It’s hard to believe that three years (and two days!) have gone by since I moved to Cambridge and started grad school.
It’s also hard to believe that I spent my whole entire third year of grad school (18 months, to be exact) working remotely, restlessly jumping back and forth between Houston to Boston to quell my pandemic anxiety and the feeling that I wasn’t being productive or working on anything that was ultimately meaningful.
Outsiders might look at my CV and think “what are you talking about, you were insanely productive!” After all, I TA’ed three courses in the 2020-2021 academic year, co-authored three papers and first-authored a book chapter—my first, first-author publication ever, and started an intimate discussion forum in my department surrounding issues of diversity and inclusion.
that my decision to TA was partially-driven by survival mode and a desperate need for some kind of regular human contact and sense of purpose in the bleary pandemic days,
that I felt so unmotivated by my research that I vigorously procrastinated on my book chapter, so much that I begged the publishers to push the deadline back twice and ended up scrambling to write it in the 2 weeks before it was due,
that deep down, part of this outward image also served to distract from the deeper feelings of grief,
…perhaps this year wouldn’t have seemed so rosy after all. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating or overly humble, but rather to bring to light the reality that the inner life is seldom as it seems on the outside.
Around this time last year, I hit a low point resembling somewhat of an existential crises, and by the end of 2020, I was completely burned out and sad. Not because I had suffered any kind of acute trauma but because I felt—as many have felt over the course of the pandemic—utterly broken, lonely, and helpless. Maybe it was the rampant division and hate in our society, maybe it was the build-up of my unprocessed emotions, maybe it was my inability to have faith in God’s sovereignty. Maybe it was all of that and more. Regardless, something in me felt fundamentally different, and I couldn’t stop crying during the holiday season.
In those times, I found myself crying out as King David did:
Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
It is comforting to know that out of the 150 Psalms, more than half are lamentations.
At the start of 2021, I took a bit of a mental break and retreated into a desert wilderness alone to reconnect with God and piece together a renewed sense of purpose. Unlike my usual New Year’s goals, I resolved to focus on only one thing this year—intimacy with God through honest prayer and regular devotion.
I can’t say Year Three was entirely filled with sadness, either.
Three was a year of finding and falling in love again, which some say is harder than falling in love for the first time. You’re more calculated, skeptical, afraid. Less naive…perhaps to a fault. And to be honest, each day is still a massive step of faith, but it helps that my lover is one of the most patient, kind, and compassionate people I have ever met.
Thank you for your persistent love, for the way you wrestle through the hard questions with me, for the way you hold space for my tears, for the way you speak Goodness into my life.
Thank you for being my consistent and cherished friend.
Last week, I said goodbye to some of my favorite fixtures in Central Square— Pepita Coffee, where I went almost weekly to get coffee and artisan pastries during the pandemic; the local park, where I would escape to journal and read; Christina’s Ice Cream, where I would frequent on particularly sad days. I said goodbye to my roommate—my amazing friend of four years—and my room, which always felt like a safe haven throughout these past three years.
And so I arrive at the beginning of a new chapter. I only moved a mile away from where I used to live, but the change feels significant. Last night, I took a stroll through my new neighborhood—Harvard Square. It was eerily quiet, perhaps some sort of calm-before-the-storm of students arriving for the first in-person semester in over a year.
I recently became a resident tutor at Quincy House, where I’ll get to live with and mentor undergrads for the next few years. I wonder what kinds of students I’ll meet, what their stories are, what they are searching for.
My research is changing too—inspired by the various interactions I’ve had this year, I’m pivoting my work towards understanding the psychology and neuroscience of human belief, and especially why it’s so hard for people to change their beliefs at all. I hope to write more about that in the coming months 🙂
And so that wraps yet another year. Certainly not what I expected, but through it all I choose to sing…
No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love
On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
Happy Three Years to you, Boston!
2 thoughts on “Three.”
Really great post — thanks for sharing!
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I definitely also struggle with being in survival mode for a ton of grad school as well, and I’m really encouraged by how you were able to connect it to grief and wrestling with that.
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