The things we’re not taught

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In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.

— Someone, somewhere, but the Internet has mangled it enough that I don’t know who or where to source it

I get contemplative every time I see people around me go through major life events: picking college, graduating, quitting their jobs or getting engaged. Usually, I’m not a part of these events.

In June, a few of my closest friends graduated from Northwestern. All of them were part of the class that entered before mine; they were the sophomores to my freshman experience, and I got to know them in various and varying spaces. Many of them were mentors and counselors to me as I navigated this new community — a role that none of them really signed up to play, and one that I have found myself in during the years since.

I know that, in less than a year, I will be joining them in severing the ties that bind me to the people who remain behind at this institution. I know many of my already-graduated friends will promise to maintain ties and keep in touch, and I know that I’ll make the same promise in turn. But we all know that the truth is we were brought together through nothing but curious coincidential circumstance; and when the communal experience of Northwestern University is dropped from our lives, the social and geographical ties that bind us will disappear and we’ll simply drift apart.

Nobody has ever taught me how to deal with this. I’ve never dealt with it well; I simply handle this situation as it comes, and I suspect many other people do the same. We were never taught how to handle the reality that life is ephermeral; that everything happens so quickly, and the people we meet are only a part of our lives for a fleeting blink of an eye, and a moment later: They’re gone.

I have been taught many things in my decades on the surface of this planet: I can solve equations I’ll never need, build machines I’ll never use, recite capitals I’ll never visit. I can tell you plenty about books I’ve never read and about people I’ve never met. I can speak in tongues you’ve never heard and write in scripts you’ve never seen.

And yet: I don’t know how to make friends, and I don’t know how to manage when they go away. I don’t know how to love myself in a way that isn’t destructive. I don’t know to recognise when I’m hurting until it’s too late, or reach out for help until it’s almost unsalvagable. I don’t know how to live my life in a way that it’s not a struggle to convince myself to get out of bed every morning; that today will definitely be a better day than the last; that the world is a beautiful place definitely worth saving.

There’s a part of my brain that wonders how I’ve managed to survive this long; how I haven’t died yet from something stupid at some point or another. Maybe it’s because I’ve managed to piece together a strong social network to fall back upon. Maybe it’s just dumb, blind luck. Maybe it is, as my therapist once said, the “strong mental and emotional strength” that I’ve demonstrated.

Well, I don’t feel very strong, and I don’t know if I ever will.

About the author

Leo Ji

oh dear lords and heavens above, what is your innocence

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