When It Catches You On the Flipside

This is a photo of Elizabeth Lake, Yosemite, from the top of the mountain I somewhat unexpectedly bouldered. I haven’t had a chance to upload any new pictures, but wanted an image to accompany the article. To my delight, this photo seems to show the opposite perspective of the photo for “A Few Tips About RTW Planning: Part 1.” The view from the top – fitting?

I officially moved back to Campbell on Thursday.

…!

As Adam noted, it must have been a ridiculous sight to watch me drive a U-Haul, though such incredulity is not encouraged. (I might be an Asian woman – is Indian Asian? – but I’m a damn impressive driver.) The man who handed me the keys seemed awfully apprehensive as well. Regardless, he (perhaps irresponsibly) let me roam the roads anyway. He even gave me extra gas! I saved $20! And I didn’t kill anyone! Screw you, stereotypes!

Nevertheless, as I navigated the highway home, I felt another wave of disbelief. I had noticed a few months back that a significant sea change had occurred, and it had nothing to do with graduation. Or, maybe it did? Or maybe graduation was just a benchmark against which the change was observed?

The Story of U-Hauling

In this case, the change was fairly insignificant – but in its insignificance, so significant. (So meta, right?) I realized that as a driver of a large truck with no rear-view mirror, I relied heavily on the faith that other drivers would avoid me. I depended on the assumption that cars would merge responsibly, and that people would pay attention to street conditions and brake with enough notice. I hoped that I wouldn’t side-swipe anyone, but I had no certainty of the safety of my blind spots. I realized that I was unlikely to be hurt in a traffic collision, but I could easily kill someone with even the slightest touch of negligence.

I started to think of all the times I’ve driven next to, behind, or around a truck, or another vehicle with blind spots. I reminded myself: “I should be more careful.” A wave of empathy for truck drivers rippled through my mind. And just like that, I became profoundly more aware of my surroundings. I actively felt a lesson absorb into my body, like I had learned something that I would never unlearn.

This week has been full of similar experiences. I’ve found myself opposite my typical role in a handful of situations, and each, like the truck driving example, has had a weirdly metamorphic effect on me.

The Story of Aging

For instance, I was the head girls’ counselor at this year’s Gandhi Camp. I’ve always enjoyed camp – I met one of my best friends there – but my previous experience has always been predicated on the social environment. This year (with the exception of one of my friends from Berkeley, the head boys’ counselor, and the uncles and aunties) I was one of the oldest people there. Despite the two to eight year gaps, Courtney and I befriended a group of 17 – 19 year boy counselors. They were thoroughly awesome guys – they exhibited compassion and humor well beyond their years, but showed their youth when asking questions about college applications and pranking campers by moving their cots outside.

I suddenly felt old.

But it was upon befriending these teenagers that I also felt so grateful for the life I’d lived. In my 22 years, I’ve had full, enriching experiences. Everything I’ve done in recent memory has been worthwhile and meaningful, and even the dull, inactive moments have had their purpose. I’ve sustainably taken care of myself and others, and I’ve pushed myself just far enough without doing anything to betray my ethics. I’m proud of the choices I’ve made, and I genuinely feel that I’m moving in the direction of regretting less and appreciating more. The last four years in particular – with college, work, friendships, relationships, vices, and the very frightening possibility of death – have fundamentally altered my personality.

It’s unreal to think about how these guys will change when they’re my age. Will they become increasingly more responsible and attuned and friendly, or will they succumb to social pressures and the exotic lure of unrestrained freedom? And what changes exactly happened to me?

The Story of Camp Counseling

Just being in a different position afforded me so much perspective. At camp, I spent as much time hanging out in the kitchen with the aunties as I did out in the field with the kids (not spending time with children is something I expect to be a constant, but we’ll see..). I understood why the main auntie used to scold me, and I started to do the same thing to the older girl campers who really should have known better. I was genuinely proud when said auntie told me that she was impressed by the woman I became – earning her respect was something I didn’t even realize I was hoping for all these years.

I had to teach the semi-spoiled suburbanites how to wash their dishes, a concept I thought fairly intuitive but something I might have just adopted after four years free of a dishwasher. I was dubbed “outdoorsy” because I had a headlamp and liked walking around in the dark by myself. My voyage seemed completely nonsensical to them, as did my music taste – Bob Marley, Radiohead, and the xx were all rejected in favor of repeated requests for Maroon 5. I cannot tell you how bizarre it was for me to not DJ to a receptive audience – aside from Kiwi Chris, this is the first time anyone has told me they even remotely dislike my music choices. (Time to get out of the bubble, right?)

The Story of Dating

I’ve always had older friends. Much of my personality revolves around the younger sister / doe-eyed damsel in distress role, and as such, most of the guys I’ve dated have been three to four years older than me (much to my brother’s disapproval).

When I was 19, I dated a 23-year-old who would joke about taking me out to Chuck-E-Cheese. I hated it. We were a good team; we were fun, funny, dynamic people who were both headed for great things. And today, I know that to be true. But despite all of our integral similarities, he couldn’t get past the age difference (or his ex-girlfriend). I couldn’t accept it – I might have been a college student, while he was well into his post-graduate life, but couldn’t we progress together? Wasn’t supporting each other the most important factor, and everything else was just secondary?

But reflecting on it, I understand where he came from. I understood it then, to be honest, but just didn’t want to accept it. As a graduate, you have hundreds of opportunities. Your life blossoms out of the cocoon of college, and you no longer have to worry about the school schedule or part-time jobs or staying the four-year course. Life in college is glamorous and exciting and scary and a complete whirlwind of emotions, and in that way it’s very similar to life out of college. But everything happens so much faster – changes are accelerated, and friendships can form and crumble within weeks. The anxiety of college – of deadlines and romances and constant moving – is definitive of that microcosm. It’s difficult to reconcile the freedom from one’s parents with the true freedom from structure.

So I understand how he felt – seduced by who I was as a person, but uncomfortable with how variant our lives were. If we were to move together, we would have to be on the same page, and thinking about where I was then, I know it’s impossible for us to have been.

The Story of Reflecting

Courtney and I met up with our counselor boys a few nights ago. It was a pleasure to see them again, particularly outside of camp with its strict moral code and particularities. We had no idea where to take them – it’s true that the post-21 life is a world apart life as a minor. We eventually ended up at Zachary’s, home of the most delicious deep-dish pizza in the Bay.

During dinner, one of the  boys was a bit distant. When asked what he was thinking about, he said he was imagining everyone at the table as 22-year-olds. He wondered how they’d act, and how their lives would be. Would this same group be all together in five years? Then another boy, the daydreamer, asked everyone to note the time.

What was significant about 9:34 PM?” I thought. He answered by telling us about how he often played a game with himself, in which he’d make note of what he was thinking at a particular time, then reflect on it 24 hours later. He said it’d trip us out, and I cynically noted that that’s the one thing I’m always thinking about: my trip.

But now I realize that we’re more alike than I had thought. We both spend a good amount of time reflecting, comparing our present to our past and imagining our future. We think about where we were and how we’ve changed since. Are we moving in the direction of our goals? Do we reassess our goals at proper intervals? Are our lives well-intentioned and meaningful and positive? Are we becoming decent, hard-working, trustworthy people?

I can actively sense the chapter of college turning, and the chapter of “adult life” about to begin. These signs of awareness are providing me a critical look into who I was, which is completely necessary in light of the fact that I’m about to have my identity reconstituted a million times in a million different circumstances. This blossoming cognizance of the integral contrasts between me and my surroundings will hopefully provide for meaningful travel, or at the very least entertaining reading.

As for now, I’m pretty happy with where I am and where I’m going. The journey starts in a week and I couldn’t be more ready!

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