I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for quite some time now. I wanted to write a piece reflecting on my time abroad and yet somehow I have successfully managed to push it off for 3 months, not knowing exactly what to say and always in favor of a bill to pay, an e-mail to write, or the latest episode of something to watch. And it isn’t until now, at 11 pm on a random Tuesday night that something clicked inside my head and I reached for my phone to scribble down my thoughts in my notes app before falling asleep.
If you had told me 5 years ago that at 23 years old I would have lived a year in Vietnam, moved to Hawaii with my best friend, be in love with the man of my dreams, and be on the verge of entering a masters program at the University of Washington I would have laughed in your face. My insecure and directionless 18 year old self would have puzzled over how such wonderful things could happen to a person like me. And yet, it did… it is… and I am.
I think back to my senior year of high school when all of us were tasked with the hideously unrealistic assignment of answering the question “who am I?” in the form of an essay and presentation. I have no idea what I wrote in that paper but the premise was this: if a tree falls down in a forest but there’s no one around to hear it, did it really make a sound? Similarly, if a person goes through their whole life without making a single meaningful relationship, did they really exist? A psychologist at heart, I’ve always gravitated toward the understanding of people and the meaning that can be derived from our relationships and behavior. The idea behind this abstract thought is that to be “human” is to merely be a compilation of all the experiences and relationships a person has had in their lifetime. My successes, therefore, are not my own but the shared successes of all my friends and family.
Fast forward a few years to June 2016 where I am sitting in a room in an ashram in Rishikesh, India listening to an evening “satsang” , also known as a “divine question and answer”. During a satsang session, audience members are encouraged to ask abstract questions about life which are then answered by a Hindu guru who channels the words of God and delivers an answer (I happen to have a lot of satsang videos on my computer so contact me if you’re interested in seeing what it’s all about). The guru leading this satsang happened to be an American woman and one of the questions she was asked that night relates in particular to my recent thoughts. The guru, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, had recently received a prestigious award and was asked by one of her audience members, “how does one receive graciously”? Sadhvi-ji went on to explain that the key to graciousness is the realization that it has nothing to do with you. That even the tiniest of successes has little to do with you and everything to do with the people surrounding you.
I know without a doubt that I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if it wasn’t for the support of my loved ones. Yes, the obvious culprits like my parents who have always encouraged me to be whatever I want to be and who generously supported me financially throughout higher education. My best friend, Sasha, who talked to me on the phone for hours and cried with me when I felt disappointed and celebrated with me when I felt proud. But also the little nuances like my classmate who smiled and held the door open for me every day during a time in my life when I felt particularly depressed or the strange Thai man who gave me a ride to a hotel when I had food poisoning on an airplane or the man who indulged my questions and shared with me his faith and love for a God I haven’t met yet.
Although I took home a lotttt of souvenirs from Asia, the greatest thing I brought back with me is a web of people whose interconnectedness makes me feel more whole than I ever thought possible but also torn apart at the same time. A realization that two people who come from different countries and speak different languages can still have a beautiful compilation of experiences that make them both “human”.
To those near and far, thank you for writing a word, a line, a page, or a whole chapter in my book. Thank you for giving a part of yourself to me, big or small, because in the end, I have learned, I am not really me without YOU.