It is an odd feeling being fifty. Wrinkles are settled in now, and my body feels more flimsy by the day. An elaborate continuum of forgotten memories hangs by a thread. As time passes, my thirst for spontaneity dissipates. My brain is resistant like dusty cogwheels waiting for a spark. Looking around, many strangers I used to know now rest six feet under with an identical bouquet of flowers adorning an $11,000 gravestone. Some of their bodies were taken by the wind, drowned in the deep blue sea, or kept in generational attics. Looking back, I lost many jobs in my late 20s, but thankfully I had a second chance to restart my life. Today is my 50th birthday. A day I never knew would come so soon. Occasionally, I wonder how differently my life would have played out or ponder on old friends. Even at this instant, I can taste the bittersweet memories of nostalgia in my lukewarm cappuccino. Reaching into my pocket, I felt a terrible shock enter my body. Like a pinch too sudden and too painful to even breathe. Slowly I pulled out my hand with purple bruises and a pack of sewing needles. A series of flashbacks entered my mind. My mother had sowed, and her mother sewed, and before her, my great-grandmother sewed, and her mother before that. Funny how bits of my past somehow sneak into my present and future. The pain took me back to when I was a little girl sewing patches of all textures and colors onto my corduroy pants. Clothing was scarce then, and most of my blankets were quilted. Sowing became a part of me and followed me through adolescenthood when I joined the Craft Club at my school. During the second meet-up, I noticed a girl named Lila, with hazelnut eyes and brown hair, in the back of the classroom with a croquet kit on her desk. After introducing myself to her, we became instant friends with the everlasting promise of world domination. Our friendship ended abruptly when she told me she was going to study in Europe. I lost contact with her and thought about her occasionally over the years. Even now, her mystery plagues my mind in times of solitude and reflection. Today is my Birthday. My kids and grandchildren are waiting for me to come home and celebrate a year more. This morning has been my secret escape into the past, but now I must return to the present and finish my cold cappuccino. I reach the table next to me and grab a few napkins to place my needles in. It is an odd feeling being 50, but now I feel comfortable in my flimsy skin. My life has played out the exact way it should have, and now I must keep telling my tale so that my daughter and her daughter, and her daughter will tell it too.
Dear Me, circa 2020. Hi there, old friend. It's been two years since the world as you knew it ended. I know we had hopes that things would settle back into some semblance of normalcy, but alas, I am obligated to inform you that the ghost of all that once was will continue to haunt you. Lockdown has effectively ended but we are still required to wear masks, maintain six feet of isolation (the depth of a grave, mind you), and use sanitizer until our once-soft hands have begun to resemble chicken feet. Pro tip: stock up on moisturizer. Life gets . . . more interesting over the course of the next two years. For the sake of brevity, I will not go into detail of the general state of the world, as that will only serve to depress you (and as you will soon discover upon further perusal of this letter, you don't need the extra help). This will be a letter of selfishness, a reflection if you will, on how you personally experience these next two years. This is a letter for internal consumption. For too long, you refused to self-examine and self-report. But that's why I've taken it upon myself to start this correspondence, so we don't make the same mistakes again. So hopefully, we can learn. This is what follows in the next two years. You never learn how to play guitar, like you promised yourself. You don't get to parade around a body that boasts two years of consistent working out and clean eating (although, thankfully, the only weight you gain is emotional baggage so that's good). You burn out trying to learn French. Almost flunk out of your Honours programme. Your labyrinthitis comes back and you end up losing your job due to your relapsed symptoms, stress and insomnia . . . yes, it sucks and you hate yourself for months (you need to work on both your discipline and tendency to self-flagellate by the way, it's an incredibly unhealthy cycle for you). You compare yourself to your old classmates, you feel left behind. You lose contact with a high school friend and it cuts pretty deep. Your mother has a health scare that sends you reeling. You lose direction and feel unanchored; you drift, you seethe, you ache. You experiment with alcohol, develop a slight dependency on gin to numb the sting of the dragging weeks. You struggle. You feel more alone than you ever have in your entire life. This sounds awful, I can imagine you would like to remain in the naivety of early 2020 because despite the world burning, you thought things would get better and they don't for a long time. But then they do. These two years will feel like you are in the eye of a hurricane, sheltered in stasis amidst the maelstrom. You'll feel like you wasted time, you will long for memories of when you were active and living and hungry. But standing on the other side, I'll tell you one thing -you learn. You learn to trust yourself to pick up the pieces after losing the plot. You learn to stop focusing on missed opportunities and propel yourself into forging new ones. You learn to appreciate your loved ones more, to check in with friends and maintain those bonds. You learn to make time for things you love. You write again. Fall in love with music again. Some childlike wonder returns to you at the end of that dark tunnel. You begin to regain the foolish courage of youth and stretch your hand out to touch the light pouring through. There is light and it's beautiful. Time is a funny thing. It doesn't feel like two years since I last saw you. I'm two years older and yet I feel as though I've aged decades. What is to come will feel like both too much and nothing at all but don't be afraid. I learn from you. Time, as all things worth preserving, is fleeting. You'll be eager to make sure you don't miss out on even the once-mundane aspects of living the life of a young adult now that you're in the throes of a pandemic and even simple things are no longer mundane. But you have to learn to be patient with yourself. It is not your job to have your entire life planned perfectly, calibrated to a timeline that I can attest will throw you for a loop time and time again. Our job, you and I, is to take what we learn along the way and put it to good use. The important thing is to place our value on the quality of our experiences, find joy in the day-to-day. That's one thing a pandemic will teach you. I take your ambition and hopes with me into the years to come. I have a good feeling about where we are now, where you will be soon. We get better. See you on the other side. Love, Me, circa 2022 P.S. I'm serious about that moisturizer.
A lot has changed since I wrote the post entitled "No Time to Write". Things fell apart with my old job, which was pretty stressful as you could imagine. But you know what they say? Sometimes things happen for a reason, so perhaps this was one of those times, or maybe I'm just a hopeless optimistic. Anyway, I started a new job just two weeks later. That meant I had two weeks of freedom. Open-ended freedom for me to basically do whatever the heck I wanted, despite the whole stress of searching for a new job and going through the whole interview process. As I had ironically complained about not having enough time, a plentitude of time was gracefully, well not so gracefully, given to me not long afterwards. At this point, I'm sure you're wondering what I did with my free time. Instead of writing, I used my time for making social plans and resting. As a matter of fact, as much as I hate to admit it, I ended up taking my free time a bit for granted. One day felt just like the next one, and there was no push each day to get up and get to work on any creative projects. It felt like I had all the time in the world. Since it was still summer, I took some long hikes in the sun, which absolutely rejuvenated my entire being. I also watched a lot of TV. I've been working full time again for almost 2 months now. After getting back into the rhythm of working, I miss freedom and regret that I didn't use the short time in between jobs to lean into my creative side that often gets neglected. I regret that I didn't wake up each morning, pour myself some coffee and immediately start grinding out creative project after project. Yet, maybe rest is exactly what I needed. A break from the urgency that time has placed on me. I wasn't thinking much about time and schedules, and it felt good. You could argue that there's always time if you make it. Maybe it's just self-discipline that's missing. For instance, some people say they have no time to read, yet these are the same people who spend at least two hours scrolling through social media every night before bed. I could always be more intentional with my time. However, it's okay to rest, and I think everyone needs this reminder. I think resting means not thinking about making time for things and just enjoying the present moment, whether that means taking a long walk or binge watching a TV series. If you needed the reminder that it's okay to rest sometimes, to not feel guilty about "wasting time", then here it is: it's okay. If you're going through a stressful time like I was, be gentle with yourself.
My mother clung to my small palm as if her life depended on it while staring up at my father, who was screaming furiously, shaking his clenched fists in front of him. “You never do anything right!” he yelled. As my mother backed up shakily, she ran right into the dining table, bringing me along with her in a fierce crash. I stared doe-eyed at my father then back at my mother. Why is daddy so mad at mommy? His screams became louder and his movements more forceful as he thrust his hand forward towards my mother's throat. Terrified, I let go of my mother's hand, running towards the bedroom. I pulled the covers over my head and wrapped my arms over my shaking legs, rocking myself back and forth. Tears began streaming down my face, but I was too afraid to make any noise. “Please stop!” I heard my mother's frail voice yell out. Slap! The crack of skin against skin echoed through the walls. That was when I heard my mother call out for me. I froze, my body still shielded under the blanket. “Help me!” I heard her scream again. I started to cry even harder, yet my body remained paralyzed at the corner of the bed. Her incessant cries for my help could be heard through the breaking glass and clinking furniture. After what seemed several hours, the chaos in the other room subsided. I stayed put even though it started to feel humid under the blanket and I was breathing in hot air. I knew my mother entered the room when I felt the bed dip. Whimpers racketed from her body. I peeked out of the covers and crawled over to her side, obediently. She looked down at me, a tear spilling from her eye. “Why didn't you do anything,” she says in her mother tongue. I cast my eyes downward and shrug. I had nothing to say to her. It was true: why hadn't I done anything? I could hear my father still yelling. He was crying along with his violent outbursts. That always confused me. He never apologized. It was never his wrongdoing. He was the one inflicting the bruises that painted my mother's body, yet he cried. It made me wonder if it was because he was hurting too. That was the day I felt true powerlessness. As a young child I didn't know what that meant, but fear controlled me when my body refused to move from its place. I was distraught over the daunting question my mother had asked me. I could have yelled for him to stop. I could have called someone for help. I could have stopped him. The last thought haunted me. And it made me wonder if it was my fault. Surely, my mother wouldn't ask me that if there was truly nothing I could've done. My father should've been the bad guy. But I was the biggest let down— to myself. I was a bystander in my own home. I wanted more than anything to protect my mother. But I was still afraid, which meant I was useless. I was angry. Not only with my father, but with myself the most. Reflecting back on this day as a young adult, I realize that so much was out of my control. The systemic, abusive struggle between my parents was not something I could have alleviated or fixed. Yet, to this day, I still seek the answer to a question I fully understand provides me with no refuge, no reward: was there anything I could've done?
The doctor said I only had about a thousand words before my life would end. I do not know which upsets me more, knowing my end is imminent or the revelation of that info being made to me during my doctors lunch break as he happened to pass by my room. What if he wasn't hungry? What if my door was shut? What if I were asleep? What if I hadn't come in because my wrist felt funny? I wonder about all of these things simultaneously, as the tracks in my mind become packed with trains of thought. The traffic exponentially expands into a gridlock, and I can't think straight. "Did you hear me?" says the doctor from the open doorway to my room. The sound of their voice snaps me out of my momentary meltdown. I nod, already fighting the urge to say "yes". As they walk away, the trains begin to run again. Have I lived a full life? What even is a full life? Is it living a set amount of time? 175 Does living a full life mean leading an existence of constant excitement? I've been on some adventures in my life, but were they the best ones I could have been on? Were they with the right people? Is life just a series of experiences connected loosely by faces that leave your mind when you've left them for too long? I'll never grow old enough to forget my children's names. I won't get the chance to feel disdain for growing pains. I have yet to meet a person who can stoke this dwindling flame and I don't think I will, my rose tinted glasses have shifted to gray. As I run out of words to utter I find myself resigned to my mind, admittedly somewhere I spend a lot of time but right now it's as if I have sought out shelter deep inside. The doctor did not say when I would die, but the word count being so low makes me think that I don't have a whole lot of time, it's maybe two thirty in the afternoon right now, and I'd be surprised if I make it past five. 365 I think that of all of the ways I could go, this is the most fitting. Being done in by that which I do too much of. Though they never mentioned directly that it was my incessant chatter that is the cause for my fatal condition, it was very implied. My friends always thought it was funny how I always had something to say, and now that I only can say so much, I'm lost for words. I should probably say something, I mean my parents have just been staring at me for the past ten minutes. Ever since the doctor came in and told me my word limit, I've been mute. Would you be in a talkative mood if someone told you you only have around a thousand words to live? My parents have this look in their eyes, a look I have only seen once before, I didn't like it before, and I don't like it now. 526 When I was five I decided it would be a good idea to climb my neighbors slide without permission. I should have asked for permission. The next thing I know I woke up in a hospital bed with blood on my hands and a pain in my head, like someone took the heaviest rock they could find and dropped it on me. It turns out it was the other way around, and I dropped myself on the heaviest rock I could find. I needed 14 stitches, and at the time I thought it was cool I had more stitches than years alive, my parents did not. They had this look in their eyes, like they almost lost something irreplaceable, or broken something unfix-able. They have that same look in their eyes as we stare at each other now. Though I think they look more confused then I am. 674 I kind of wish that a heavy rock HAD fallen on my head instead of this disease? Disorder? I still genuinely don't get what this whole talk myself to death situation is; but then again does anyone really get death? I can't fault myself for trying, yet I can't seem to come up with an explanation. What if that's the point, that it can't be explained, that it's not meant to be. Like the things I have done in my life, it's an experience, the only real difference being that it's one you can not talk about with other people after going through it. You know a thousand-ish words may not be a whole lot, but with the rise of acronyms during this internet age which I am a proud member of, combined with my decent interpretive dance ability, makes me think I could make this work, if only for a while. I know that I won't live past fifty, but realistically I could at the very least get a few more years under my belt. thirty-five maybe, I mean I'm twenty-five now, a hundred words a year, that's manageable. Through prudence in speech, there is the chance for a few more experiences to share with friends, a few more moments to be cherished before they become scarce. I can work with this, I want to work with this, I have to work with this. I should probably say something, but then again what do I say? Having to be selective means I need to somehow pack “I'm ready to make the most of what I've got” into one-
It's the 3rd of February, the world's at its best pace. I'm on my terrace, walking, thinking, dreaming. The sky looks beautiful in its deep blue. The orange sun is yet to set. I start browsing, I witness a myriad of vacant rooftops and just one or two human figures, either in search for a dependable cell phone network or peace. I come here for the latter. My father is a social worker, he has devoted his life to service. While I was in school, I wouldn't see him for days, even if he was still in town, by the time he'd come I was mostly asleep and by the time he was up, I was in school. My sister is completing her studies in a different state, I don't even remember the last time I talked to her for more than five minutes. My mother is a homemaker, but she's barely home probably because she's a "social person" and when she is home, I either have an assignment to complete or some place to visit. It's been ages since I've had a proper conversation with any of them, or since the four of us sat together talking about the good times and amusing. My family is just one of the thousands of things that pop up in my head while I'm up here. I walk further to the edge of the terrace, I bend slightly to get a peek of what's going on in the world below. I discover a bevy of kids playing soccer, people wrapping up their days, cars honking moving around in a rush, a couple walking hand in hand, a small time grocer trying to desperately sell literally everything he has to a single customer. I see the kids again, this time half of them celebrating their victory by hugging each other and laughing in delight. Besides them, I see two women, probably neighbors, fighting and abusing each other with complete vigor. One of them is now looking skywards and yelling some terrible words, I wonder who she's shouting at, there's nobody up here except me. Oops, I better get back to my walk. So basically today looks just like any other day! Now let's fast forward a little to when a pandemic took over our lives and everything just flipped. It's the 26th of march today. A few days back our Prime Minister announced a complete lockdown in our country. I still come up here, on the terrace, but it's an entirely different sight nowadays. The sky is still in its deep blue, I still hear noises, but this time not of the cars honking, today I hear the sounds of humans, a lot of humans, to be fair. The rooftops that once never showed signs of life, now look like a carnival, only a socially distanced one though. On any other day I would've been slightly disconcerted by the fact that the only place I turned to for peace had transformed into some kind of playground filled with people. But not today, and to be honest I actually feel delighted, because I don't just see individuals, I see families, families that have probably laughed together for the first time since ages, families that have conversed with each other as a whole, families that held hands like there's no tomorrow. Even I am not alone today, I'm walking alongside my father, talking about things we never thought we'd ever talk about, discovering interests, we never knew we had in common, exploring my plans for the future that I never thought would fascinate him. A few feet apart, I see my sister and my mother sitting together and laughing about how terrible my sister had cooked last night, and surfing for new recipes on the internet for my father who's next in line to cook dinner, and it's not just the four of us, I see joy and happiness all around me. Funny, isn't it? The times that are the hardest, are the times I am surrounded only by felicity. My father went and sat next to the mother-daughter duo, gesturing me to join, I tell him I'll be there in a minute. I would've just gone and sat with my family, but I'm so amused by looking at everything around me, that I was tempted to uncover this new world. I see a young couple teaching their toddlers badminton, I see a mother teaching her kid to ride a bicycle next to her husband who was listening to his daughter explain some features about the laptop, I also see the neighbors who once used to come to blows quite often, today sit on their respective balconies, chattering. I smile to myself and go sit with my family. People feel that the pandemic somehow forced families and individuals to come closer, but I feel that the pandemic just gave us a reason to pause and reflect. We'd all been so worried and in such a rush to get the best of our lives that we missed savoring the most beautiful moments. The pandemic, let us stop for a moment and breathe, it let us contemplate, realize and understand all those pieces that we had missed in these hasty lives of ours. I'd once read "Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone's hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours." This pandemic made us reach out and hold one's hand as well as let our hands to be held.
The sudden snap of loneliness seems to leech the very warmth out of the air. With a silence louder than the genial laughter and chatter that blasted through my laptop speakers mere seconds ago, it creeps back in, reacquints itself with the corners of my living room and settles. I make a mental note to call a friend later, chase it away again albeit only for a short while. Sighing heavily, I sink into the cushions of my sofa, the overly familiar feel of foam squares yielding to my weight. The laptop still rests precariously on my crossed legs -my ever attentive ally against confinement-induced insanity. My faithful assistant in study and work, my communication portal to the world outside my little apartment. A lifeline and a curse. For months now, all I've had to show for a life once lived has been stretched across thirteen inches of pixelated nothingness. Technology is a wonderful thing but even this apex of modern human endeavour cannot replicate the hug of a relative, the playful shove of a friend or the kiss of a lover. And for me, an island to myself without a house full of people who would turn out to be strangers after months of finally learning about one another, the absence is so sharp it cuts me to the quick. Yet . . . It's not enough. A call, a Zoom date, letters flitting across a screen. If anything, the much-lauded tool for connection only serves to amplify the distance it supposedly breaches. Phone calls ring hollow, video ones glitch and shudder, always leaving the participants a beat out of sync with each other and messages require the use of emojis to feel any shade less impersonal. And still, despite this, each attempt at communication only delivers the shadow of company. Only now, in the midst of a nationwide lockdown do I realise the wraith-like quality of our modern communication forms. Only now that I have no human contact do I distinguish between the virtual and the real and just how precious the latter is. How, in our fast-paced lives we take for granted the ability to co-exist in shared time and space. A tad melodramatic? Perhaps. Quarantine has not been kind to my penchant for overthinking. But the longer I sit here, smothered in my couch and eager to head out for food supplies if only to be within greeting range of another human being, I find myself coming to the same conclusion. When did we merge the personal with the artificial? When did the organic mesh with the mechanical to such an extent that pre-Pandemic us, us ungrateful techno-abusers would feed our addiction even in the presence of other living, breathing, feeling people. Phones had become a fixture, perhaps even a third party participant in every interaction. And now they take center stage, fully commanding the space they once peripherally occupied. I place the device aside, getting up to stretch my limbs and pace about the little space for the umpteenth time. I've never been a particularly outdoors-y person. But the urge to frolic amongst variable shades of green or to sleep beneath an open, star-flecked sky has been gnawing at my conscience for weeks now. I wonder why it took a dramatic roll of fate's dice to bring out such strange longing. Why it took the world to shut down for the true appreciation of such simple wonders to be appreciated once more. When did we become content with so little? When did once-in-a-lifetime moments become opportunities for snap shots and videos, archiving the occurence at the expense of full experience? How did squares of metal manage to enchant us so to maintain our undivided attention for hours at a time? I mentally chide myself, stern resolve determing a course of life that will actually be living once I'm set free from this box. I know it will not last. Once the calamity is lifted and earth's rotation reset again, things will go back to how they were before, within a more broken world. After all . . . We've become accustomed to our glass boxes and technological self-quarantine. The former most do not even notice. The latter is one I doubt most would mind maintaining. Sighing, I retrieve my phone from my pocket and head back to the sofa.
It would be a huge lie to say that there is a person on Earth whose life was not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. To greater or lesser extent everyone's lives were divided into “before” and “after”. Of course, each of us will draw own lessons and own conclusions. But, since there is already enough sad and devastating things happened on Earth these days, I would like to concentrate on more positive things in my story. I would like to start with the fact that before the global lockdown my life could not be called any unusual or extraordinary. Like many of my peers, I went to university, worked out in the gym – you can me “generic” if you want. For me being at home is one of the best ways to spend time. I see nothing wrong with staying at home instead of going to the cinema and reading a book or watching the same movie while lying on the couch. So, I can't say that after the announcement of restrictions on attending events and everything else, my life rotated 180 degrees. “Loneliness” in this case gives you a lot of time and space to think, and sometimes you find your train of thoughts in the most unexpected place. And I found mine here, reflecting on what's changed in my life during the lockdown. Being all by myself allowed me to learn and rethink some things in my life. Here are some of them: 1. Cooking. Frankly, kitchen was the last place where I expected to find myself. But as it turned out, I'm not completely hopeless at cooking, and sometimes it's even very exciting to cook, especially if you set some goal, like, to treat yourself or your close ones. It can be anything, really. For me, it was about switching to more healthy food and simple recipes. 2. Languages. The pandemic allowed me to register for the Finnish language course, which I had wanted to study for a long time. The course, by the way, turned out to be very informative and contains many additional resources to continue learning the language. So, I hope to stick to my routine of learning Finnish as long as I can understand a word 😊 3. New training routines. Working out is what keeps me sane during my whole life. Therefore, when trainings at the stadium were canceled, I had to look for a replacement in order to keep my body ready for future competitions. As a result, I concentrated on basic exercises and techniques, and also included exercises to strengthen my weaknesses, for example, footwork, which is essential in order to increase your strength, and maximize your performance. Now I understand more about how my body should work during the run. 4. Planning. Of course, when you build huge plans in your head about how to spend the time during the pandemic as productively as possible, there will always be a confusion about their implementation of you lack time-management skills. Planning comes to the rescue here. As it turned out, all these nice little books can really help in the proper preparation of your schedule, and not just collect dust on your desk. 5. Last but not least is my realization that the thought expressed on paper sometimes helps to clear and reload my head. Therefore, for me, writing this post is a kind of catharsis, through the text I can see a retrospective and, having put on it the existing knowledge, draw the right conclusions in order to make my life better. I am in no way saying that this is the only true way, no. But it really worked for me. Keeping journals or diaries is like a therapy session in my case. If you are afraid to share your thoughts with someone else or can't talk about such things without being accused of whining, I suppose, this'll work for you, too. So, what I want to say is that, in the end of the day, I would like to see the people in the world being happy rather than depressed all the time. Therefore, it is so important and necessary to look for positive aspects in any situation, because in the end you are the sum of choices made in your whole life. And it is very short to spend it on doubts, suffering and distress over the fact that you did not try something or did not learn. Therefore, it is not so important that my experience cannot be fully applied to others, because this is a normal process, since we are all unique. The most important thing is to think about whether you are really happy with how your life goes. Because now is the high time to do it.
So I sit, in my navy blue cap and gown, observing the torrent of cars flood the street. Our car is dull, black, and inconspicuous, just how my mom prefers it. She didn't come along, she despises crowds. My brother sits ruefully in the backseat, conned by my father's bait of ice cream afterwards. He is also graduating, and will attend my high school next year. I can't blame him for being somber; his trips and celebrations were hijacked as well. The parade feels like a sham, and so I sit, festering in a puddle of sweat, at the mercy of the sun and the driver in front of me. Many parents spared no expense - painting their windows, balloons tied to mirrors, proudly proclaiming their children's name, and future university, that is if they were ‘one of those parents'. Others proceeded with less pomp, perhaps some chalk on the windows, a flag to half-heartedly twirl. Then there were those like us. My dad breathed a sigh of relief when he saw a considerable proportion of cars barren and hollow. Passing grade. I wonder what kinds of families occupied those cars. We pulled onto the major road and the procession grinded to a halt as the leading cars pulled into the parking lot. Many families stood on the sidewalks, waving signs and hats and banners. Proud of every graduate, whether they knew them or not. Proud of their community, of their future, of who we had become… I wonder what kinds of families twirl those banners. Inching along the street, I glanced out the window in systematic intervals, deflecting eye contact with anyone I vaguely knew. A classic high school obstacle - eye contact. Catching eyes, calculating whether I knew someone enough to say hi, then waiting too long until we rudely rip our connections to shreds and walk past like strangers, even though a couple seconds ago, we hardly were. My dad waves more than me. How am I supposed to wave at someone I don't know? My brother, done sulking but still not ready to admit it, peeks his head out the window. All I can do is watch and smile listlessly. It seems like, with half the parade over, half of high school had been squandered as well. As we turned the corner onto the last stretch before the parking lot, someone caught my eye. I cried out to my English teacher, a warm, soothing, refreshing woman who I grew to love and respect over the year. She smiled a mother's smile, and I felt some baggage slip off my shoulders and sink into the car seats. In the home stretch, most of the families on the streets were taking photos of their graduates. I made the most of it, smiling, waving, doing things that came naturally to a chosen few at the beginning. Some cheerleaders performed on the side. I remember at basketball games being miffed by their chants everytime we scored. This time, I was glad they were here. At the stop before the parking lot, I noticed a rising senior, an officer of a volunteer club I was co-president of. She was our choice for president, an intelligent, charismatic, outgoing, unabashed figurehead. Everything I was not for the majority of the ‘parade'. I stuck my head out the window, inquiring across the street if she had picked a leadership team for next year. She looked away, smiled sheepishly, and congratulated me. Always an escape with her. I sat back down, mildly concerned. She would do a good job. I smiled softly, wondering if she would take the club where I could not. We zoomed into the parking lot, my dad excited by the space the car in front had finally conceded. The final turn. I held a piece of notebook paper with my name on it for my announcer. I almost already knew, but Mista Bale, my basketball coach, econ teacher - the man who had shaped me today was rocking the announcers booth. He boomed into the speakers, “My man, Pranav Mitsumurthiiii!”. My stats teacher snapped a quick photo of me, and shooed us along a line of crazy, rowdy, deafening teachers. I smiled genuinely, perhaps for the first time, as I saw them, living four years again in the 30 seconds the line lasted, until finally, suddenly, it was silent. Graduate. As we drive home, my hair, untrimmed and chaotic, finally dislodges my grad cap, shoving it to the floor between my feet as it springs upwards. I stare blankly out the window, thinking so many things and nothing at the same time. Given the circumstances, the school did a fantastic job. But the parade also represents cruelty, helplessness, regret, and for the life of me I cannot forget that. So as I see friends pile out of their cars onto the grassy fields to celebrate and commemorate, all I remember are the experiences I left behind, and the opportunities that were cruelly wrenched from my grasp. And when I finally get home and flop onto my chair, one final smile dances across my lips. I have many regrets. But we are the class of 2020, and we have become strong.
"When you truly reflect on life, you come up with such creations. I like the way Adiela has weaved simple poetic stories out of the complex strings of life in which humans remain entangled. From social to soul exploration, all has been done and depicted neatly in this poetic beauty. As a poet, I especially relate to the poetry style that is made very understandable, yet churned out of an ocean's depth." - Ruchika Pahwa Available here: https://adielaakoo.wixsite.com/writer/shop
"Dad, skip this song please!" Despite my desperate pleading, he didn't reach out for the forward button on the car's stereo. I turned to my left and signaled my sister to change the song for me, but she merely shrugged at my pouting face. I refrained myself from asking my mom, as she was finally dozing away from this exhausting 9-hour drive back to the city. For a moment there, I knew that this trip back was fated to be longer than the high-spirited visit of two days ago. Honestly, there was nothing wrong with the song, only that it was an overplayed Christmas song currently playing on a dull mid-June evening. Just a bridge away from our apartment but the usual 8 pm downtown traffic kept us on that road longer than we would've liked. This, unfortunately, meant that the song was the only thing I could cling onto until the car's movement could distract me from this seemingly eternity-lasting boredom. For some reason, I caved in and listened. "Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible said." I felt a shock from that one line. The shock wasn't the type that shakes your body, just a mental shock. But I never experienced these before. "'Bethlehem'..." my mind whispered, "it's one of the two holiest cities in Palestine. The Commission was granted international control of the city from the Partition of 1948..." I then found myself lost in thought. I began to reflect on my journey of discovery on the mysterious and sandy region; I reminisced on the painfully tedious process of researching an unknown political issue; I finally self-commended myself for the personal perseverance I had towards the notably complicated topic; I became appreciative towards the exciting but overlooked historical dynamics in the Middle East that I've become so entrenched about over the months. Most importantly, I wondered how was my mind was still wandering around historical politics and reacted so powerfully by a single stimulant. Nevertheless, I realized I felt an unprecedented connection to that song. I became more appreciative towards a simple piece that I'd overlooked for years. It was only through my self-driven Middle East exploration that instilled meaning in the lyrics. That little moment on the car, a surprisingly swift period for the song's 3-minute duration, enabled me to truly reflect on the transformative experience I had when I vowed to be determined towards studying the Middle East political events. The comforting and safe environment that I was so fortunate to be enclosed in that night made me realize the value of truly taking the time and devoting effort into learning history of a movement, a community, a race, a region so foreign to myself to ultimately allow myself to become more open-minded in this increasingly connected world. For the first time, I'd internalized and understood the song's resonance on a personal level. And with that came a sense of satisfaction - I'd never felt so fulfilled and accomplished in my entire life. I was genuinely so elated that I had to press the replay button.
Admittedly the most peculiar comparison is comparison itself. In a time we're expected to not pair our proses with another for the sake of sound self-awareness and confidence, the alternatively commendable trait is to make a personal mishap seem lesser by asserting that "things could have been worse." For fear of falling too victim to this habit, I slowly began dissecting who and what it was I was comparing myself to in order to bring resolve to my newfound chaotic state. My emotions and peace of mind became the hardest facets to corral; where previously easy to be sifted through I had to make the active decision to take better care, fine-tooth-comb style, in order to keep from what I could only recognize as spiraling. As I noticed a very precise change in not only my thinking but my own self-asserted action, there was no fall into oblivion. It was all figuratively splayed out in front of me, similar to a smorgasbord of battles to choose from, although I was the one who had already done the picking. By the time I had realized the comparison didn't fall within the standards of anyone else, simply that I was in desperate need to make room for all of my emotions, not just the ones that benefited both me and the spectator(s), I had begun to crack another code. One that assumed the tactics of self-care I had avoided in the belief I was detrimental to myself were actually the tactics that kept me feeling like I had something to work for, not to be someone who just works. In lieu of favoring "one over the other," it seemed in all aspects of this dissection in progress that both hands came into play. Though any shred of positivity tends to flatter, my intent was to never feel better about how I was outwardly perceived, more so inward. Given the task at hand, the question presented itself: why not both? On the basis of conflict resolution, whether an actively assumed position or involuntary, to have an idea such as replacing conjunctions in everyday conversation seemed to graze a level of insignificance that was truly not even worth considering. Nevertheless, the idea hung in the air long enough for me to encourage myself that any step, no matter the size, was worth taking and I began the test of switching "but" for "and" in order to better understand why it was so impossible to live soundly with my own attest. Instead of negating one feeling for another, by suggesting "and" was making room for both statements. In the event I habitually said "but" I made sure to write down in what context I used it and how to obliterate use of the word altogether. Where I found most difficult was at work: the probe of most of my tendencies to push emotion to the side, only to make room for what was in my best interest as an employee, not a human being. The sound presented itself as excusatory and I tended to grow increasingly angry when I caught myself using "but" to negate any further protest of one happening over another. My intent was to bring myself into perspective less than formerly bringing other concerns into the light. To focus more on what it is I was projecting inward vs outward became more of a task than changing a pre-determined reaction from within. To suddenly welcome anything and everything I began feeling in place of what used to be a constant consideration for everyone else first and foremost felt both like a wave of extra information and the opening of floodgates, neither one accommodating the other. Eventually, the desire to keep everyone else at bay to not concern otherwise grew heavier and I felt an off switch power itself. Where I had assumed the acknowledge of my discontent with myself was only available to those I had told, my curiosity peaked in wondering if anyone could visually recognize something within me was missing. Comprehending the obvious came faster than the active thought to accept both and multiple emotions as they came, not hiding one on a shelf to dust off another. Where only the best is presented to those willing to share, the aspects of what we are not are what allow the "and's" to surpass the "but's." To expect those onlooking from the other end of a lens or the other end of text to acknowledge a piece of my puzzle got lost in transit as doing the opposite of what I was being so hard on myself for in the first place. Simply expecting them to put their pieces to the side to help you look for yours was going to result in no one's puzzle getting finished. The feat I had to ignore as an obstacle was that this sort of thinking is what invested me in this journey. By spending more time worried about something noticeably wrong in you by others, you are keeping yourself from tending to your "and's" for someone else's "but's."
A year ago, the Philippines faced a devastating terrorist attack in the Islamic City of Marawi, Lanao del Sur. This attack came to be known as the “Marawi Siege”. It went on for months ending in November 2017 when President Duterte announced the city's liberation. Days after the siege begun on May 2017, in a volunteers' group chat of our NGO, we were asked if we're available to join a peace mission in an evacuation center located in Lanao del Sur. The slots were filled immediately and although I fiercely wanted to join the said mission I didn't have the opportunity. Nevertheless, I did what I could to support the team. Yet, even now, as Marawi begins to build its city, there is still a piece of me that wishes to have been part of that peace mission, to have been able to bring joy and support to the children of Marawi while the siege is ongoing. Weeks turned into months and Marawi City was liberated from the terrorist group but it left part of the city, near Lanao lake, completely obliterated. Back in Manila on March 2018, I was asked by my friends if I'm available to join a month-long peace mission in Mindanao; I had mixed feeling about it. I felt like this maybe a blessing since I've already wanted to resign from my job, but, this may also be a test, to see if I am brave enough to resign from my job without another work lined up when I get back from Mindanao. Add in the fact that volunteering is my passion and the feeling that I'm wasting away in the office helped me reached my decision. Turns out, I did have the guts to resign without another job lined up and the trip really was a blessing. The peace mission was a blessing due to a number of reasons. First, I was able to live in Mindanao for a month and immersed in their culture and lifestyle. Second, I was able to see the battle ground or what we like to call “Ground Zero” in Marawi City from afar. “Ground Zero” is still prohibited to civilians because the armed forces is presently in the process of clearing out the areas of undetonated bombs and IEDs. Lastly, I was able to act as a support to the children of Marawi, at least for those in the group I facilitated in. The peace mission we conducted in Mindanao was in the conflict areas of Maguindanao and Marawi City. We taught the children and their parents peace education. In Marawi, I was given the chance to act as lead facilitator for one of the 10 groups. Together with me is a member of the “Hijab Troopers”, they are women soldiers who wears white hijab. Our group was composed of 3 boys and 4 girls, all coming from 4 different schools. Despite being strangers, our group was able to form a bond like that of a family. I was their big sister who helped them with their activities such as writing and drawing. But, there was 1 kid who was extremely shy. He would not answer my questions (that were spoken in Filipino) and at first I thought that he could only understand Maranao so I asked the other kids to translate for him, but he still wouldn't participate in our activities. In that case, I told him that it was alright if he doesn't share his thoughts but if he wants to share then his new friends can translate for him. During the 2nd day, as I was observing all my kids, I felt elated on the fact that everyone is bonding, they maybe strangers yesterday but now, they've accepted each other as friends. I also found out that the shy kid can understand and speak Filipino well but he adamantly refuses to share his answers in the group. Accordingly, after an activity where everyone had to share their drawings, I went to him and asked him to share his drawings to me, he started telling me the reason behind his drawings and I felt like I was going to cry at that moment because finally, I was able to get through his walls even if it was just a little. Indeed, those 3-days were the best but they were also the most exhausting. Handling 7 kids is draining emotionally and physically. It made me really appreciate the kindergarten and elementary school teachers all over the world for their limitless patience and energy in handling hundreds of kids in their career life. On our last day in Marawi City, we visited an area near Lanao Lake where “Ground Zero” can be observed. The only word that came to mind when I saw it was destroyed. The battle ground area was completely and utterly destroyed. The whole area was colored gray by ashes. Mosques that were once magnificent now had huge gaping holes in them and houses that were home to thousands of Maranaos were reduced to piles of rocks. As I watch the scene before me, I felt anger and the thirst to find out the answer to my questions, “why? Why do this? What did it accomplish?” And as our group continues to hear the stories of the Marawi Siege, one person shouted “look, there's a rainbow” and as we all turn to gaze at the breathtaking beauty of the rainbow, I said to myself “how ironic.”