Skip to main content

Looking in the Water

There’s a lot of water in and around Boston. Water that flows through the Charles River and stretches across the Esplanade. There’s water in those small pools of rain that collect after abrupt Bostonian storms. Water that spouts out of cool drinking fountains on a hot July afternoon.  And there’s water far beyond the eye can see as you gaze from the Boston Harbor.

I find myself stumbling into these various water forms in reflection, quieting the mind to a peaceful lull. It can be difficult to slow down my feverish pace. Productivity is addictive, a knock-off of a distant pipe dream that glorifies drowning in work and sleepless nights. Feeling wholly immersed and busy offers a puff of transient satisfaction. It distracts me from the seemingly faraway possibility that happiness could lie elsewhere.

In Boston, I’ve had the opportunity to explore critical consciousness and begin to unravel my many positionalities in relation to the vibrant world around me. It’s been a journey of introspection and sorting through difficult questions. But more importantly, it’s been a quest to engage with and understand my surroundings.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the cerebral, where unfiltered musings spread until every millimeter of your mind is swimming in these simple passing thoughts. It’s distracting and exhausting. But, in spite of it all, I needed to take a step back this summer and ask some important questions.

Figuring out where I am

Like me, Boston is a place in a similar state of unsure reflection. It’s not sure of the city it is, the past it wants to remember, and the future it aspires to build. As developers begin to erect glossy new buildings and towering skyscrapers in the name of economic advancement and progress, I wonder which direction this historical city will steer towards. Boston began as a small, hilly peninsula attached by a narrow strip to the mainland. Over time, the area was literally sculpted around the sea, gradually expanding outward. And now, Boston is a city grappling with a lot of unforeseen baggage.

From contending with the literal dumping of waste into the Boston Harbor up until 1991 to the remnants of segregation and social inequity enduring to this day, I find it difficult to reconcile the existing polarities contained within this outwardly glimmering city, it’s reflection trembling with uncertainty in the water.

Figuring out why I’m here

I’m still not exactly sure why I’m here or why I was selected. Like many a Duke student, I have a polished resume at the ready and deliver it with a flourish, hoping that my value, experiences, and capability come across in a single page. But I’m beginning to realize that those things may not really matter. The things I really want aren’t line items on my CV, but inner peace and clarity of purpose.

People tell me that I have plenty of time to figure things out, and that it’s not to worry at all that I’m still undeclared and taking a frantic variety of classes this fall to divine some sort of answer by mid-spring. I disagree. I don’t think there will ever be enough time to answer all of the questions. But that’s okay.

I spend a lot of time contemplating in Boston, especially around bodies of water. The reflection displayed on the surface, I’ve noticed, is impressionistic rather than a mirror image of reality. I like that. It allows the mind to wander freely in a parallel world filled with open and ever-shifting possibility.

DukeEngage Boston hasn’t been the revelatory experience I was initially hoping for, but it turned out to be a learning experience that I needed. I needed to let go of the toxic mentality that if I wasn’t working, I was useless. And I needed to open up and engage outside of my comfort zone, interacting with new perspectives, people, and places.

So although I can’t say for sure what I want in life, I do know one thing: I want to live for more than myself.