the roles were reversed. The glossy image of a person who always had it together, who always knew what to do was replaced with one so similar to my own: full of uncertainty and the fear of tomorrow. I saw myself morph into a caretaker, finally seeing myself as the future doctor I dreamt of for the first time in my life. I helped her understand the science behind her condition and what she’d have to do. When she told me that the only way she’d feel better was if she went to Pakistan to see her family and seek treatment there, I found myself happily sacrificing my own sense of comfort to accommodate her. That’s what you do for the ones you love, and it was 100% worth it. Now, she’s a few days post-surgery here and she’s happy. I haven’t seen her this happy in a long time.
I definitely didn’t know that I’d be here in Pakistan trying to wrap my head around doing a semester online with a 9-hour time difference. Even the most frustrating moments like when the internet breaks out or my cousins are screaming in the middle of my physics class, I know it’s worth it when I see that my mom is happy.
I’m also reminded of my culture and how much I’ve changed in the 7 years I’ve been away from my family home. On the frequent drives I take around the city, I’m humbled by the country that I get to call my second home and feel a deep connection to the place I spent many moments of my childhood in. I see the front yard where I heckled my cousins and ate fresh coconuts from the coconut tree and wish I could go back to when life was that simple and I could be naive so freely.
I am also constantly taking in the food, the people, and the places and storing them into my memory so that after these four months of my visit, I will remember and root myself in the place where my DNA took its form. I’ve learned how easy it is to lose sight of the brown of my skin in the sea of the white.
So yes, I understand I am living through a pandemic and I have mourned the loss of what I once saw as normal--the plans that made up “my” year. I have constantly seen the U.S. and the world in utter turmoil, and I’ve seen my idea of routine life disrupted. Even so, I cannot deny the immense amount of growth I’ve done in these last few months.
I’ve reflected on myself and the adult I want to be. I’ve seen my ability to adapt to constant change and for once in my life, the future is a big shrug full of uncertainty and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with not knowing what tomorrow or the day after that is going to look like. I’m okay with the fact that my life isn’t micromanaged in a bullet journal or a google calendar and that I can take a minute and feel a sense of personal accomplishment not in grades, awards, accolades, or assignments. Now, I feel that sense of achievement in r an accumulation of new thoughts and new ideas. I’ve seen it make me become a better learner, a better daughter, a better friend, and an overall better person.
I don’t think the COVID-19 pandemic was ever something I would’ve wanted. But it may have been something I needed more than ever.