I guess all seasons mark change in some way. But perhaps it’s because the leaves change color or because I just love this season so that for some reason it, more than any other one, seems to mark change most for me. I feel these days like I’m trying to put all my ducks in a row – except those ducks are plastic duckies that I try and put in place – and make stay in place – before they float off in different directions leaving me scrambling to shepherd them back. Alright, vivid metaphor. But do you get me? Things are all. over. the. place. Not to mention, this fall will likely be my last in Cambridge which comes with a whole lot of nostalgia and a rather pressing need to really soak it all in. I feel myself moving faster and faster, my feet adjusting to the Harvard rhythm of things far beter than my mind is. But before I get caught up to where my feet want to go, I thought I’d try and tell the story of all that this summer was and meant to me first. Here goes.
First there was London. There were coffee shops. And coffee shops. And coffee shops. Really long walks and Cadbury chocolate and cousins whose beds I may or may not have snuck into. There was Pimms. Thank god for Pimms. And there was the comfort of long conversations with my aunt, the first rustling of pages in my list of many a pleasure book to read. But more than anything, there was something that felt like home.
And then there was South Africa. Where if I remember anything many, many years from now I hope to remember this: there is where I didn’t care if anyone was watching. There is where I danced through the side streets. There is where I climbed mountains, by myself and with a crowd. Literally. There is where I went to conquer fear and figure out love and stow away awhile. There is where I encountered silence after a real long while. Where I climbed up a rapid. Just because. There was where I snuck away to the winelands, where I slept in a tent, where I met people and things I had never encountered before. Where I got scared. Where I finished Mandela’s story in his homeland. Where I met the Zulus and the Khosas and a horse or two, an Afrikaner, an English, and a Jew. There was the Eastern Food Bazaar in the city center. A random presidential motorcade on a Wednesday afternoon. Minibussing down Strand Street and trying fruitlessly to find just one swing set. There was where I figured out how to dance to my own beat. To feel ok with my thoughts echoing around me and against the walls. There was where I think I found how strong my voice had grown even as my mind snapped and twisted and jerked to try and figure out where my classmates were going. They learned a new language while I re-found my own.
And lastly there was Sri Lanka. Home. That paradise I try to escape to. Except this time there was Israel and Gaza and the Yazidis trapped on Sinjar Mountain and Robin Williams, gone too soon, and an alleyway into wondering about what led to ISIS that made me scared. There, I read a lot. There were more walks, more than enough tea, and comfort. There was the perehara that never was, the three wheel car ride through the rain that led me to the temple I needed so. There was me sitting still for a while, letting my feet take a rest as I ran my mind through overdrive.
When I think back on it, I know I went to South Africa to see what reconciliation looks like after war. I thought I could learn about what Sri Lanka’s future might be like from South Africa. That was, until I turned on the TV a few months later and saw army tanks barrel-rolling through Ferguson, Missouri. And then I wondered if South Africa might have a few lessons for America, too.
As I made my way back to the States, to this country where we have built walls from the outside so that custom lines takes three hours in an Abu Dhabi airport, I thought even more about what this summer has taught me. How in encountering so much diversity, so many different walls (indeed, in South Africa there were walls in front of walls, so many gates that I had one plastered right to the front door of my own apartment door, even as I had to unlock another gate just to get into the complex) I realized that maybe at the end of the day, what it comes down to is not our class or our race or where we come from but how we treat each other. When Robin Williams died on my birthday I remember thinking about that. How in his death people talked about how he treated everyone the same. How, for him, it didn’t matter if you were the janitor or a superstar. We don’t have a word for that particular personality trait but if we did, I’d want to buy it up, soak it in, and disburse it to everyone. It’s the how we treat each other – it’s the hellos and the good byes, the how are you’s that we mean, and the I’ve missed you’s that we hold on to that measure who we are I learned. Not where we come from or where we’re going even. Just how we are, how we choose to treat each other. That’s what matters most I think.
Last semester, last year, I really felt this compulsive need to explain myself. A need, that when I got back to it this summer, left me jumping for joy when I figured out – wait I do make sense after all! There’s a reason why I study what I do, and why I care about what I do, and all these things lead me back to home and here to Harvard too. Part of Harvard has taught me a lot about building arguments. What is the case for so and so? What are the counterarguments? What aren’t we thinking about? In the classroom – you can only really study the cases. But what about when you don’t have a reason. You know some people have gone to war just because. Some bad decisions were made just because some leader didn’t get enough sleep. Or was on too many meds. We social scientists forget this sometimes. We forget that sometimes THE WORLD JUST DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. Sometimes the world lands at our doorstep and we do not know what to do with it. And we do not really want it either. In those moments, on those days, I hope I remember what this summer sojourn also taught me: that when it does and when all goes to hell, at the very least maybe all we can do, all we must do, is show up.
tell me where did we go wrong
and if it’s all good intentions
why are we scared of living?
yeah the weight of the world
is hard enough to hold already
why’s it gotta be so heavy
maybe it’s the little things
maybe we can change the world
one heart at a time
you can’t say you love too much
you can’t say you care enough
there’s no such thing
as reaching too far
we’ve all got a heart
and you can’t say you love too much.