It was a fall so steep and a drop so twisted that the world no longer knows the ledge from which it leapt. Here we are, months into isolation, paranoia, insidious anarchy, only to be greeted by fresh waves of misery. We fight, passionately, as humans do; we charge against unimaginable odds and cheer the ones that make it through. And so there is nonetheless great nobility in our struggle. Most of us seem to have given up asking when the world will go back to normal; the only question we have the strength left to ask is whether we will ever get the world back at all.
I often feel as though I have left myself behind. As though when I boarded that plane home three months ago, my shadow was caught in the hanger, and we took off without it. When the life you knew is so forcefully washed away, it’s easy to lose little pieces of yourself in the currents. As Alice said, “I can’t go back to yesterday – I was a different person then.” All that we can do now is move forward, and search for the little drops of fulfilment that splatter against the bolted windows.
For many college students like me, this summer is a looming black hole; internships have been scrapped, job offers rescinded, grants withdrawn; even for those who have managed to secure virtual work, we still feel the hollowness that echoes through what was once the most exciting time of the year. My classes end in three days. There are, of course, many joys that this brings: the sense of achievement, the permission to have a normal sleep cycle again, and the end of finals (which, no matter what form they’re in, do often prove tiresome). But of course, I can’t ignore the unanswerable question: Now what?
It was my cousin who put it best. So often, we chase work experience, additional skills, and other infamous titles on the finest resumes. But this summer, in such a distorted society and such a devastated workplace, it’s no longer about securing achievements; it’s about securing purpose. I ask myself, what can I do to give myself a sense of moving forward? Where can I find the most personal and artistic growth? What mountains can I conquer now that I would never have been able to before? And, ever-increasingly – What can I do to help the world heal?
Finding the answers
I find the clues that lie in misty mornings; in dusty piano keys; in the first notes of a melody; in the odd online course; in the unspoken promise of overstuffed bookshelves; in the vision of a creative project that is gargantuan and exhilarating all at once; in the smell of fresh-baked cookies; in the empire of films now streaming into our homes; in the feebly flickering faith of community. So much. There is so much inside us. As much as it can feel like we’re shrinking, melting into the peeling paint of these four walls, still we continue to brim with life, brim nearly to the point of bursting.
We may not have the answers now. And that’s ok. Given the current circumstances, we’re all going to have to become a lot more comfortable with confusion. I trust that conviction lives inside all of us, waiting to guide us to the challenges that in challenging us, give us meaning. I trust that the human spirit is powerful, artful enough to seek out that which gives it life, and that which it can give life to. I am also fairly certain that this conviction will lead us down the most winding, shadowy, unlikely paths we could imagine. For once, none of us have any idea what will come next, or where we’re going. And this, in a way, is our exploration’s greatest gift; “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Zuni Chopra is filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra and film journalist Anupama Chopra’s daughter, and is currently a freshman at Stanford university where she’s studying the creative arts. She has authored three books of poetry and one novel. Through this column, she chronicles her journey as an international student leaving home for the first time to study abroad.
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From HT Brunch, June 14, 2020
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