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Summer Postcards 2016


By Emily Zhao

Two days before the attack on Ataturk Airport, I helped move a Crimson Summer Academy Scholar into Matthews. As we climbed the stairs, panes of sun fell from the skylight, burnishing the wood paneling an otherworldly white. The Scholar’s father, like mine on freshman move-in day, couldn’t shutter a proud and nervous smile, and wouldn’t let me help carry the suitcase. The periwinkle of his mother’s hijab seemed to cool the stifling fifth-floor air. I wanted to go home and just sit at the dining table with my parents; or stay in those moments forever, listening to the hum and thud of furniture as the Scholar and his family unpacked, quietly giddy with the Yard’s magic.

In the evening, I strolled west. The sky over the Quad was oxidized pink, stretched over the rim of ringed buildings like a membranous water surface. Between Garden and Brattle streets, I rediscovered the house with the eggplant paint job, the color so sweet in the licorice dusk. I visited the Longfellow House—its slats the yellow of soft afternoon sleep, its garden an eighteenth-century idyll. Under the property floodlights’ low-angled glare, my feet on the gravel path looked as if they stood on the moon, attached to a creature removed and utterly inhuman.


After Ataturk—and then Dhaka, and then Baghdad—I truly, viscerally registered the hanging sword of potential disaster. The possibility that I may one day walk into a public space and never return. I watched Fourth of July fireworks on a crowded bridge over the Charles, and couldn't stop wondering, amidst the wonder of a combusting sky, whether a burst of fire or lead would suddenly drown out the distant pop of tame pyrotechnics.

I’m not sure why the tipping point required so many horrific attacks and deaths. Living with such little consciousness of danger has been an incredible luxury, and in this retrospect, everything looks surreal. I don’t even see so much as feel every perishable particle, a rich thrum beneath the sternum. What beautiful days and nights. I understand why you would resent and hate those of us who can live like this.

And why, why do I deserve such hyper-enjoyment, such a benefit-reaping, low-stake life, in the wake—and really, at the expense—of such tragedy?

I know this question is neither groundbreaking nor redeeming. I know it's self-absorbed. I know there are lifetimes of thought about guilt, karmic imbalances, the worth or lack thereof in this kind of irresolvable questioning. Right now, I can find only incredible damnation in these thoughts, and their lateness. My penning them makes nothing better, but I feel as if it’s the least I can do as others’ worlds fall apart.

Emily Zhao '19 is an Applied Math concentrator living in Cabot House.

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Summer Postcards 2016