Questions focusing on death, life, and the cruel existence of all that is in-between don’t hit you harder than when you are at your rock bottom. Like the unwavering topic of religion, belief, faith and the three letter word I would preclude from this discussion; failure is not a topic you readily concern yourself with unless you are jettisoned into circumstances where you are absolutely forced to.
As a typically introverted, invisible student, blemished with the damnation of being socially invisible, I had always looked up to the one thing in my life my personality could not hamper; grades. A die hard fan of academics and the first letter of the English alphabet, grades was an arena where I had always considered myself to be a success.
If I were an angle in the grading world, I’d be a reflex because I was much more than a 180 but short of a 360, with the potential of reaching the full circle of life but never actually making it.
Like other socially undesirable and excluded teenagers, I had also set my heart on snubbing my classmates’ faces in my effortless achievements of better grades and high accolades in the form of silent approbations by my teachers. In matters of grades, school life seemed to be a dream with a fewer hiccups than on roads in America. While most grappled with the tensions of “breaking the news” to their parents, life seemed breezy for me as I’d rarely received a grade not worth smiling about. I worked, I told myself, hard enough; not too hard to break backs, not too less to be pitied.
Nobody ever wondered, how would she end up? The answer seemed in reach; successful, tractable, predictable.
But, like I said yesterday at an event where nobody expected me to speak, to people who were worried about which mentally unstable, wild teenager had been invited to their humble, innocuous meeting; I thought success was easy.
Turns out, it isn’t.
I had a dream. A silly, pointless dream, it now seems to be; to become an alumni at the most prestigious law school in one of the most desirable cities in my country of origin. I had worked hard enough I told myself, and I did indeed deserve this and want this and desire this. And we must get what we want, right? Hard work pays off, you say? Honest students reach the top, you argue? Life is just, fair and seems to make sense, you protest?
But it doesn’t.
Since the beginning of last year, my ambitions were fine tuned to the specifications of achieving the best possible rank to outclass my 50,000 robust competition. I’d changed details such as the desktop background of my laptop to the one on my whatsapp chats to remind myself of how difficult yet achievable this goal seemed to be. How every moment of my life till a few days of this year needed to be dedicated to the sole mission of my own personal moon landing, but somewhere in outer space my spaceship got lost.
I thought it crashed, it didn’t. It is still floating in outer space, somewhere; dazed and confused. Perhaps, like the Richard Linklater movie, my life ventured into the perplexed abeyance of activity and hoodlum, all fitted into one eternally, impossibly, insufferably yet inexplicably long day. And much like outer space, of which I understand little or possibly zilch, I understood little behind the meaning of being suspended into utter ruin. I descried it as doom, palpable yet a seemingly distant crater zooming my way. A knowledge that would crash into me and dispel the myths of my dreams. My meteor. Just as the knowledge that falling objects from the sky were indeed just that punctured the theories of creation, of Issac Newton, of heaven and hell and assails on the in-between; I was told by a score, that against all odds, I had failed, that no matter what thrifted prayers I had hurriedly uttered, no matter what faith systems depended on me, no matter the mathematical calculation, eye witnesses must tell me a brutal truth. I had failed.
I had believed in “everything happens for a reason” for far too long, and now I didn’t, because who would invite a violent meteor and hail it as ‘meant to be’?
The first thing I did was change my embarrassingly over-ambitious wallpaper to a soothing and calming one. One I would need no grades to climb, no permissions to ask from the Gods of a rigid exam to explore, and no expectations to triumph.
But all sense of logic suspends when tragedy occurs. Nothing prepares us for it. We are all told to dream but we aren’t taught how to get over those dreams.
The most difficult thing to admit in today’s tragedy stricken, grief-is-cool, #ihavereasonstobedepressed generation is to say that you’re happy. So, I am going to chicken out and say that not even twenty four hours I really wasn’t.
But I had the ephemeral, lightning courage to talk about it. In a room full of strangers- in the most dramatic way possible. I went up on stage and thought that I need to dump my feelings on somebody else. And I did. But not without difficulty. Those three minutes had to be the strangest, most incoherent minutes of my life where I knew what I needed to say but my tears choked the words at the back of my mouth. Eye contact was difficult, and as somebody later pointed out, completely amiss. I could not withhold the sadness pouring out of me; something I had not anticipated after four days of continuous crying sessions, insomnia, nightmares and dreadful google searches. As I collected my emotional baggage off the stage and packed it into a neatly stuffed suitcase I call a dressing sense, I walked away in what I call “a walk of disgrace” where you are ashamed of not what you did do, but what you did not. But, funnily enough, these three minutes of emotional flogging had not rendered me vulnerable or even remotely ashamed. I had stretched the skeleton of my feelings to spread out in its entirety, naked, wholesome, for all to see; I had not cared if you branded, or guillotined my soul, these mere punishments did not seem to matter after the intellectual rape I had endured.
But, later during the break time, my words seemed to be the hot topic of the day. People came up to me and expressed, albeit with best intentions, that I was too young to be sad. Life had meaning beyond marks and that I should not concern myself with small failures.
While I appreciated and shall ever appreciate the wisdom of twenty odd persons, I still need to know the answer to when and in which circumstances is sadness permitted? Are you too young to be sad because you are eighteen? Is sadness, like happiness really a true choice? Is there in fact only one way to be sad or any way to be sad?
While these questions irk my intellectual pique one deep-seated issue seems to beg for my attention. What bothers me is not how people seem to dictate the terms of sadness but our right to be sad. If we were to circumscribe to such a right, if it ever so exists, we would be limited to no human emotions. Without sadness, happiness is neutrality and if what must follow be eliminated I may not feel pain. Anger, too is rooted in pain or discomfort.
If we were to fix an age to sadness, I would be too young to feel sad and an eighty year old would frankly have too few years to enjoy the liberty of sadness. While I may be young, there is no diktat which states that my dreams are too silly to leave me hopeless. Youth cannot defy ambition, or success so why must it evade the basis of our ontology; sorrow?
Funnily enough, I was voted the best speaker of the day. My incoherent babble seemed to extort some pity votes out of the audiences. I received a certificate of “you’re not alone” yesterday, something I perhaps needed? This solidarity in pain helped me overcome it. But I cannot be told that my pain is too inconsequential in my larger life graph because then I would tell you yours isn’t even a dot in the graph of this universe. This isn’t a battle of sorrow; it isn’t to tell others when, how and for how long they must grieve. While my days of mourning may be over, I do not judge black widows. And neither should you.