This summer, I returned to my home in Delhi to learn that my father's cousin, Sarita, had committed suicide. She and I were not terribly close; I hadn't seen her in years. Yet the funeral was one of the more influential occasions of my life. I couldn't stop thinking: What could drive a vibrant, intelligent and successful young woman to take her own life? What was missing? What went wrong? I grew to realize that this was not a singular event.
In a world that is arguably more interconnected than ever before, we seem to have plunged ourselves ever deeper into an abyss of loneliness and alienation.
In a world that is arguably more interconnected than ever before, we seem to have plunged ourselves ever deeper into an abyss of loneliness and alienation. When I look around today, I see my peers switching between cable stations vying for attention, videogames that mimic life with alarming realism, iPods that insulate us in solitary cocoons of music, and the internet that provides infinite avenues of distraction. All of these technological avenues provide a virtual reality that threatens to replace our physical and spiritual connections with our families, friends and counterparts in society. The result, all too often, is a fragmentation of our personal relationships that can leave us adrift from each other. I have chosen to combat this tendency by trying become acquainted with as many people and their stories as possible--in one word, to reconnect.
Once, I and three of my friends hailed a taxi to go from Brookline to Boston. I chose to climb into the front seat, and the driver grumbled as he cleared the seat for me. We started our journey back to Boston, and I, removed from the discussion taking place in the backseat between my friends, started up a conversation with almost coldly reserved driver. At first, he was hesitant, but slowly we picked up speed. The mood of the cabbie palpably changed: he became awake, engaged, and soon we were on a first name basis, talking about each other's ambitions and problems. Francois told me of his bold decision to emigrate from Haiti, his struggle to earn enough to bring his family to join him, and how he eventually bought the cab company. And then, with a laugh, he offered me a job if my college plans "don't work out".
I think that everyone wants to reach out to other people... but this impulse is inhibited by the fear that their efforts will be rebuffed.
The happiness the two of us felt because we had connected with each other was not achieved by any feat of technological innovation. It came from something much more natural--something intrinsic to us all that is being ignored, forgotten.
Every day, I try to get to know the people who study in my high school, almost invisibly, yet in plain sight. Mistakenly, I thought that Andrei (a young vibrant boy from Moldova) might feel isolated and uncomfortable, surrounded and ignored by peers. However, after speaking with Andrei, I was surprised to discover that he considers himself "everybody's grandfather," and in fact, loves studying at our school. And just today, I invited Andrei, to play ping pong with me. I learned that this shy young man, who came all the way from Moldova to pursue his dreams in politics, is quite talented. He also is an excellent ping pong player who was not shy at all about beating me soundly.
I feel that by trying to connect as much as possible with others, everybody's day becomes a little bit brighter. I think that everyone wants to reach out to other people and get to know them, but this impulse is inhibited by the fear that their efforts will be rebuffed. However, it has been my experience that this fear is unfounded. If people tried, they would find exactly what I have found: everyone wants to be understood, and all humans strive to connect with one another.
No matter how much technological progress we make, we will always feel the fundamental need to be part of a whole. This is the basis of our humanity.
We need to see beyond our personal barriers and conceits, and understand that everyone has common dreams and aspirations, similar fears and concerns. Separated as we are by boundaries of language and culture, we are ultimately united by our common heritage. We need to be aware of the true nature of the world-wide web--not the one that is being constructed in cyberspace of bytes of information, but the one that connects us all to our common ancestor that stepped timidly onto the wide expanse of the African savannah some five million years ago to begin the march toward humankind's future-- the world-wide web of the human spirit. I think if more people come to this realization, tragedies like Sarita's death can be avoided.
Standing at the edge of Sarita's funeral, as her family and friends gathered, mourning the loss of a loved one, it became clear to me that her tragedy reflected a problem that must be solved. I resolve to be mindful of this lesson, bitterly learned. No matter how much technological progress we may make as a culture, we will always feel the fundamental need to be part of a whole. This is the basis of our humanity.
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