It seemed too good to be true — a three-day layover with friends in Boston, a month spent backpacking through the south of France, and a journal to be filled with the stories to come. July was a month to be spent in adventure, and, in this sense, it did not disappoint.
Enticed with the promise of birthday brownies and World Cup soccer, I visited a friend the day before I was supposed to fly to France. After the game ended, I challenged him to a badminton match, but setting up the net proved to be too much of a challenge. We settled on jumping on the neighbor’s trampoline instead.
I soon realized I could use the trampoline to launch myself into the air and dunk a basketball for the first time. It was an impulse I couldn’t resist.
In a moment of pure euphoria, the ball effortlessly glided into the net. A few seconds later, however, my airborne ecstasy slipped away. I returned to the ground with a resounding pop emanating from my knee.
Just like that, my ACL ruptured, and the very tenets of my identity came undone. Without the ability to walk, much less backpack, my core image of myself as a person who sought adventure was strangely threatened. Whether I liked it or not, I would have to look deeper for the growth I had thought that I would find in France.
Though this realization was initially disorienting and painful, it soon became — in a way — soothing. In constantly keeping myself busy and attaching my identity to the ways in which I spent my time, I found a crutch that allowed me to think I knew myself, when in fact I didn’t.
This crutch, while easing the question of my identity, also simplified it to the point that I simply avoided it when I thought I had confronted it.
Before my injury, my answer to the question of identity was identical to the ways in which I spent my time. I made no distinction between who I was and what I did — I was adventurous because I was an avid rock-climber and creative because I liked to carry a camera and write poetry. I simply co-opted whatever adjectives my favorite hobbies seemed to imply about me.
However, when I found myself stuck in my own bed because my crutches were too far away, the only adjective that came to mind was “defeated.” Rather than let myself stagger under the word’s weight, I knew I had to find new ways of looking at myself. I decided that since life presents many triumphs and challenges, I should define myself in a manner that is as versatile as life’s changing circumstances. I’ve realized that this definition of identity comes through the intersection of various ways of looking at myself rather than through accepting my physical circumstances as a mirror for my character.
Instead of defining myself in my failure to get out of bed, I found myself in the push for the crutches and the burning desire to move around by myself again, even if that meant learning the ins and outs of maneuvering crutches on stairs.
I also came to treasure the ambiguity of not quite knowing how to look at myself: Instead of being stuck as a reflection of whatever my current state happened to be, I could be what I wanted to be. The instability caused by my injury trickled into my perspective of myself. Still, this new kind of instability set me free rather than left me stuck with one view of myself.
I think that this acquaintance with instability is a useful one, especially within the context of Harvard’s emphasis on the future. Between extracurricular activities with the intensity of full-time jobs and the unending search for the next internship, it’s easy to rest content with our perspective towards ourselves. When we’re so busy, it can feel like we can just scarcely be anything other than what we do, but a degree of separation can be valuable. It allows us to see our failures as setbacks without any existential dismay and our successes as exciting without any arrogance.
In losing my identity as the collection of the things that I do, I found out that it’s okay to be in between, to find comfort in who I am despite the discomfort of a brace and a pair of crutches. July didn’t quite turn out the adventure that I thought it would be, but the amount of growth I’ve undergone is just as much as I had expected, if not more. Backpacking in the south of France can wait — there’s always next year, anyways.
Anastasia Sorochinsky ’21 lives in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.