As human beings, we each have our own stories — for all of us, at least one of them involves loss. It doesn’t have to be about death; loss comes in many different ways, from the loss of memories to opportunities to people fading out of your life. Impermanence surrounds us. The only thing you can guarantee is the fact of yourself watching your life unfold, making it the most valuable person or thing in your life. As an Andover student, I too often see the people around me disrespecting themselves, their bodies, or their health, when in truth those are the only things that really matter. I am sure that the story I am about to tell about loss is one that many people, especially here, can relate to, and I hope you have a similar realization to me one day. As Andover students, it can be easy to be swept up in both our social and academic commitments, letting our personal commitments suffer as a result, such as a healthy sleep schedule. Checking in on ourselves is an important part of life and we cannot forget our mental and physical health. You are the pivot on which your own life spins around, and you can’t keep it stable if your focus isn’t on the center: you.
Your personality is built from every second you’ve lived, from every step you’ve taken to get here, and trying to change it all around just one or two people disregards your sense of self. While we are all shaped by each other, actively defying your personal history or beliefs to preserve relationships is simply a sign that the relationship isn’t working out. I was once caught up in the belief that bringing up negative emotions — in other words, showing the more vulnerable sides of yourself — would bring relationships to ruins. I found myself wading through life wearing not my own face but a painted mask with a smile forever carved across my mouth. Or, as I’d written in a poem at the time: “I’m fine in the smiles sticking to my face like / shiny confetti”. But the truth is that there are parts of yourself, such as your turbulent moods, that are inevitable features of your experience as a living, breathing human being. It was the conflict between my understanding of sadness as a normal human feeling and my raw fear of being left behind that ultimately caused the relationships around me to rot and break away. I could not be truly happy when I did not let myself feel truly sad.
Permanence cannot be guaranteed in a single relationship in your life — especially not friends — and defining your life around a single person is not sustainable. Watching Disney movies growing up, I always thought that what I truly lacked in life was a paper cutout of the perfect friend: someone to braid your hair and be there to support you, someone who would stay with you for the rest of your life. The Disney caricature. But years went by, and this friend never showed up. I was always afraid of impermanence, of the thought that every person in the world is fundamentally alone, so I grew closer to my family as the most fixed people in my life I could think of. One day in March last year, the closest friend I had texted me that they never wanted to see me again, slamming the door on their way out of my life, but that day was when I met my paper cutout. The friend who would stay with me for the rest of my life, never to leave, the friend who would grow with me and change with me and always be there for me. It was myself.
Your relationship with yourself is the fundamental base upon which you build all of your relationships with other people. When I think back on last year, as I watched people trickle out of my life like water through my fingers, I realize how many conflicts I had with other people that were rooted in my own unhappiness and fear of being left behind. If I only had a healthy relationship with myself, I would’ve realized that many of my relationships were hurting me, and simply cutting them off was a more effective solution than endlessly trying to hold on just because I was afraid of the fall. The only person you can guarantee to be permanent in your life is yourself; it is your most important relationship and the one you must cherish most. Don’t hurt it. Don’t make your most important relationship hurt because of another one that isn’t worth it. Of course, this doesn’t mean sequestering yourself away and never speaking to anyone; it means the opposite, valuing the healthy relationships you have, and not distancing yourself from the world for fear of impermanence.
As human beings, we each have our own stories. For all of us, at least one of them involves loss. But a lot of them involve acceptance too, and new lessons learned, and new stories to tell. Sometimes it takes losing those around us for us to realize how much we should cherish our own selves, first and foremost.