Introspection #1: Reach Out
“How’s school been so far?”
When that text message appeared on my phone, I was knocked by a wave of surprise. People, especially boys, seldom sent me texts asking whether or not I was okay. It was difficult trying to picture my friend, a tall, strong, and gifted shot-put athlete, in his room with his fingers over keys to type words that reflected his concern for my well-being. I am grateful for having individuals like him as a friend. I assured him that I was doing fine.
We need more people like him.
As a senior at Shaker, I had been preoccupied with desperately finishing college applications, scurrying the Internet for scholarships to apply to, devoting hours to studying for standardized tests, among other laborious tasks. Throughout my senior year, I have been containing myself within my own little bubble, both physically (six feet apart from others, to be exact) and emotionally as well.
Amidst this pandemic that pushed me to stay at home for the majority of my last year at Shaker, there was no way that I could physically reach out to my friends for tender pats on the back or comforting smiles when I needed them most. Especially after stressful virtual AP Chemistry tests or dreadful hours of AP Spanish homework, I definitely would not mind the irreplaceability of physically hearing the comforting words of those who have supported me throughout my life.
As an introvert, I have been blessed with extended moments for self-reflection, taking the time to truly re-evaluate my mental stability and how to proceed from my current emotional state. But especially during these unprecedented times, withdrawn from others, I must learn to conquer these internal battles on my own, which have brought me both benefits and drawbacks.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to blossom in my ability to prioritize my own needs and do whatever I can to obtain mental harmony. I have become more independent and motivated to find ways to relax my mind by myself.
Nevertheless, it is a journey that I cannot, and should not, have to bear entirely on my shoulders. Alas, empathy is declining in our generation, which has been bolstered by the digital age that we have set for ourselves. With relationships being constantly tested through 40-minute Zoom meetings and texts that disappear in a wink, we are losing our ability to emotionally respond to each others’ needs. I wish that there was a way for us to not have to worry about upholding an emotional bond with others while streaming Avatar on Netflix or creating Bernie Sanders memes. The Internet, for me, has become a place of crooked contentment.
It was one summer when I was sitting on my bed filling out my Common Application on my Chromebook when I glanced at the birthday cards that I accumulated over the years and taped onto my wall. Needing a break from filling out the arduous “activities” section online, I stepped out of my virtual world to read the words from people who devoted minutes of their life to crafting sentences that represented how they viewed our relationship.
“Believe in yourself”.
“You were one of the first real friends that I’ve had”.
“You’re a big boi now!”
These words, even if they occupied only half of a card, made me both ecstatic and a tad sorrowful. It was comforting to reassure myself of the strong relationships that I had forged through moments of emotional connectivity with my peers. But were things different now? Do they still feel the same?
How are they doing?
Henceforth, I decided to write birthday messages for my friends this year. The meticulous hours that I spend drafting my words, drawing pictures, and finding suitable photos for the cards enlivens my messages with an intense passion for our friendship. This passion cannot be transmitted through two words sent on a text messaging system, in which “emotions” are too superficial to truly be appreciated. Handwritten notes were the best thing I could, and can, do at the time to assure that my friends realize how much I genuinely care about them.
I can only hope that I have done enough.
I am a promoter of empathy and understand that it can disappear just as easily as it was learned throughout the ages. The ability to respond to the covert sentiments of others is a skill that makes, in my opinion, humanity remarkable. This pandemic will challenge us numerous times to guard the connections of those who we hold dear the most, but at the same time, I realize that it also highlights who my “real” friends are.
My real friends are the ones who dedicate time in these difficult days to be there for me when they can. The ones who listen to me. The ones who respond with their own precious wisdom so that I can tread through my bumpy life more gracefully. These people are invaluable to me, and hence it is my responsibility, as a human being, to ensure that they are doing okay by responding to their emotional needs as well.
I will always swim among the cold waters of their sorrows to send them back to an island of bliss.