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I was slightly breathless from the climb, but it was my first time on the observatory rooftop and my first time watching an eclipse. The horizon was lined by lights: the beaming Boston skyline to the right, Harvard’s bell towers in the center, the span of twinkling suburbs to the left. It was unbelievable to be here—here at Harvard.
The warmth of new and old friends around me made me realize just how comfortable I had grown, how comfortable I finally felt in my own skin.
In between the mooncakes, random singing, and freshman-girl laughs, one friend broke into the present with a real fantasy: “Did you know that the next time we see this blood moon we’ll be 36? Thirty six! We’ll be so old.”
Her excitement pulled me into the air, and for a moment I could see two of me—me in the present and me in the future. It was the same red moon, the same enchantment, the same autumn excitement. But the future me was established, mature, and fulfilled. The dreams I dream were materializing.
“If you’re rich, you have to rent out one of those penthouses on the 30th floor in Manhattan and throw the most elaborate party you can imagine,” my friend continued. “I’ll make sure you have mooncakes made by the best chef in the world and super elitist champagne.” I laughed at the idea. It’d be very unlikely for me to run into that kind of wealth in the public service sector, but who knows? Anything in the future is possible.
But when the rust red had faded and homework had regained its throne, a lurking thought from the past rematerialized. What if I don’t see the future? What if I don’t see the next blood moon?
I feel happy and alive right now, but how many Januarys, Februarys, Marchs, Aprils, and Mays had I spent unable to remember what normal felt like? Those winters where attempts to make myself happy only made me more miserable haven’t completely faded. I haven’t forgotten how it feels when apathy grinds your personality away. I had felt so alone. It was as though the people around me were only ghosts who had to be fed “happiness.”
Sometimes the only thing keeping me alive was my inability to logically justify killing myself. But if a truck ever sped towards me, I don’t know if I would have tried to run.
Jump back to the second week of freshman year. It’s a Monday night and there’s homework, but for some reason there’s also extended orientation. The subject is mental illness, which seems to matter to me alone. I optimistically dismiss the complaints around me as only a social thing. Surely, at Harvard, people know what depression means.
But the discussion doesn’t pick up. People don’t even try to understand the three case studies as relevant to them too. I watch repeatedly as the single excuse “I don’t know how” erases all obligation for human kindness. Nick is missing classes and there are bandages on his arms? Don’t press, you don’t want to ruin the friendship. Someone is at war with themselves? Don’t confront them, that’s awkward. For a school that is supposed to be diverse and creative, it’s pitiful that deadly inaction and confrontation are the only choices.
But they aren’t. In fact, they’re probably the only two wrong ones. The problem with confrontation is that it makes someone feel as though they are a problem. They are flawed and now have to be “corrected.” If that doesn’t make you feel angry, it makes you feel guilty. Confrontation should only ever used in the most stubborn cases, cases where failure to get that person help will have awful consequences.
But, most of the time, confrontation doesn’t even have the chance to happen. Every time I fall under, I find myself searching keenly for someone who will notice the depression leaking from my smile as though my life depended on it. And sometimes my life did. The almost comical thing is that over all these long winters, no one ever saw. And the less people noticed, the harder I tried to hide. I became a master of faking the vital signs of life. Meanwhile, alI I needed was just one person to discover my secret and care enough to break the spell.
If you ever find yourself waving that flimsy sheet of counseling resources in front of my face, you should probably just let me make the jump. What I really wanted was your friendship, your conversation, your concern, your jokes, your validation, your inborn ability to make me feel as though I actually matter. Right now this form of casual, healing kindness feels rarer than a blood moon. But maybe you will notice. Maybe after reading this you won’t be scared to give me that extra inch of ground to walk on. And maybe I’ll see the next blood moon.
Elizabeth Y. Sun ’19, a Crimson editorial comper, lives in Canaday Hall.
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