One Sunday, I gazed at the sunset-lit sky and realized that moments like this were worth a hundred poems. So I started to write, slowly, willfully, deliberately. As the light dissipated and paved the way for the darkness to wash all across the sky, I realized that I loved the sky even as it dimmed down. Everyone deserves to be loved at their darkest. Everyone deserves to see beauty in light, just as in darkness. I stayed there for a while and promised the sky that this night was one I’d never let go of.
As I made my way back to my dorm, wonderstruck, accompanied by the symphonies of the verses I’d written, my friend called me frantically, screaming that she wanted to drop out. I’m fond of Stanford and of the opportunities I won’t find anywhere else, but I acknowledge the unimaginable pressure and burden it places on our shoulders. We are all burning, expending so much effort and energy when we are tired and overworked. We look at other people and see only their successes and latest positions they’ve landed. I still vividly remember when my friend told me how much she admired my work ethic, since I was “grinding nonstop.” That day, despite my awe, I was still wiping my tears from the night before.
I went to my friend’s room and hugged her so tight that I felt my jacket getting wet from her tears. She said that she was in a dark place. Was it insensitive to say, “Me, too?” Would I be making it all about me? Nevertheless, at that moment, I just said everything that came to mind: Me, too. You’re not alone.
We started to talk more about our feelings. It gets better at times and worse at others. Being on this campus has been a learning experience in every sense. We are learning how to deal with our thoughts and feelings as young adults. We are learning not to compare ourselves with others our age, even when they are accomplished in an objective sense. We are learning to notice our own accomplishments, to notice how much we’ve inspired others around us. We are learning to see the beauty in pain, joy and, most importantly, ourselves.
I look up to you.
The next day, I woke up to this text from one of my closest friends in Lebanon. My initial reaction was why.
From the moment I left Lebanon until now, I have carried with me the burden of doing so much. I have carried the burden of doing enough to deserve being here, of surviving the crisis strangling an entire country. I’ve given myself another chance at dreaming and succeeding. I don’t want to fail myself.
Going back to Lebanon during winter break was both relieving and painful. I never truly left the country. I carried it with me, kept it alive in my heart so that it would light up every road I took.
Coming back to see my friends and family being proud of me was a blessing that reminded me of why I do it all. As I caught up with them, however, they mentioned how “lucky” I was. They may have not thought too much about the words they used, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so defensive. I know that I am not defined by someone’s opinion, especially when they don’t even know me, but there is nothing that bothers me more than being pinned to luck. I look back in pride at how far I’ve come and how much I’ve achieved. I refuse to be labeled as a “lucky” woman or to have my work discredited. I am more than that. I am a hard-working, independent, beautiful woman who forged her path in the U.S. after coming from miles away and saying her goodbyes.
When winter break ended, I gave my goodbyes once again to those that had given me all their love and to those that have now slowly become ghosts from my past. I had mixed feelings while on the plane, shaken by how my life is turning out and torn between throwing up and beaming with joy. As I stepped foot on this campus, I saw everyone deeply focused on the papers, p-sets and research in their hands. I remembered life at Stanford. It’s a whole new world, but it’s a world I belong to and deserve to be part of.
I went on a walk again. I had so much on my mind, some thoughts related to Stanford and some not. Thinking about it all made me tired, but it was only the beginning of the quarter. I asked myself if these thoughts were worth my attention, if they were in my control, if they were even about me. The answer was no, so I decided to exclusively devote my attention to what truly matters. That was in my control.
Stanford is unbelievably hard. But I made the choice to stay, to appreciate the beauty even in the most difficult, darkest days. In no way am I saying that everything is a choice. What I am saying is that having choice is the way to freedom.
“I am proud of you,” I said to my friend as we endured the fourth mental breakdown in a day. Together, we’ve pulled ourselves out of a dark place, again and again. We made the choice to do so.
I’ve learned so much from being here at Stanford. I’ve learned that there is no right or wrong way to deal with your feelings, that it is normal to witness change and that there is more to be excited about than there is to dread. There is music out here that only our hearts can hear.
I looked over an open window and noticed that the sky was a bit brighter today. I went out, mesmerized by its beauty. I stayed until it became dark and cold.