During the period where I was submitting graduate school applications, every university was requiring different essays. I remember Boston University requesting the most writing samples, and I became slightly irked when several topics were requested to be crammed into a short page or two. Perhaps I should have submitted haikus instead. I found an incomplete version of what was likely the self-biography/significant events in your life essay.
BU Essay 1
I was born on U.S. soil in a foreign land known for snow, bitter cold, and volcanic spas. Having no memory of Keflavik, Iceland, I rely on a few dozen images to preserve my first year of life. Photographs of my family bundled up in hefty coats with snow coated landscapes suggests Iceland knows only one season. This differs drastically from the other two places I’ve called home: Alamogordo, New Mexico, and Charleston, South Carolina.
My parents are Southerners, each from states who vie for the worst educational system in the U.S., Louisiana and Mississippi. Though raised in the deep south, my family is an ethnic fusion of Lebanese, French, Greek, and Spanish with a bit of German and likely extinct European tribes. Needless to say, I am proud that my ancestors embraced people of other cultures with such fervor that maintaining good foreign relations entailed producing a child. The cultural milieu of my genes has perplexed many who have tried to guess my ethnic background, but there has never been confusion with government forms, which define me under the colorless umbrella term of White.
If my complex heritage wasn’t enough, my family has chosen to serve as an example of the modern family with several divorces, remarriages, and half-blood siblings. My brother and I have never viewed our older sister by this term of division. Though we have different mothers, they were somehow kindred spirits in the sense that they shared a failed marriage with my father and had the same birthday.
Though divorce and marriage have served as pivotal moments in the creation and destruction of my family, it was the death of my mother in 1995 that affected our lives most. My last days in Alamogordo are like blips of poorly spliced film. Frame One: The nurses and doctors my mother worked with cry in the hallway after the third revival session fails. Instinctually, I flee. Running down stairs until bursting through the ground floor exit. It is night and even though October, the air is warm. Frame Two: My stepfather locks himself in his bedroom. My brother punches a hole in the wall before vanishing. And I, at the age of ten, call all the relatives and listen as they cry and scream and wonder aloud why god took their sister, their daughter, my mother. Frame Three: I slip Mama’s favorite magazine into her coffin. On the inside of the cover, I have taped images of our family so she will remember us. Her body is hard like plastic and her cheeks and lips are stained like a flushed faced China doll. At the cemetery, I apologize to every person whose grave I step on. After the burial, my brother and I leave for the city my father had moved to the previous year, Charleston, SC.
Over ten years later, I am still in Charleston, and the urge to migrate is palpable. Throughout middle and high school, I excelled in academics. I graduated Salutatorian of my class and in my graduation speech, I implored my peers to follow their heart regardless of what the world would think and quoted from Seuss’ All the Places You Will Go. At the College of Charleston, my love for literature was exchanged with a passion for Religious Studies. Learning about the diverse and complex religions of the world enticed my yearning for travel. Two years into college, I desperately wanted to be immersed in other cultures and religions. Merely reading about them didn’t suffice, and for my first abroad venture, I volunteered in Dharamsala, India.
To see and experience what I had only known through words was an intense and paradoxical journey. In the mornings, the chanting of Tibetan monks echoed through the valley, and I would find myself captivated by the Himalayan Mountains. I would think of the Hindu myths where Shiva sat in meditation in the caves. On one occasion, his lover, Uma, covered his eyes playfully. In the brief seconds of innocent blindness, the earth quaked, chaos, destruction, and darkness consumed the world. Then Shiva’s third eye awakens, lifting its dormant lid to replenish light upon the earth and restore order. This nostalgic view and adoration for the land, the sacred narratives, and the people coexisted with pervasive poverty and fighting stereotypes of Western women.
My first day in India, I was told that being from the West and female meant I was well educated, wealthy, and a whore. Though I never experienced Eve teasing, the pinching and grabbing men do to Western women, I still faced unyielding stares. Dozens of faces turning in unison like meerkats just sitting, watching, and mute. These moments were uncomfortable, but failed at reaching into my soul like the poverty stricken shudras, India’s untouchables. Never will I forget the death of life in one woman’s eyes. How her cheeks hollowed causing her eyes to bulge from the sockets. Her skin was the color of the Amritsar dirt, and draped her bones like a loose fitting garment. The horror of her impoverishment lay in a blue dyed sling, the crown of an infant’s head peeking through. It was over a hundred degrees, and I knew the baby must be dead. I handed her rupees and wanted to plea with her to buy milk, to feed her child, but I lacked the Hindi words and it likely wouldn’t have mattered because the baby was dead and she was left to suffer.
These are only some of the significant moments in my life, but they have taught me…