How I learned to embrace growing up.

To Envy an Ant

The story of how I fell out of a tree.


"Toutes les grandes personnes ont d'abord été des enfants. (Mais peu d'entre elles s'en souviennent.)"

- Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

I am an adult. I don't remember the moment I became one if there is a single moment at all. But there isn't a day, since then, that I have woken up without worry. I am frightened by what I see on the news, in my own life. I fear for others, I think, more than I fear for myself, for the world is relentless, a constant battle warring between all things, living, and breathing. It is in that a flood of debris that sullies good and corrupts solace. Conflict is everywhere; there is no wishing it away. There is no paradise separate from cruelty. And that is beautiful.

I am eighteen. I struggle with understanding the world around me. There is so much to see, to learn, and I find myself overwhelmed to a point of unending alertness. I am always experiencing, experiencing, experiencing, impressionable and vulnerable like the lamb. I am fighting to untangle myself from my own vices and I am blind to those of others. I acknowledge that they exist, of course- but I am in no position to understand them. They are not mine. They do not affect me. I'll leave them alone.

I am a child. Everything around me buzzes with music, strong and constant and bright, filling my head to my tiny toes with warmth and repose. I am constantly looking for beauty, simply, never stopping, always moving. And I see good. I see justice, or I make justice. The world can do me no harm; I am invulnerable.

There was this tree, a great, strong tree with stern branches and hollow space between the leaves perfectly sized for the quaint body of a curious girl. It was my favorite to climb; the bark was polished enough to touch but knobbed enough to allow for friction. There were endless paths to take when climbing that tree; each time was an exhilarating combination of grabbing, kicking, and chance. With so many options, I never planned my route, for I knew that each move I made was certain. I placed my trust in that tree when I climbed, that my foot would always land on a sturdy surface. Trees like that are hard to come by; the ratio of smooth to rough is often too unbalanced to provide adequate leverage.

On my way up through the branches, I would see ants, giant black ants with long, sticky legs and the uncanny ability to climb nearly vertically. I was never afraid of insects; they too were alive, after all, and were adroit climbers like myself. And being adroit climbers as we were, each of us was able to attain the same height, see the same view. It wasn't much – the foothills hide most of the mountains – but it was mine. From my place nestled in between limbs, only the ants and I had the opportunity to see the light shine the way it did, reflect off of the land and into my eyes from that one specific spot in that one specific tree. Sometimes, from my spot, I'd see geese, walking together in rhythm, an army of toy soldiers poised for childish battle, deployed by some unknown hand in some unknown realm. I could see where the sky ended and the peaks began, where Heaven kissed the earth. God had sent me a gift. Then I fell.

I haven't been back to that tree. I'm nearly positive that it is still there, among other trees, in the same park that I've walked past for ten years. Sometimes I find myself yearning to discover a new combination of footing to reach my crook, to see those obscure shadows of mountains behind the hogback. I miss the challenge, cradled in a blanket of certainty and a sense of trust. I miss the sight, but also the sound of the leaves in my ears, the chill of the wind raising goosebumps on my bare neck. I wish to climb it, still, and I'm perfectly capable. I could walk to that tree. I could climb it. But I don't.

Children do this funny thing of sharing and then taking away, to give their peers a quick glimpse of something new, and mock their disdain in its absence. It frightens me that my spot has remained untrodden by myself, that my own gift is left alone, vulnerable, unused. It's a tree in the middle of a forest and by Gosh, would it make a sound if it fell?

So I often envy the ants, driven by the instinct to climb and not by the fear of falling. They trod the same path every day, up and down, up and down. They are constantly reassured that the peaks of the mountains, and the roots of the tree, remain unchanged. I do not have that luxury, but I have stopped searching for reassurance of what I do know, and embarked on seeing the unexpected.

And it kills me, the unexpected. The horror stories on the news that keep me from walking around the block, from buying canned food and applesauce. I am no longer invincible – but I realize that. I am no longer sheltered under nature's wing, under the wing of childhood, in the space in between the leaves. I realize that my actions are directly related to the experience of others, and my own perception is influenced by theirs. Oh, dear Brutus, I have so much more influence than I give myself credit for, but also so little influence in the eyes of the Creator. I am so impressionable, but also so stubborn.

I live in a world that gives, and takes away. It bites me and I bite back. Because I am a child, wanting to experience. And fifteen, overwhelmed. And an Adult, fearful. I can hide in a tree, I can see beauty, but I will fall. Then I will stumble upon a new tree.

I am learning, every day I learn. I am no teacher. I am and will remain a pupil, then,

I am also the experiment of my own observation. The world uses me to teach me.

J'étais un enfant, et je m'en souviens.
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Please Spare Me From The Three Months Of Summer Break When People Revert Back To High Schoolers

They look forward to swapping stories with their friends at the local diner, walking around their old high school with a weird sense of superiority, and reminiscing their pre-college lives.


I know a surprising amount of people who actually couldn't wait to go home for the summer. They look forward to swapping stories with their friends at the local diner, walking around their old high school with a weird sense of superiority, and reminiscing their pre-college lives.

Me? Not so much. I don't mean to sound bitter. It's probably really comforting to return to a town where everyone knows your name, where your younger friends want you around to do their prom makeup, and where you can walk through Target without hiding in the deodorant aisle. But because I did this really annoying thing where my personality didn't really develop and my social anxiety didn't really loosen its grip on me until college, I have a very limited number of people to return to.

If you asked someone from my high school about Julia Bond, they would probably describe her as shy, studious, and uptight. I distinctly remember being afraid of people who JUULed (did you get high from it? was it illegal? could I secondhand smoke it and get lung cancer?) and crying over Algebra 1 in study hall (because nothing says fun and friendly like mascara steaks and furious scribbling in the back corner while everyone else throws paper airplanes and plays PubG Mobile).

I like to tell my college friends that if I met High School Julia, I would beat her up. I would like to think I could, even though I go to the gym now a third of the time I did then. It's not that it was High School Julia's fault that she closed herself off to everyone. She had a crippling fear of getting a B and an even worse fear of other people. But because she was so introverted and scared, College Julia has nothing to do but re-watch "The Office" for the 23rd time when she comes back.

Part of me is jealous of the people who came into their own before college. I see pictures of the same big friend groups I envied from a distance in high school, all their smiling faces at each other's college football games and pool parties and beach trips, and it makes me sad that I missed out on so many friendships because I was too scared to put myself out there. That part of me really, really wishes I had done things differently.

But a bigger, more confident part of me is really glad I had that experience. Foremost, everything I've gone through has shaped me. I mean, I hid in the freaking bathroom during lunch for the first two weeks of my freshman year of high school. I never got up to sharpen my pencil because I was scared people would talk about me. I couldn't even eat in front of people because I was so overwhelmingly self-conscious. I remember getting so sick at cross country practice because I ran four or five miles on an empty stomach.

Now, I look back and cringe at the ridiculousness because I've grown so much since then. Sure, I still have my quirks and I'm sure a year from now I'll write an article about what a weirdo Freshman Julia was. But I can tell who had the same experience as me. I can tell who was lonely in high school because they talk to the kids on my floor that study by themselves. I can tell who was afraid of speaking up because they listen so well. I can tell who was without a friend group because they stand by me when others don't. I can tell who hated high school, because it's obvious that they've never been as happy as they are now.

My dislike for high school, while inconvenient for this summer, might be one of the best things to happen to me. I learned how to overcome my fears, how to be independent, and how to make myself happy. I never belonged in high school, and that's why I will never take for granted where I belong here at Rutgers.

So maybe I don't have any prom pictures with a bunch of colorful dresses in a row, and maybe I didn't go to as many football games as I should have. Maybe I would've liked pep rallies, and maybe I missed out on senior week at the beach. But if I had experienced high school differently, I wouldn't be who I am today.

I wouldn't pinch myself daily because I still can't believe how lucky I am to have the friends that I do.

I wouldn't smile so hard every time I come back from class and hear my floormates calling me from the lounge.

I wouldn't well up when my roommate leaves Famous Amos cookies on my desk before a midterm, or know how to help the girl having a panic attack next to me before a final, or hear my mom tell my dad she's never seen me this happy before.

If I had loved high school, I wouldn't realize how amazing I have it in college. So amazing, in fact, that I never want to go home.

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Everything That Happened In The Past Made You Who You Are Now

So no, my past is not ever dead, but a "rememory" of the past traumas that are colliding with my present circumstances. All of that made me who I am, and the definition of my life belongs to myself, the definer, and not the outsiders who misunderstand me oh so much that have tried to be the definers of my story, and that is what your story should be, as the definer, too.

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan

"The past is never dead. It's not even past," - William Faulkner

I've thought about these words from Faulkner in reference to the temporal space between events in his book. The more I think on the quote, the more I realize these words are not only relevant but true. Everything that happened in our past is not dead, and not even in the past. It made us who we are now.

Don't ever tell yourself that something that happened or something you did didn't matter. No matter how insignificant others might tell you something is, despite how much your loved ones plead you to move on, perhaps the dwelling and ruminating on some form of shame and guilt you feel is what you need. Everything matters at the end of the day, and it's up to you to decide for yourself, not anyone else. You or your God are the definers of your journey and life, and although the quote that "definitions belong to the definers, not the defined," that Toni Morrison once said in Beloved refers to slaves having their definitions defined by white slaveowners, the novel is triumphant. By the end, the roles are reversed: the former slaves became the definers, instead of the defined, of their own story.

And yet we live in contradictions and paradoxes, that although there's a part of us that dwells and feels, there's also a part of us that moves on. Toni Morrison also once said, in Song of Solomon, that if "you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down." As human beings, we are characters with narrative arcs. Perhaps there's a part of us that needs to hold onto the stuff that weighs us down and make our peace with the past before we can fly and give it up. There is no surrender and peace unless a prior struggle and conflict preceded it, as any person resisting a relationship in faith has experienced. We must be broken down first before we know what it means to fly.

That is why everything that's happened made us who we are today. I certainly wouldn't be where I'm at now not only for my successes, but my failures, for the friends I've made for life who will stand by me unconditionally, and also the conditional friends in which my relationships fell apart. Every time something goes horribly wrong and the outcome goes against what is considered "good" and what I planned, I learn a lot more about my shortcomings and failures. I learn more adhering to my Christian faith and Calvinist theology, that I myself am worthless and unjustified, and can't claim to be better than anyone, because the ways I have wronged people and the world are much worse than the sin I know of anyone else. I am absolutely nothing alone, but by the grace of a higher power in my God, I can affect change and affect the lives of people, to do justice and serve the world in capacities I didn't think possible. I am not supposed to have learned what it means to surrender control, but I have, and I've never felt so much joy.

All of my failures, all of the pain I caused, whether it was my fault or not, whether it was intentional or a complete accident and misunderstanding, contributed to the person I am today, and I can say confidently that I didn't think I would be here. I'm not supposed to be here. I'm not supposed to have forged as strong of relationships as I have, to have fostered and succumbed to as much vulnerability as I have. I'm not supposed to have worked on a suicide hotline or have been successful doing it. I'm not supposed to have found God, but God defied what I was "supposed" to do. I'm not supposed to be a teacher next year, teaching high school English, and being a person who will become a much better teacher than who I was before everything I went through this year.

I think I'm the luckiest person in the world, that I am everything I am because the past is not over, and it's not even the past. I haven't really changed as a person despite the trauma and various pain that I've been overwhelmed with this year. No, I've grown, and I wouldn't have it any other way, and no one else could have gone through the same and developed to who I am.

I believe that there is a plan and journey for everyone. Some people will have destinations they find more favorable. Some may not, but that's fine, and that's okay. Yes, we will feel the anxieties and fears with how much we have to lose, with how much we have at stake. But this year and throughout college, I have experienced the joy that comes with having absolutely nothing to lose, to give up to God because as much as I want to believe, God just showed me I had no other choice.

So no, my past is not ever dead, but a "rememory" of the past traumas that are colliding with my present circumstances. All of that made me who I am, and the definition of my life belongs to myself, the definer, and not the outsiders who misunderstand me oh so much that have tried to be the definers of my story, and that is what your story should be, as the definer, too.

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan

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