This morning, I got an email from my old History professor that read: “my Sonia Gandhi google alert doesn’t go off often, but every time it does I think of you.”
To understand our relationship, I’d have to bring you into the world that was the Senior History Thesis. The course that was the make or break it for any History major and the project that would likely stay with you throughout your academic career, should you chose to go down that road. Besides the descending numbers leading up to graduation day, my jumbo Day Planner also sported several red bold Sharpie notes that read, “Prelim. Research,” “Travel,” “Draft”, “Revisions” and “Final.”
At the time, I was holding a prestigious fellowship that would require me to dedicate much of my adulthood to teaching World History to high school students while pursuing my Ph.D. I had big plans to be as cool as Melissa Harris Perry and dress like Joan Clayton, plans which were interrupted when the grant behind my prestigious fellowship got cut and my post-graduation plans sliced 33.7% with it.
By this point, I was more than 100 credits into a major that I now had no definite avenue to apply to. I was also 38 pages into a thesis that I felt too discouraged to touch. I’d explain to you all how I was writing about the adolescence of Sonia Gandhi, but I’ve been told by close friends quite bluntly that this is something only few care about as deeply as I do, so I’ll skip ahead. The cut grant gave me what I now look at as one of the first big lessons I had to learn on my own: when passion is all you have left, you can loose yourself completely.
Most times when people talk about loosing yourself, it has a negative connotation: the overworked girlfriend who lives at her job, the head over heels friend whose made her man her life. I consider those kinds of loss to be falling. To dwell in a state of calm in what you love, so much so that you disappear and there is only passion, that- is losing yourself. And after a week of not opening the file, my professor forced me to click on the file and I dwelled there. Any hesitation I had about the future was gone when I was writing. What I was putting together stopped being a paper or a grade, it became a refuge. And whenever I was in that place, I was putting together something that felt like it was more than my problems, insecurities and doubts.
Between the lines on the Emergency, Jai Ho as a political mantra, and letters from Jawaharlal Nehru to his troubled daughter, I could lose myself and the part of me that worried only about my future and my needs. And when I let that go, like clockwork the world put it into place. I think the universe does that for us all.
Coming across one of his final letters to Sonia, Nehru wrote to India’s future Prime Minister the words he hopes would stay with her. Just four days before my thesis was due, I found them and they stayed with me as well. The leader wrote:
I have placed the skeleton of old happenings before you and I have wished that I had the power to cover it with flesh and blood, to make it living and vital for you.
For me writing about the present is covering old bones with blood and flesh. It is a power to bring to life for a brief time, moments that changed and dented lives. Years ago, I hadn’t see that purpose yet, but I knew losing myself in that passion was where I belonged when it became all I could do.
Today, when life leaves you less that you hoped, look closer. What you’ve been searching to lose yourself in may be left in what you thought was just gone.