I returned to the New York area toward the end of October, where I would spend time with family and friends before taking off for Sri Lanka. My Fulbright grant was slated to last nine months, but quite honestly I didn’t know when I’d come back again. I cherished this limited time I had with those who had supported me through such formative common experience, and who constituted an indispensable part of my journey up to this transitional point in my life.
I want to share a few stories that shed light on some of the powerful experiences I shared with family and friends during this time. But before I do that, I’d like to take a step back and reflect on the function of memory and retrospective in inspiring my writing. For one, I realize that much of my creative nonfiction narrative has been produced a considerable time after the events I describe herein. My recollection is therefore inevitably filtered through the prism of my present experience–informed by the contexts of relative equanimity in which I often approach my writing, as well as an evolving perspective conditioned by subsequent life experience. I’m already naturally critical of language as a vehicle to accurately encapsulate or even “do justice” to the complexities of what we positionally encounter everyday. But even more broadly, I admit that my own position of hindsight in writing about the “real world” can serve to situate and appropriate experience so as to fit more neatly into a broader narrative. When you have some idea of where a story is going, it’s tempting enough to instrumentalize past experience to have some teleological bent toward what is to come. You might obscure or further delude the essence of what was experienced in a given moment.
I am conscious of that, and I hope to bracket my position of hindsight so as to better illuminate what really went on. But at the same time, I want to emphasize that it’s often not just the “what” that is sown in the story of human experience, but what people make of the “what” and internalize both individually and collectively. More relevantly for my writing, it’s often not the ins and outs of what’s happened to me in the “real world” that matters, but how the contours of my experience have informed the broader mosaic of self-actualization and growth in my life, and how they might resonate in the life of others. I don’t want to suggest that we are entirely conscious beings making wholly conscious choices that define who we are and who we aspire to be, but that the subjective prisms of self-concept, perception, worldview, and value through which we experience the world are perpetually affected by both conscious and unconscious appropriations of what we’ve been through. And that is what I hope to illuminate in my writing–not just the cards I’ve been dealt but the hands I come to play. Perhaps memory and retrospective are not so obscuring after all.
And so, my first story involves my mom. Days before I left, she and I decided we wanted to go for a hike in the area. We dawned a few layers to confront the brisk chill of the fall afternoon, and headed to the Greenwich Audubon Society just a few miles away. We walked into the nature preserve, and glanced over signs at the main trailhead in an attempt to get oriented to the area. It didn’t take long before the trail we had chosen became obscured by the colorful leaves blanketing the forest floor, but it didn’t seem to matter. We headed in a general direction forward into the heart of the preserve, lost in conversation about this transitional point in our lives. My mom was navigating a change in her career path, and I was about to embark on a 9-month journey on the other side of the world. I felt like we could connect on a real adult level–two people at a rather vulnerable place in our lives, trying to make the most of the cards we’ve been dealt.
We made our way to a quiet pond toward the outer perimeter of the preserve, where we came upon a small row boat resting on the edge of the water body. In a moment of spontaneous revelation, I suggested we take the boat for a spin out on the water, propelled by a broken oar that lay by its side. Of course, I neglected to mention the far side of the boat read, “staff only.” My mom was game, so we flipped the shell over and headed out from the grassy shore. We paddled across the still surface of the pond, parting a colorful layer of leaves to reveal the still darkness of the water below. The absurdity and novelty of the experience was beyond words, and left us laughing in an expression of simple joy as we commandeered the extents of the pond in this humble vessel. At this common juncture in our unique life trajectories, we embraced the intrinsic beauty of paddling along to an unknown destination.
My next story involves my good friend Alex, or Schmal as we like to call him. Schmal and I go way back to our days at Julian Krinsky Tennis Camp in Haverford, Pennsylvania back in 2006. He is probably the most energetic person I’ve ever met, and his general enthusiasm about life is infectious. Schmal has always been intentional about sustaining our friendship across distance and time, as he is one of those unique individuals always finding new opportunities to bring people together. Sure enough, when I returned back to the New York area after several months away, we were quick to reconnect and catch up on on where were in our respective journeys.
After much challenge and time since graduation, Alex had just landed his dream job working for Major League Baseball in New York City. He was eager for me to see him in his new office, and we decided upon a day I could come in. I took the train into New York, and walked a short distance from Grand Central to a towering office building a few blocks away. I checked in with the front desk to get the requisite credentials, and walked toward a set of golden elevators that would take me up to his floor. Sure enough, I exited one the elevators and encountered a crisply-printed “Major League Baseball” sketched on the glass door of the office. Alex soon greeted me in the lobby, impressively “overdressed” with a dapper sport coat secured by his dad, Big Mike, and was thoroughly excited to show me around.
He took me past a hall with mannequins representing every team in the league, and autographed memorabilia behind glass panes marking the perimeter of the office. He showed me his desk, his current work assignments, and introduced me to some older employees who clearly appreciated the joviality, energy, and sports knowledge he brought to the office. I had always known how passionate Alex was about sports, but to see him tangibly pursuing his dream in this place was an amazingly gratifying experience. It gave me the equanimity to know I could take off for a distant world in Sri Lanka, and rest assured that my good friend was thriving in a unique element of his own. After all, I realized with friends all over the world that this was most important — that despite the physical or experiential difference between us, what is most important is providing the support and affirmation to pursue these different life journeys, and if our shared experience and/or energetic wavelength was strong enough, our paths would surely cross again.
My third story involves a trip up north. Before I left the country, I was intent on spending a few days with my grandparents in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and catching up with the rest of my extended family close by in Newton. I made the three and a half hour drive, and settled in on the familiar street my grandparents have occupied for several decades. It was an absolute gift to spend this brief period of time with them, and so gratifying to hear their perspectives after a significant amount of time in the world of adulthood myself. I felt like I could relate to them on a whole different level, and situate the unique path I was about to undertake within a rich family history. My family in Newton came over with barbecue one evening for a dinner, which was particular kind since my cousins were in the midst of a busy school week. My cousin Hannah was in the process of applying to colleges, which was fairly baffling to me given that I’d always considered her my baby cousin. Nonetheless, it was a tremendous gift to spend time with them, and affirmed our enduring connection at this transitional place in several of our lives.
I also got together with my high school friend Gus, who is a senior at Harvard. I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with him and hearing about his ambitious pursuits in the field of medicine, as well his infectiously adventurous spirit in developing plans for after his imminent graduation. His intellect, drive, and compassion have always inspired me, and it was a true pleasure to see him and to meet his girlfriend, two people I look up to and inspire me to be better everyday.
I also got together with my good friend and freshman year roommate Nick, who was in the process of settling into his first job and newfound life in Boston. I felt a similar wavelength of experience to my time seeing Alex in his office at MLB, as it brought me such happiness to see Nick thriving in a city he had set his sights on for some time, and embracing a reinvented identity in the adult world.
And finally, I connected with some of my former tennis team teammates living in Boston for dinner in Harvard Square. It was amazing to see these guys, who could uniquely relate to such a formative common experience we shared unlike so many new people who would enter my life. It was also incredibly inspiring to see them thriving in their lives beyond Bowdoin — Casey at Fidelity Investments, Andrew who spearheaded and successfully secured the 2024 U.S. Olympic bid in Boston, and Nico, who had returned from living in Shanghai to attend Harvard Kennedy School of Government. It gave me the hope during this transitional period of time before I took off for Sri Lanka that I, too, would get grounded in my own sphere, and ultimately thrive in this next chapter of my life.
Before heading to Boston, I had decided I wanted to visit Bowdoin one more time to connect with good friends before taking off for so long. I made the trip north on I-495 with the sort of nervous anticipation that comes with returning to a formative place of the past, while knowing that my identity within that place had profoundly changed. As I reached campus, I could physically feel my heart wrench as I contended with an evident void between the power this place had constituted in my life, and my position as a relative outsider negotiating a newfound sense of identity to situate myself in this place.
Nonetheless, I was quickly reminded of how inextricable of a connection I maintained with people and place at Bowdoin. I met up with my old tennis coach, who was eager to hear about my latest adventures, and to fill me in on the new team dynamic this year. I also connected with my younger teammates and our new freshmen, and I cherished the opportunity I had to spend time with them and share a new perspective having left this place for some time.
Perhaps my most memorable experience was reconnecting with my friend and mentor, Bernie, along with my friend Will, who had returned after graduation to work in the Center for the Common Good on campus. When I reached out to Bernie to see if we could get together, he quickly responded with enthusiasm and asked me if Will and I wanted to join him for dinner. We ended up driving to his place in Freeport, where we had an amazing time catching up over dinner and wine on our various adventures over the last six months. Bernie actually told me that he had been practicing meditation that very morning before I reached out to him, and I happened to come into his field of consciousness, where he extended compassion toward me. Sure enough, despite all the diverse experiences we had undergone over this period of time, it felt like we were picking up on a conversation we had never left. Everything simply flowed. It is good friendships like these where I know that no matter how much time or divergence in experience may pass, we continue to occupy the same energetic wavelength and connect on a substantive level that will sustain our friendship moving forward
These experiences with friends and family combined to remind me that my unique life trajectory has not unfolded in a vacuum, but has been inextricably shaped by the people, places, and ideas I have encountered across many years of living. I returned back to the New York area, and prepared to ship off for Sri Lanka with the reaffirmed sense of equanimity that comes with knowing I was carrying a whole lot more with me than that single black duffle bag that lay by my side.