The College Balance

Time loves to present illusions. In the summer, the hours are unlimited. But when the school year begins, even fifteen minutes are precious. I wish I could save all my free time and bottle it for when I’ll really need it. It’s unbelievable how fast life is changing. Yesterday, I visited George Mason University and bumped into a friend from high school. We conversed for a little while, but in those few minutes, it felt as though I had watched the past six years fly by. My peers are human timelines. We watched each other grow up, embarrass ourselves, and make countless mistakes before learning how to correct them.

I sit firmly planted on July 28, but August 29 will kick me out of my seat as I look forward to a packed schedule. My friends and family have urged me to begin preparing for college, often giving me a polite, “Hurry up.” It’s difficult to sense the urgency when these summer minutes are seemingly infinite. But before I know it, I’ll be breathing in a cool autumn breeze as I rush to my first college class.

I am a juggler, as high school has taught me how to balance schoolwork, sports, and family life. But we’ve rewritten the script. I’ll be juggling college, extracurricular activities, and (hopefully) a job. I know I might feel overwhelmed when school begins. But I’ve successfully managed a packed schedule during high school. I balanced tiresome cross-country workouts with hours of homework before I’d go to sleep and do it all over again. Fatigue crept upon me during those final waking hours, as I wished that I could recharge without risking unfinished schoolwork.

In the rush of attending rigorous courses, I hope that I will establish a sense of belonging in the Mason community. I imagine sitting in the front rows of poetry slams, as my eyes watch outspoken writers perform. I want to join my fellow Patriots in the midst of laughter as I participate in outdoor activities. I look forward to being surrounded by intellectual thinkers who strive to make a difference in the community.

So as I sit on July 28, I am aware that the future won’t be exactly as I imagine it. I can accept that there will be disappointments and conflicts. But I will carry my problem-solving abilities and resilience on every commute to and from school. There are friendships to build, lessons to learn in and out of the classroom, and unique experiences to partake in. I cannot wait to go to Mason on August 29, look at the campus’ buildings, and think, This is the school where I will grow, transform, mess up, and rebuild.

 

 

Heartbeat

Keep beating

Inside my chest.

A steady rhythm when I’m running,

A gentle beat when I’m meditating.

Stay healthy

As you pump blood to green and blue veins.

That remind me

I am awake,

Breathing,

Living.

Whatever you do,

Protect yourself

From fear.

Just be the same soft, gentle beat

I feel during meditation.

Let this serenity forever be with me.

Can I perpetuate this calm,

This honest self-awareness?

Pose

Transcendent

Lift me off the ground

In a whirlwind of freedom and happiness that transpired from within.

I am floating

Above worry,

My arms stretch to invite peace.

My body rotates,

As I examine everything around me.

It doesn’t have to look perfect

Because I’ve built the strength to solve new challenges.

An infectious smile stretches across my face,

Tears of joy collecting along my bottom eyelid.

I am weightless and resilient.

I am here,

Floating,

Growing,

And forever changing.

I am in control

Of my own happiness and success.

So I rise above

The weight of trivial matters,

Slowly reaching the horizon.

Looking for the sun,

I now emanate my own rays of sunshine.

Opening my palms, I watch light glimmer on my skin,

Running my fingertips along the backs of my hands,

My arms,

My face.

This is all me.

My beautiful imperfections,

My honest flaws,

My originality.

I can be proud of myself even if I have yet to reach my ambitions,

To achieve a better version of myself.

I am me,

And that is enough.

Undeniably enough.

A New Beginning

In the midst of countless college freshmen and family members, I reach out to others in search of friendship at my school’s orientation. The last time I experienced the confusion of adjusting to a new level of academic rigor and lifestyle was middle school. I am still the 12-year-old girl in Aeropostale apparel eager to find herself in the wake of a new beginning. “George Mason University feels like home to me,” I told my sister. But I knew I wouldn’t truly feel at home unless I had other members of this community by my side.

Examining the Concert Hall, I spot a student who appears to be more at ease than I am. I introduce myself without further ado, as she invites me to sit with her. As the day progresses, I expand my connections, and the packed schedule of activities flies by. A genuine sense of belonging transpires within me. In every direction I turn, I hear the echoes of laughter. Students sporting the green and gold walk in tight-knit groups, as  I share humorous anecdotes with other freshmen.

Time and progress is never at a standstill. But Mason’s aura of freedom and liveliness is unchanging. The school’s beauty manifests itself in the lush green trees around campus, in the green and gold students wear proudly, in the smile that stretches across my face as I interact with peers.

To get the most out of the college experience and life, I don’t have to exhaust my bank account or travel hundreds of miles.I simply need to be in the company of other productive, engaged, and friendly individuals. And I am content.

GMU

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trial-and-Error

During the months that I was learning how to drive, I craved the opportunity to sit in the front seat and steer myself in any direction I chose. The yellow paper that reads ‘180-day Temporary License’ is a reminiscence of my drive toward personal freedom. But the first time I nervously shrunk into the driver seat, I accepted that making mistakes was an inherent part of learning. As I performed myriad reckless turns, I wondered if the steering wheel was secretly working against me. I let myself err before I could correct.  Overcoming a personal health issue I have faced required a similar approach.

I spent months pondering what the root-cause of the issue could be, as I often returned home with a flat tire. Without an understanding of the problem, there was no chance of reaching a solution. So I ran a trial-and-error experiment, using my mind as both a battleground and laboratory. My resources ran short, lacking in fuel and knowledge of how to successfully steer myself through the process of self-understanding. I panicked when my tires hit a pothole. I fought to ignore the issue, the occasional disruptions in physical and personal comfort I experienced as I sat in the driver’s seat. It was a pain that demanded to be felt, an uncertainty I often met as I doubted my ability to perform careful turns. I wished I could let other drivers know that I was inexperienced—that my errors could cause damage to other vehicles. But I continued to drive, confidently tapping the accelerator as I perfected turns and lane-changes. Today, I pride myself on being a safe and responsible driver, but I’ve travelled through countless unpaved roads to reach this destination.

The drivers that whiz by me before I embark on daily outings share a commonality. Our driver’s licenses are representative of the learning process—its smooth roads and unpaved paths, its epiphanies and its downfalls. We must allow ourselves to mess up, make uncontrolled turns and hasty accelerations. We must stop hitting the brakes and begin to accelerate toward a better version of ourselves. We need to take hold of the steering wheel and leave doubt behind.

A few days ago, I told my mother, “I don’t know how to park. My driving instructor never taught me how.” But ruthless potholes, impatient drivers who honk at their own leisure, and speed limits that exceed my level of comfort have opened my mind. Learning is most effective when we actively apply ourselves to a given situation. When I told my mother, “I don’t know how,” I meant, “I just need time to figure it out.” Let me mess up, and then try again. And again. Until the clean parallel lines nicely run along the tires of my car.

Dear Reader, through the journeys I’ve travelled—in a classroom desk, behind the wheel, and in front of a keyboard where I write my stories—I have made leaps toward personal growth. You, too, can steer yourself in any direction that delivers freedom and happiness into your heart. You are no longer the passenger. You sit confidently in the driver’s seat, as your mind floods with an eagerness to learn and expand. Get up and seek any opportunity you wish to pursue. Don’t wait, don’t say, “what if.” There is no better time than now. Just let go of the brake.

 

 

Land of the Free (Restrictions Apply)

Thousands of students recite, “liberty” and “justice” from the Pledge daily, as politicians utter these glittering generalities in their speeches. But as instances of discrimination grow rampant in our supposedly “post-modern” society, our American values fade into the background. When our founding fathers said, “liberty and justice for all,” did “all” include African-Americans? Because the vicious shooting of Alton Sterling by white police officers deadens the meaning of “justice”. As Sterling was shot, a child lost his father, countless Americans lost a friend, and family members mourned his death. But our criminal justice system is indifferent to police brutality. To the injustices that write their stories in the fate of African-Americans.

Daily Show host Hasan Minhaj said, “Civil liberties is an all-or-nothing game.” We will never truly live up to the values upon which this country was founded until we coexist with one another. Until Caucasians hold hands with African-Americans. Until a woman in a hijab can go out in public without worrying that someone will strip “freedom of religion” from the scarf she wears proudly. So in solidarity with the Muslim woman who was assaulted in an Ontario supermarket. With the Muslim doctor who was stabbed and shot at a mosque on his way to morning prayer. With the woman who was stripped of her hijab while running to catch her train in Chicago.  Our voices will be heard. Even over the political tactics that feed off prejudice. Our fight for freedom, justice, and equality reminds us that these values are inclusive. We pride ourselves on domestic security, despite that mass shootings have become a norm. Despite my uncertainty as to whether I am safe from being victimized by those who falsely assume that I am a threat to this nation’s values. Like Alton Sterling and the Muslims who have been assaulted and killed, we strive to exercise our rights in this free society. I am a friend, teammate, student, sister, and daughter to other Americans. So in the face of these injustices, I refuse to be silent. I refuse to let fear suppress my freedoms. Let’s use our voices to speak out against discrimination. Let’s live up to liberty and justice, not let these values crumble under the social injustices that dominate our political climate.

Euphoria

My socks reduce the friction between my feet and the wood floor, as I perform turns, scorpions, and standing splits. I imagine dancers who discovered this euphoria before I did. When the sticks hit the drums, did they experience the same surge of energy run through their veins? Did their pulse hammer against the walls of their rib cage as the song’s beat quickened? Could they feel their worries fall out of their heads as their bodies tumbled and turned?

My rib cage opens to its greatest extent when I bend into a front-walkover, making room for oxygen, peace, and energy. I pull myself back into a standing position, subsequently throwing myself into a carefree round-off. Hands close into fists, and then open. Legs form parallel lines in a handstand, and then stretch into a split. Heart finds safety within the walls of my lungs, and then expands to invite peace. The beat abruptly picks up, as the musician sings, “Don’t let me down.”

And the final moment of anticipation. Drumsticks hit the bass, igniting a spark of energy that makes the heart weightless. I rush to strike a single-arm handstand. Lyrics dance along each rib, similar to the way vibrations linger upon the strings of a harp. Blood rushes to the temples as I inhale deeply. Stress crashes onto the floor and shatters. Worries wither away beneath the floorboards. I slide into a split and observe my soft, feminine features in the mirror. My rested muscles. My relaxed poise.

The heart has wings. The lungs house the lyrics of talented musicians. The veins reignite euphoria, sparking a chain reaction of energy throughout my body. The mind is free.

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Limitless Liberation

For months, I wondered whether I could look forward to February, March, or April without feeling like every month signified another pitfall. I turned the pages of my calendar recklessly at the end of every thirty-something days. Obstacles were sandwiched between the days I’d scramble to find every single “pick-me-up” I could. I opened my hands to pray. I opened my heart to meditate. I opened my mind to communicate repressed thoughts that will no longer taste the bitterness of confinement. I freed myself. I taught myself never to be afraid to express myself, my fears, my weaknesses, my infinite range of emotions. Express without apology.

As I experimented with countless resolves, I had been opening the door to my yoga studio more often. I opened my hands to pray more frequently. I started to discuss everything that was on my mind, from silly jokes to controversial issues. This new freedom found me as I performed countless front-walkovers, cleared my mind to meditate, cried out to God for help. There wasn’t any shame in any form of expression. I can let a smile come across my face without thinking twice. I can push my arms to open my chest and invite oxygen into my lungs. I can tumble and dance freely, take up as much space as my heart desires. My freedom surpasses the walls of my yoga studio, beyond the length of the prayer rug, beyond the arms of those who have embraced me for support.

I decorate this page in emotional honesty, smoothing its edges with the contagious strength of my friends and family. During my yoga session, my arms gracefully stretched to take up as much space as I could. I let music notes dance up the curves of my body, let lyrics flow into my mind and take over. I let the lyrics build meaning as the singer reached a crescendo. And a sudden surge of happiness rushed into my lungs and ran through my jawline, forcing my cheeks into a grin. Tears of joy collected along my bottom eyelid. My freedom came alive, giving my body the energy to hold another handstand, kick myself into a front-walkover, slide my legs into a graceful split. The unlimited oxygen in the room invites liberation to crawl into my lungs. “Verily, after every hardship comes ease.” (Qur’an 94:5).

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