We were asked to write an entry for the anniversary of the blogs, a reflection on what the blogs meant to us, or a life update since graduating from MIT. First things first: I have now actually been out of college for about as long as I was in college, which is an incredibly weird feeling. The audience that I used to write for has now graduated from college themselves (and are all probably making way more money than I do, since I'm in med school and make negative $30,000 a year). While it doesn't seem like that long ago that I was 17 and applying to college, the truth is that in the time since I was 17, that girl from Beasts of the Southern Wild was born and nominated for an Oscar. An entire person came into the world and got to hang out with Beyonce in the time since I was that age. I can't tell what's more frightening: the fact that I am SO INCREDIBLY OLD, or that I just seem to keep getting older and older. Or maybe that I will never get to hang out with Beyonce? Ugh, it's all terrible.
Back in the prehistoric year of 2006, when we had to regularly remember to dump our chamber pots out the window lest we attract rats and develop the black plague, the blogs were not nearly the beast you see them to be now. I was actually the very first blogger who had to apply for the position, and I'm not sure whether I was happier finding out I got into MIT or getting this job. I loved the blogs very much, because they not only allowed me to help incredible people applying to college, but they also gave me confidence in my writing, and allowed me so many opportunities that I would never have experienced otherwise. Because I was a blogger, I was hired to write about a robot opera in Monaco, got to hang out with one of my favorite directors, and met the people who are still my closest friends today; ultimately, the blogs changed my life in ways that I could have never imagined as I was frantically trying to finish writing a one-act play about an aardvark in a Korean Air airline lounge. (I may be 26 but I am not above airing things that are deeply embarrassing. Let's just get this all out there: sometimes I get too tired to fold my laundry and just fall asleep on it. Sometimes may have been this whole weekend. Are we good? Everybody sufficiently embarrassed? Everybody meaning just me? Should we all just carry on and pretend like this never happened? Meet you outside by the car after this parenthetical ends?)
One of the things that I appreciated the most about being a blogger was the ability to be open about every aspect of my life, MIT related or not, and it's a tradition that I'm happy to say still continues on to this day. Being a blogger allowed me to put my college years in a time capsule and save them in a way that I am 95% grateful for and 5% deeply embarrassed by, and someday I may even be brave/bored enough to go back and read the whole mess. Being a blogger allowed me to meet and work closely with Ben Jones and Chris Peterson, who deserve most if not all the credit for making the blogs the amazing entity that they are, who I still remain very close to and still consider to be my life role models. Both of them have seen me grow in a lot of different ways over the past eight years and I feel so lucky to have them both in my life. (This is a nice moment but I'm going to ruin it by saying that neither of you look good with facial hair. We were all thinking it. I have seven words for you: please stop it with the neck beards.)
I hesitated a lot about starting to write this entry, but there was never a question of whether I would write it or not. The true update on my life is that the way I see things has changed drastically since I left MIT. And yet at the same time, in the four years since I've graduated college, I don't actually feel like I've gotten any older. Instead, it feels like I've lived several lives in parallel. There was the life immediately after I graduated, when I worked as a research tech in Boston and lived in a huge house with four of my closest friends. There was the life when I moved back to San Francisco and started medical school at my dream school, and studied every day for three months for my board exam. And then there is this life, the life without my sister.
My sister died in a car accident almost a year ago, and it has, like the blogs, changed my life in ways that I never could have imagined. It is an understatement to say that it is intensely painful to lose someone you love that much. It's indescribable to lose someone you've lived your entire life alongside, who knew every aspect of your life and personality in ways that you didn't even realize yourself, who you maybe foolishly assumed you would grow old with. For several months after, I couldn't even think about moving past all the anger and loneliness and sadness, to get to a place where I could even talk about it to other people, let alone on a public forum like this.
It has now been almost been a year, and while there is no happy ending when it comes to losing the most important person in your life, there is this. This thing that is so personal and so private to me, so painful and so very real to me, has afforded me a clarity and a perspective on life that I would never have reached otherwise. It is the worst, most soul-wrenching thing to lose someone you love, and that never stops. I think about her every day and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. But it has also given me a sense of gratitude that I had never experienced before. I am grateful for my legs. I was never been a runner before in my life (true story: used to run 13 minute miles in elementary school; see above re: my life is deeply embarrassing) but now run almost every day. Being here is a gift that is so easily overlooked. Being able to run to the ocean and back is such a privilege because it means I have legs, I have lungs, I can run, and I can breathe. As David Foster Wallace says, this is water.
It takes a lot of breathing. Breathe out loss. Breathe in gratitude. Rinse, repeat.
It took me a year to get to this point, which is this: the best way I know to honor her is to be a strong and good and kind person. To love other people with fierce abandon, because they could actually be gone tomorrow - when someone you loves dies instantly you don't get to suspend disbelief anymore, when we live in an era where planes go missing and incredibly rare viruses emerge out of nowhere. To tell my mom and dad that they are wonderful people and fantastic parents and I am so thankful to have them. To realize that as an adult, I can choose how I construct meaning from my everyday life and that the best way I can do this is to just be grateful. It is not something that I can easily explain or convey to other people because I know that before this happened I never would have understood it fully myself. But I will say this: life is not long enough to treat other people badly, and there are always things you can be thankful for. Even on the darkest, saddest days of your life there are lovely things in the world, as small as a blade of grass, as huge as the night sky.
As part of my grieving process I took a two-month long roadtrip around the country visiting my sister's friends, filming them telling stories about her. Inevitably, a lot of stories came out about her and me, and how much we loved each other. My favorite story about us was told to me by her best friend from college, who said that every time I would write a new post, she would burst into his room and yell, "JESS HAS A NEW BLOG ENTRY!!" and proceed to plop down on his bed and read it aloud to him, whether he wanted to hear it or not. I didn't know that she did that until he told me. To have been loved in that way is a gift that I can either view in one of two ways: one that I will never have again, or one that I am so incredibly lucky to have ever experienced at all.
I am very grateful for the blogs, the wonderful people I've met because of them, and the important memories I have that are tied to these pages. And I am grateful for you, too. If you are reading this, you are alive, and that is a gift. You are experiencing human connection through these blogs, and that is a gift too. This is water. This is water.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this space and of your lives.