Imagine yourself on journey through a valley. The path is harrowing - sure, there are patches of green and verdancy from a tributary that flows through haphazardly - but miles of the trek are filled with shadow, doubt, a beating sun, sand; all of adversity is manifest.
You march - you pitter-patter - you fall and get up, resign and rest, - you crawl and run. Sweat mixes with tears and blood; laughter eases the pain from the scars on your soul and heart; wounds from love lost and family missing that has never fully healed.
But your eyes are always locked. You are fixed on some idea, some goal, some dream that inspires you to continue along the path. All the while you are being chased by Death, who peers away from a distance. Sometimes you forget he is ever there, but as you get closer and closer to your destination he looms more ominous and daunting. And when you see Death you remember you are not on a journey - you are in a race.
So I must stop and ask myself, what race am I in? What is my final destination? Where do I want to reach before Death captures me in His crutches? Where have I fallen? What are the scars on my heart? Why do I get up when I fall?
Elucidating these answers do not come easy. Deep introspection and self-reflection can bring me close - but I imagine I have much farther to go to win my race. Much of it will keep me vulnerable, but perhaps it will make me stronger in the end.
Being alone has been something that has followed me for a large part of my life, especially early on. I do not mean to say that I did not have the warm support and love of my family - my parents were very close with me and helped me more than I could ever hope or imagine. But much of my time was spent with my parents - with older family and friends. I don't think I realized till now how profoundly that must have affected my inclinations and accelerated my maturity. I had almost no one of my age with whom I could spend time. My younger brother passed away before I ever got to know him, a victim of SIDs. I lived in a rural home; they say good fences make good neighbors - but I was so far away from any neighbor that a fence hardly seemed necessary. I attended grade school and middle school that was a 30 minute drive away; the only chance I had for interaction with friends and children my age was here, for the few hours a day I was at school. I would return home in the afternoon, to spend time alone at my house - no brothers or sisters to talk with, no neighborhood kids to visit or play with - just my mother and I. I would spend my time with my schoolwork - I think academia has always been a sort of comfort for me because it was something to occupy my time - the rest of my day was spent stroking my imagination - and I found a way to do this in immense solitude that I did not appreciate or realize until now. Of course there were attempts to alleviate this - I think my mother recognized some of my frustrations and made attempts to have friends and children visit more often - but it is of course a difficult thing to rectify.
High school was an interesting evolution for me. In some ways it punctuated being alone, but in many other ways it did allow me to branch out as it came with a deeper degree of independence. Before I continue, I do not mean to paint the picture that I was that "lonely, quiet kid" through middle school and high school. I think was more of the loud, outgoing kid who always tried to crack a joke and make people laugh - probably an attempt to obtain the affection of my peers - something I deeply wanted. High school had an interesting social structure; I found myself somewhere in the middle. It was an all-boys private high school. I certainly wasn't athletic or rich enough to obtain the company of the "desired few," the "cool kids" who had the cool cars, popularity, and respect. But I was funny and interesting enough to not be an outcast - I was somewhere in the middle, with my own circle of friends whom I enjoyed spending time with. It was during high school that I actually developed the greatest friendship I have known. Scott had attended grade, middle and high school with me. Our friendship grew intensely during high school however; and once I had the luxury of a car, I was over at his house every weekend or free moment I had. I don't think Scott ever realized how much that friendship brought me a sense of normalcy; I became absorbed into his family - his brothers become mine. His insight is incredible, and I learned much about dealing with people and developing myself. His interests rubbed off on me and I began to replace my activities of solitude with more social ones (games of basketball, football or some other sport became the normal "Saturday-Sunday routine.") I cherish this friendship and it is one that has continued into college. Although Scott attends a different university, we still keep in touch, and I attend a lot of family vacations with him - a truly wonderful experience with my sort of "2nd family." Scott and his brothers will sometimes say that I am a brother to them, and though they may be saying it casually, to me it means a lot.
So I entered college. My roommate up till my junior year was my incredible friend Mark. College has been the most amazing experience of my life. I've changed and grown so much. I developed so many amazing friendships, learned so much about myself and the world that I cannot even begin to articulate it in a way that would satisfy me. Freshmen year had me meeting all kinds of people from classes, my dorm, and I became the "social butterfly" I always wanted to be. I was no longer limited. People in college were truly my PEERS. In high school I was just a kid who wasn't good enough to make the football team and that got good grades - in college, though, at UCLA, I was a person with ideas and interests and a love for learning for which many shared.
Sophomore year began with much excitement as well. I loved living in the dorm. I was living now only with Mark, having escaped the frustrations of the classic "difficult other roommate" during my first year. I was Floor President, I was getting good grades, researching in a lab, volunteering at the hospital - many high points in my life. It was also during this time that I met the first girl who captured my heart. It was a unique experience for me - you must recall that I attended an all-boys high school! She would become my first love. She lived on my floor, and the second I met her I knew there was something in her that I loved. We began to date; I experienced my first kiss (yes it was awkward!), and we developed a relationship that I look back at with fond memories. The youthful awakening - that joy of love - that "immature" period of excitement possessed me for the better part of the school year. Summer came, and while I remained at UCLA for my studies she returned to her hometown. Distance separated us - and I hoped it would not defeat us.
Junior year began; I looked forward to it with great anticipation - I was over my busy and monotonous summer (one that was filled with my first experience of living "truly independently" in an apartment). It didn't begin as well as I would have liked. Our relationship ended less than a week into the school year. I wanted to make it work - I couldn't understand it. We would try to get back together - but it was another failed attempt. In the end, her feelings had changed and I would learn to deal with my first heartbreak. I was determined to be strong, to not let the pain consume or bring me down. My feelings were punctuated with guilt - I was experiencing self-misery and felt guilty about this. Why? My mother had invasive surgery and was recovering in the hospital from severe complications and a staph infection. My grandmother was experiencing dementia-like behavior, and my poor father was alone, all the way in Northern California, balancing a job and all these difficulties while I was in Los Angeles, attending classes and "grieving" over my lost relationship.
If you're asking for honesty - I'm going to give it to you. The following months were very difficult. I had never felt such pain before, and I honestly began to understand the term "heartbreak" - there was a constant ache in my chest and my thoughts were consumed. I was still happy though - I don't think I'm the person who is capable of feeling depressed. I did incredibly well in school, I was enjoying all my activities, and in the end I still carved out a productive and fun year. I ended up joining a fraternity this year - and while there are many stigmas and stereotypes associated with Greek life (I was very much a skeptic) - I ended up finding a great group of guys with whom I could have a lot of fun with. This support was really critical during this year. It provided an escape from my apartment life, which was also slightly draining me as it wasn't the best environment in the world. The rest of the year was great overall, and I finally overcame the great pain I had been feeling in my heart.
The summer after my junior was an important one. I spent it studying for the MCAT. It is my goal to go to medical school, and this would be one of the great challenges of my life. I studied, hung out with friends, and also worked out zealously. At the end of the summer my labors paid off - I got a very good score on my MCAT and was in the best shape of my life. I have started my senior year with a bang. I have a lot of leadership positions in the activities I am a part of and it has been keeping me incredibly busy, but has also been incredibly rewarding. I love the classes I'm in now and my job. I'm meeting new and incredible people and am ready to say that I will graduate completely fulfilled. My friends are great, and part of me is frustrated in searching for "that connection" with the "right girl." I think it is a common sentiment shared by male peers, and while I find myself somewhat naturally OK with being single, I think the pressure from my friends sometimes gets to me. But I'd be lying if I didn't say part of me agrees with my friends - I would love to meet the right girl here at college, as a senior in this wonderful school environment. Partly because that is a huge part of my destination. Why do I do what I do? Because in the end I want to carve for myself what was somewhat sort of missing in my early youth. I want a huge family; a loving wife, many children, a great home, a dog, cars, trips to soccer practices and family vacations. That would make me truly happy. As a physician I will be engaged in a job that is incredibly fulfilling to me; and I will be part of a family I will grow to love. I will be happy, engaged and above all - doing what I want to do.
This is why I do what I do. This is how far I've run, and where I want to reach.