Trying Not to Escape

Personal Statement. Tell us something about yourself.

I’m the last one into the room. I was busy responding to an “I remember you” from Airianna, a five-year-old girl I had tutored a few weeks ago. I remembered her too; remembered how much I had liked her name, remembered getting none of her work done, remembered playing her version of tic-tac-toe, which consisted of a playing grid of 112 squares and no apparent rules, and especially remembered her asking me if I was a boy or girl, for she thought I was a boy but my “fancy hair” was throwing her off. So I am last into the room full of the other weekly volunteers. The room, this whole place in fact, seems to sag with an exhausted sadness and defeat at the hands of age and neglect.Adam, our leader, reflects, “It could seem that there’s not a lot of meaning in making dinner for these people or sometimes even in helping a kid with homework. I mean, how are you supposed to find meaning in cooking cheap macaroni and cheese, value in washing filthy dishes, or beauty in kindergarten math? But that’s the challenge. That, what we do in that kitchen, that’s a mess. So finding meaning in the mess, finding value and even beauty, is the challenge. If you can do that, or even try to do that, you’ll grow. You have to really get in the mess to find what you’re looking for.”I am opposed to Timothy Leary and the Countercultural Revolution of the 1960s, as I have become truly averse to its prime doctrine: “turn on, tune in, drop out.” This doctrine of enlightenment through separation makes the counterculture comparable to monasticism, although a monastery for the weak in which mind-altering drugs, and not disciplined fasting and meditation, are used as a crutch to hobble towards new levels of consciousness. And so hippies are neo-monks. I admire monks. In fact, the lifestyle is appealing to me. I would sit around all day in beautiful and isolated nature settings, meditating, fasting, prostrating, studying the idiosyncrasies of small woodland creatures and then developing a rudimentary form of communication with them, being unhindered by the silly material world, and ultimately attaining divine insight before sundown. I would answer to no one. I wouldn’t care if no one knew I existed, and in fact I would have probably already gained a depth of insight into the nature of existence itself that would make my apathy justified. I wouldn’t be writing this essay. Or perhaps I would, but I would be carving it on stone tablets and purely as an exercise in self-discovery and self-elevation. But I am writing this essay, and I’m typing it on my computer, and because I’ve been coaxed into it, and because “turn on, tune in, drop out” is an excuse to hide. Disconnecting from this world isn’t the path to enlightenment; it’s a cop-out, because this world’s a mess and I’m tempted to hide from it everyday. But by disconnecting and hiding, I forfeit all the value and beauty of this world, however imperfect and troubled, and I solve nothing. How am I supposed to find what I’m looking for if I don’t even begin to search? And so enlightenment escapes.I am reminded of the story of Daphne. I met her the last day of school sophomore year, and throughout most of the summer I chased her through a confusing forest where brilliant shafts of light occasionally blasted their way through the treetops. But in the end it was a big mess, and, as she transformed into a tree in front of me, I was angrily confused. I am a person, with all the complexity, value, individuality, and importance that entails. How could I be shrugged off? How could I be forgotten or ignored? How could I be cut out of a stack of photographs and tossed into her trash can? But me sitting here being bewildered by her disconnecting from me is me sitting here being a hypocrite. Because the truth is she’s a person too, and so how can I forget about and ignore her, how can I have so negatively biased an opinion of her, how can I dismiss her as a “crazy bitch?”The plastic stars stuck to the bedroom ceiling seem funny to me as I think of them as an expression of frustration at the idea that roofs are necessary. Travis is talking about Christie and Michigan, and because it’s a slightly similar situation to mine, the conversation leads us to talk about her.”And her dad started yelling at me too!” I’m saying hours later. “They don’t even get along, but they seemed to have an all right time teaming up against me. And always I’m real confused, like I don’t know if it’s her depression or…””That’s stupid,” Travis interrupts. “You’re sixteen years old. You don’t need stuff like this; you should just be out having fun. My advice is to just get away from her.”I remember about two or three weeks ago, I was sitting in front of the TV but not really watching because I was thinking about her and my confusion. My mom started talking to me about dinner or something but her maternal instincts told her I was sick and dying somewhere inside.She concluded poison, slow and acting upon the heart, and said, “I don’t know exactly what’s going on between you and her, but you can come to me about anything.””I’m too sensitive for this,” my self-pity mumbled as she left the room.And so tonight I fall asleep with “I don’t deserve this” as my mantra.As “I didn’t deserve that” quickly replaced “I don’t deserve this,” I “dropped out.” I disconnected and isolated myself from that world, that mess, created by her and me. And that’s a total cop-out, because by turning my back on and disconnecting myself from that mess I’ll never find what I’m looking for, never find the meaning, value, and beauty that are there. I didn’t search the mess when I should have, in fact I renounced it, and now I can’t: I’ve forgotten how I felt. I tell the story of Daphne to people, few people, and always end it with, “In short, she broke my heart.” But when I say that I do so jokingly with a half-smile on my face, because it’s a fitting and comical cliché, and because I “dropped out” and thus lost and forgot any true feelings that ever accompanied that statement. And so enlightenment escapes.But now there’s Julia, intertwined with my life and thoughts in a way that elates, very often distracts, and ultimately escapes my understanding. I wonder why a phallic symbol one of my stupid friends scrawls in the frost will reappear on my window a week later, but Julia’s window-writing never noticeably comes back to fill my car with joy. I envision myself in some unknown future, on some unknown and desolate stretch of highway blanketed by winter darkness and cold. Headlights approach from behind, illuminating my rear window. As I glance into my mirror I see it, sublimely reincarnated from those frosty warm nights, the slender and beautiful finger-width line dancing and looping itself playfully into that tri-syllabic representation of joy in my life. And then I either cry or laugh or both, and people ask me who Julia is and why she deserves that tattoo, and I can’t tell them anything just jokingly or without a half-smile of sincerity and longing rather than apathy and forgetfulness. That’s not only the challenge, but a legitimate path to enlightenment.

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