At the start of every August my family spends two-weeks vacationing in the Adirondacks. Always. No matter if every one of my siblings is at school or working, we always make time for our annual summer trip “up the mountains”. That is why, even though I just spent two months in India, I agreed to add 8 more hours to my travelling time to take a flight to Burlington, Vermont to meet my family up in the ADK. Yes I sat in JFK airport from 12:00am to 7:00am but I knew that it would be worth it. After breathing in the heavy pollution that is found in every major city in India I was ready to step off that airplane and take a deep breath of clean, fresh mountain air. I could not stop commenting on this fact to my parents who patiently and respectfully listened to my rants about the environment the whole two-hour car ride to our cabin. Even as I am writing this post right now I am taking in deep breaths of the air around me, how lucky I am to appreciate the one thing that we all take for granted.
Fortunately my only symptom of jet lag (although my parents will disagree with me considering they watched me fall asleep at the dinner table every night) was that I woke up around 6:00 every morning. I have never been considered a morning person and thus, it is rare that I get to enjoy the peacefulness of the early morning hours. Rolling out of bed, letting my family’s puppy named Lily out of her dog crate, and opening the red door to our cabin served as part of my typical morning routine. That first step outside into the chilly morning air never fails to bring me joy. The sight of the morning dew hanging low to the ground and covering the mountains in the distance is breathtaking every time. To think that only a few days before I was walking down the streets of Hyderabad, aggressively yelling “no!” to nagging rickshaw drivers and staring down at the road ahead of me to avoid any random piles of poo. This past summer was a whirlwind of adventures that tested all of my limits and personal beliefs and in the end, I grew stronger. Standing in the middle of my family’s field, staring at the beautiful world around me, I finally felt the peace of accomplishment. My time in India taught me how to appreciate moments like these. I have become an advocate for the present and simply enjoying the things/people/places that currently occupy my time and space. We must embrace the bad in our lives and share the good because who knows what this life has in store next.
So, when posed with the usual “how was your summer?” topic, I have found myself simply replying good. Of course I go into much more depth when prompted, but if I had to sum up the whole trip into one word, it would be ‘good’. Good in the sense that I learned more about myself and how my actions, my attitude, and my empathy impact those around me. The interviews that Emma and I worked on in the Araku Valley transformed the way that I communicate with people. I have ultimately become more receptive and patient to the things that are shared in all sorts of conversations and thus I feel I have found better ways to convey my own thoughts and ideas. I’ve learned never to enter a conversation with preconceived notions about that person’s character because more often than not people are full of surprises.
A perfect example of this is my co-intern and now lifelong friend Emma Harris. Being told that I was going to spend my whole summer living in rural India with a complete stranger was daunting to say the least and I couldn’t help but think of the various directions our relationship could go. The problem with judging a person before you really get to know them is that you inevitably focus on the bad things that aren’t even true yet but only exist in your head. What if we are just not be compatible, what if we can’t find a way to coexist peacefully, etc. Little did I know that I would be fortunate enough to work with the most calm and understanding person I’ve ever met. Right from the start Emma was a good friend to me. The way that she genuinely considered my fears and anxieties made me feel seen and her willingness to share her own apprehensions with me made me feel wanted. Emma has this undying optimism that inspired (and still inspires) me every day to spread hope with my attitude rather than defeat. I am so grateful to the forces that brought us together because (and I’m really trying hard not to make this generic or corny) she has shaped me as a person. This is not just because I am a vegetarian now or that I’ve become more environmentally conscious, but because my outlook on the rest of my life has changed. My existence now has more meaning and the future has more hope and although it might be a great big world out there, we all serve a purpose.
So here’s to my summer in India, to all the people I met, to all the places I saw, and to all the times that I got to live in the present because well, it was good.