A Network of Fears
I woke up on Tuesday morning with a knot in my stomach. It didn't stem from my stomach problems of the day before, but worse thoughts were running through my mind at the moment. I got dressed to go to the gym anyways, but called my dad before I went and confirmed my fears. My grandmother had passed away after several days in the hospital. I skipped the gym that morning, but felt helpless to change anything else. I didn't want to call my parents until the evening in India so they could sleep and process during their night in the U.S., and I knew in my heart that much of my own processing couldn't occur until I was back home with them. As much as I may have wanted it to, little about my life in India would change with the passing of my grandmother. I hadn't been able to call her or have any communication besides sending my love to her through my parents. I had already come to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be able to see her for three weeks. All I had was the awful knowledge in my heart that somewhere halfway across the world my grandmother was no longer waiting in her apartment for me to come home and share with her all I had learned in India. So I went on with my day, at least knowing that my grandmother had been very excited for me and wanted me to get all I could out of my travels. The Phillips Academy Niswarth group travelled to one of the Akanksha schools and met with students from that school and another school nearby. We played name games and began to get to know each other, and everyone was so kind. However, as the hours passed on, I began to sense some of the positivity I worked so hard to build up in the previous week ebbing away. Perhaps it was the sadness that lingered subconsciously in the back of my mind, perhaps because of the fatigue that was threatening to overtake me, perhaps the challenge of getting to know new people and doing a project with them in the upcoming days was starting to dawn on me. Whatever it was, it caused me to pull back into myself instead of diving into our new partnership, even when I needed all of my energy to attempt to connect with the Akanksha kids who we had never met before and get excited for the days ahead. I ended the day feeling okay, but in the back of my mind swirled a mix of sadness, confusion, and frustration at the combination of events in the day that had brought me down.
Throughout the day, one of the quotes in Vandana's paintings kept running through my mind: "Challenges make life interesting, overcoming them makes life meaningful." It was the quote on the painting I had picked out from her house when she so graciously allowed us to each take one. I had connected with it before in the context of my school life, and hoped it would inspire me when I was unsure if I could get through my work or wondering whether or not to take a harder class that could greatly benefit me in the long run. Suddenly, however, I was connecting with the quote in a much different scenario: in India, after just getting over stomach problems and just finding out about the passing of my grandmother, while trying to connect with students I had never met before and do a DFC project in eight days. I had never expected to meet these challenges in this way, and I was scared that maybe I couldn't overcome some of them. What if I never connected with the Akanksha students? What if we weren't able to make a change in the community with the time we had? And I already knew that I would never be able to truly overcome the grief that comes with loss of a family member. All of these thoughts made me doubt the quote, and yet I couldn't stop thinking about it. I couldn't make much sense of it that night, and in many ways I am still making sense of it now, but a day has passed and I still have faith in that quote. On Wednesday, I approached the day with love and determination and was met with the same feelings by all of the other Niswarthians, Phillips Academy and Akanksha students alike. I got to talk with the Akanksha students more and began to relate and have fun with them, and I learned how we would work through the DFC process one step at a time with the knowledge that even making a small change can create a difference. I still believe that I will have a lot more processing to do about my grandmother when I get to the U.S., but have dealt with grief before and have faith that I can adjust to mourning a loss from halfway across the world. I have not overcome any of my challenges yet, but I know that they will make my trip and my life afterwards more meaningful in one way or another. As I see the challenges unfold, I can only hope that perhaps individual challenges are not the only thing that makes life meaningful, but also the interweaving of challenges that, if they are overcome in some way, leave you with a strong network of understandings beyond what you could ever have imagined. I have not gained these understandings yet and don't know what will come of my experience, but something will. Something already has, although I may not know what it is just yet.