In wake of a recent personal tragedy, Jessica Yin reflects on how we should appreciate the present as more than just a harbinger of the future.
No. It was the only thing I could feel as the world rushed on around me like fast-flowing traffic while I stood still in the chaos thinking with childlike defiance: no. Knowing I could not survive the pain, all my nerves packed their suitcases in haste and fled, leaving me numb like a hologram to filter the stream of words popping up in Facebook chats like stabbing pings to my heart. Car crash. Semi. Dead at scene. I felt like a computer when it glitches, wanting to scream input failure, words not recognised. This must be a joke, a bad dream, a version of a movie I don’t want to watch anymore, so please will somebody just yell cut? The air was filled with grief and bubbles of written consolations that hovered unseen as I closed my eyes and waited because I didn’t want to see unless I’d see you sitting there with your long legs crossed beneath you, reading Kafka like it’s no big deal and you aren’t the most intelligent, eloquent, funny, and complicated human I’ve ever loved.
I’ve lost before, but never like this. So sudden and unexpected, it was like someone had flipped a switch and shut off gravity. The world as I knew it fell apart and everything shifted out of place, sliding and moving untill I could no longer recognise the ground on which I wasn’t standing. We feel so invincible at this age because we’ve been told that the world is ours and the future is full of endless possibilities. Look around St Andrews and you can see just how alive we all are, whether we show it through feats of amazing athleticism in sports or on the dance floor of the Lizard. We make plans for the future with this unflinching belief that tomorrow is always going to come. With deadlines piling up and exam timetables out to scare us all into remembering we are not here for a degree in downing shots, I find myself guilty of turning away invitations to go out or talk to friends because I just don’t have time. ‘Later!’ I shout, as I run off to the library, never thinking that later might be too late and I’ll be left wishing I had taken a second to listen, chat, or even just hug my friends and tell them how much they mean to me. In the cold and blistery St Andrew’s weather, it’s easy to duck your head, close your blinds, and bury yourself in layers upon layers of duvets, but I challenge everyone to find something beautiful each day to admire and marvel at. Go out and try a new restaurant or roll up your sleeves and attempt to bake a ridiculously elaborate cake. Do the unthinkable by simply doing nothing and let your thoughts wander to create castles in the clouds and stories with dragons and mystical elves. Wrap yourself in blankets and sit beneath the stars one night when the skies are actually clear and gaze at the celestial storybook stretched up above you with tales of heroic sacrifice and death-defying love. Go and tell that annoying, stubborn boy that you don’t care if he doesn’t say it back, but you love him and that’s not about to change.
I’m not saying throw up your hands, make no plans, and just wing your way through exams. I just know that some days, life seems to me like an endless race towards a constantly moving finish line, a marathon towards some prize that is arbitrary and meaningless because what’s important is the process of reaching it. What’s the point of getting that prestigious summer internship or a perfect score on that IR essay if you don’t have someone to hug and share the good news with? What does it matter if you’re the team captain and the PR manager if you’re so miserable, tired, and so overworked that you walk home in the pouring rain, thinking about stepping in front of cars just so all the demands and responsibilities will finally just stop? The problem with stopping as an individual is that everyone is tangled up in each other’s stories, arms and legs entwined so that when you disappear, the structure crumbles and I fall through the space where you were. So, please, if you ever feel like it’s all just too much and that the world is slowly crushing every hope for happiness out of your tightening windpipes, just breath and remember the beautiful, flame-colored hues that paint the skies when shadows crawl to claim the setting sun. Think of all the expensive bottles of wine in the world begging to be sampled or all the 1-pound messy bombs waiting to make for one hell of a messy Sinners. Pop in a Disney movie and cuddle up with your best friends and a bucket of popcorn because you deserve a chance to be happy in the present as well as the future.
What I’ve learned from my tragedy is that life is short and unpredictable. We may hope that our lives are long and filled with marvellous adventures, but we can’t simply count on the future to make us feel fulfilled. In the terrible unlikelihood that it all were to end right now, would you feel like you’ve done everything you wanted? Could you say that you have met the most remarkable people and made deep, fulfilling connections? Do you have incredible stories and moments of unmatchable joy to bring a smile to your face when the world seems a tad bleak? Can you look yourself in the mirror and promise to remember to enjoy a few moments and have some fun while hectically pursuing all your dreams? I now live, for him as much as for me, to try and make sure the answer to all those questions, is yes.
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