29 August 2020

I received a postcard from Concord, New Hampshire the other day. 

It was from another graduate student from the LLM program I got admitted to. We got in touch through the law school's admissions office via email a few months ago, before the reality of deferral dawned on me, and before their classes, exams, and eventual graduation were all moved online. To reach out to prospective students is already a thoughtful gesture, but to send an actual, physical letter just to say hi and to make us feel welcome? It shouldn't feel like much, but given the current circumstances, it's well-received and appreciated.

It feels like my admission was a lifetime ago. April — and the rest of the year — slipped by so quickly. So many devastating, troubling, and concerning things have happened since then. While it was something I wanted so badly to celebrate, it just didn't feel right then. And it still doesn't feel right now. 

The pandemic has deprived us the opportunity to process things the way we know how. It has shifted, and is still shifting, the ground on which our old lives have taken root. About a month ago, a lola who lived a street away from us passed away on my uncle's death anniversary. This grandma, though not our relative, was always present in most of our family's gatherings and milestones. Her children are aunts and uncles to me. I'd always drop by their house every Christmas. She'd join my other lolas in fetching me on Sundays after bar review. 

How do we grieve without having gotten the chance to say goodbye? How do we comfort others without the benefit of touch? How do we carry the burden of sadness, on top of the toll of uncertainty? And on the other hand, how do we even make room for celebration of our own small victories? It feels paralyzing, trying to navigate through our emotions with all this going on. Our feelings both feel unimportant but burdensome at the same time.

I'm reminded I'm reminded of this essay I read by Andrea Pitzer, an American journalist, and her journey along the Arctic to trace the last voyage of polar explorer William Barents. His crew was attempting to find passage to China; meanwhile, Andrea was trying to navigate through a personal crisis.

While on her trip, her cousin Joe had died. During the remainder of the voyage, she had to deal with the reality of his sudden absence. It was shocking and sad: he was suddenly gone, his PTSD, his terrible jokes, his alcoholism, his love for many people - all of it. "He's already been gone for more than a week, while I was out in the Arctic, heedless of his disintegration," Pitzer writes.

Needless to say, while the primary purpose of Pitzer's voyage was to retrace the final steps of Barents and his crew, their ship soon became ground zero for Pitzer's feelings of regret, shame, and sadness. On top of the list: she saw for herself how the Arctic sea is collapsing, with few signs of reversal. Her family seemed equally vulnerable following Joe's demise, her father and stepfather's cancer diagnoses, and her mother's worsening dementia. In addition, she left back home a husband working full-time, with his hands full as he takes care of their two teenage children. She also has to have her book on Barents out by Christmas.

"I feel both grateful and ashamed to have a chance to go off the grid to focus on research. I’m running from looming family mortality into the arms of historic—and historical—tragedy. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t go. But I know it might be the journey of a lifetime."

This is exactly how I felt about being granted admission to 3 universities a few months ago. I already deferred until next year, knowing full well that I will forfeit my admission if circumstances don't allow me to enroll by next year. Will things be okay by then? Will I be in a better position to chase after something very personal, to be thinking solely of myself? I have no idea. There's this loud voice inside my head saying I may not be able to go, knowing full well that we may not have enough resources to send me to the other side of the world with only, at most, a 60% scholarship. More so, it just feels preposterous to be leaving my family behind during a very turbulent, vulnerable time to go to a country that is just as chaotic and troubling.

But I cannot not go. 

"The future we’re digging for ourselves is at the bottom of a cliff that grows higher every day. But that’s not the same as saying nothing can be done. There are eggs to fry. There is history to remember and glaciers to measure. There is trash to count. 

So much is already going or gone. But what’s still there is vast, stupendous."

I suppose the only way out of this is through. And despite how bleak everything seems at the moment, we have to believe that wonders will keep coming, day by day.Things will get better, things will get better, things will get better. Repeat until it takes root in our soul; repeat until it actually happens. I'll set out to sail one day soon; I have to, I will. Until then, I'll do what I can here, on deck, despite being surrounded by endless water.

"I’ve come back to say that this place is singing a love song. It may be shot through with grief and danger, but if you’re listening and you can hear this, it means we’re not dead yet."


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