“You see…a book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy…a challenge [it is] to induct people…who had daily dealings with greed, abuse of power, and the Sisyphean nature of office work into the world of books. How gratifying it was when one of those tormented yes-men quit the job that had robbed him of every last drop of singularity! Often a book played a part in this liberation.”
~Excerpt adapted from Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop (p. 28)
You see, I believe in the power of stories, not only in reading the experiences of others, but in sharing your own. The latter is more challenging. To make yourself vulnerable. I was brought up with pride in self-reliance. My grandfather embodied that and I saw it as a source of strength. Until this year. My first year of grad school, which ended yesterday. The list of things I’ve learned this year is long. At the top, however, is that excessive self-reliance is lethal.
I’d fallen into this very “Sisyphean nature” of grad school life.
I learned to write for science. I forgot to write for myself. I learned to read one peer-reviewed article after another. I forgot to read what used to make my soul happy. I learned to work from the empty office on the weekends. I forgot to prioritize reaching out. I learned to cook and clean and drive and pay the bills and be an adult. I forgot that adults need to breathe.
What happened over the course of the year was frightening, exciting, and overwhelming. Just as the earth beneath my tired feet was being snatched away from me, as my deepest dreams and desires were about to shatter into nothingness, I was given a second chance. A summer of healing. To recall who I used to be, to recreate an identity outside of grad school, to resume reading for pleasure, and to write, not about superficially beautiful places and beautiful foods, but about what makes my soul alive.
A friend’s passing this year has forced me to reflect that in our short lives, there is nothing more tragic than feeling incapable of sharing your story. I’m not sure if anyone will read this, but I personally know that my writing this summer will be one of the many fresh attempts at my catharsis. In three weeks, I’m lucky to be leaving for Morocco, where I’ll be living for most of the summer. Connecting with people on a deeper level and breathing new air, I’m sure, will do wonders for the soul. At the same time, I hope that others who chance upon my thoughts and stories will benefit from relating and connecting and sharing their own.
For now, I will end with a verse that has given me much hope this year. It’s from a chapter in the Quran called The Poets (26:78-80): “It is He who created me and He will guide me. It is He who gives me food and drink and heals me when I am sick.”