I sat in the back of a car, watching bodegas and storefronts pass by through the window. I was coming back to campus, eager to see my friends after the holiday break. Yet, I couldn’t help thinking about what always seems to happen after returning: the rushed “How was your break?” question as we run around trying to see everyone, visit every waitlisted class, and apply to every new opportunity.
This rush is, of course, novel to nobody, but one thing that particularly bothered me was the possibility that these initial rushed greetings—often topped with “Yeah I gotta go, but let’s catch up!”—would be the only chance to connect with someone again, letting any actual follow-up fall to the wayside. It was frustrating to think that basic, meaningful human interaction felt out of reach.
It was even more frustrating to think of how a place like Columbia makes this feel almost normal. Interacting with someone outside the classic question “What classes are you taking?” can feel like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool, all while knowing you have a thousand other shallow pools to wade through.
This dynamic contrasts with how I felt over break, watching my father work to untangle a knot in my mom’s thin, ornate necklace with a sewing needle. I stood behind him, admiring his purposeful yet delicate motions.
Standing behind my father, my eyes glaze over as I recall his life when he first came to America. Just over 30 years ago, my parents moved from India to Chicago. Thereafter, my parents moved from job to job; my father bounced from Dunkin’ Donuts to a textile factory, while my mother worked as a hairstylist—to this day, I rely on her for the “right” haircut. Years later, they moved my sister and me to North Dakota, and I am thankful every day that they took that risk.
A combination of my parents’ around-the-clock work and blessings of good fortune gave my family stability, allowing my sister and me to take advantage of opportunities that have pushed us to learn and grow. I sometimes grapple with trying to both express an adequate amount of appreciation and take advantage of the opportunities allotted to me because of my family’s struggles. It’s funny, because this equation sounds familiar to what many of us at Columbia face: appreciating what’s right in front of you, while trying to enjoy every potential opportunity you can.
Amid these balancing acts, it can feel difficult to sincerely understand the magnitude of those in our lives and when this understanding does hit––at the most random of times––I know my stomach feels deep, my neck feels tight, and my eyes feel misty. It’s not a sad thing, though, to feel this way; it’s one of the most human things to feel. As I stood behind my father, watching his hands meticulously weave a needle through my mother’s necklace, it hit me.
These hands tell a story. Hands are a constant reminder of what we try our best to pay attention to, but never seem to fully appreciate: each other. They demand our awareness, not just toward the struggles that people have faced, but to the love they’ve offered.
Maybe it’s the healed burns, rough calluses, and creased dent on a finger, accrued from working on the more dangerous machines in a factory to earn higher wages. Conversely, it might be the methodical rhythm in being able to pack a suitcase just right, after packing so many times going from an old home to a new one, and back again. Or simply the tenderness that scratches my dog’s ears today with the same love that patted my back when I had nightmares and couldn’t sleep.
Hands are also a reminder that there’s still life to be lived––be it the scars to be had or the things that make your stomach feel deep, your neck feel tight, or your eyes feel misty. It’s those moments that we miss when we lose ourselves to the endless expectations set by ourselves and our environment. It is not hard to imagine, then, how many of us can feel alienated from those genuine, human feelings, but maybe this alienation doesn’t have to be the case anymore.
I walk into my new home in Ruggles, this is the first time I have lived with other people in college. I know the rush will come, and I might not be able to connect with everyone I’d like to. But when my friend opens his arms and clasps his hands around my back, I feel lucky. In this embrace, I think of how I hadn’t felt this genuine human feeling in a while at Columbia, and how many others might feel the same way. Yeah, this place can take a toll on us, but it might hold less weight if we remember how this toll impacts all of us.
All hands on deck.
Prem Thakker is a junior at Columbia College studying history. If you ever want a hand, he would love for you to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column, Colon, Closed Parentheses runs alternate Mondays.
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