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In a Barren World, What Remains?

In what felt like seconds, the entire world was frozen.

I am sure you have read enough frightening headlines, seen enough empty streets, talked to enough fearful friends and relatives to understand the gravity of our current situation. COVID-19 has made us all stop in our tracks in a way that we never thought was possible or fathomable. What I find the most difficult to grapple with is that not even one month ago, on February 28, 2020, my life was moving quite quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I really wanted it to slow down. I was dancing everyday (including weekends), studying, working, and auditioning. Juilliard is an extremely dense and enriching place, filling all of its students’ artistic capacities to the brim. Our glasses were full, so to speak. Then, in the middle of Spring Break, all of that changed, and I found myself back at home in San Francisco.

When all of the classes, all of the schedules, all of the deadlines dissipate; when every friend, colleague, teacher and mentor you thought you would see tomorrow is suddenly out of reach; when every expectation of what you were supposed to do, what you were planning to do, and you would have done if routine had carried on is now gone, what remains? It’s a tough question that has been lingering above my head, but I am glad it’s there, truly. As college seniors on the brink of our next step, it’s one of the most important questions that we often forget about. I know I do. I was so caught up in the logistics of my plans— which auditions should I go to? Which plane tickets should I buy? Where do I have the best shot of getting hired?— that I forgot to check-in with myself. Now, that is the only question I can answer; the only one I am capable of answering.

I have found that a lot still remains. Treasures in my life that were buried beneath the busy-ness before are now gradually finding their way to the surface. I get to reconnect with my family, for example. My parents are working from home, and my younger brother is taking online classes for the rest of the semester. We cook for each other, play games, go on walks, and play music. As I write this, my father is strumming the guitar. Maybe I’ll ask him to teach me some chords!

My community at Juilliard still remains. Yes, we are quite far removed from one another, but at the same time we have never been more closely knit. I Zoom my classmates almost every day and have bittersweet conversations with them. We’re grieving the loss of closure on our senior year, yet we’re also celebrating our boundless love for each other. I have never felt it stronger. I am checking in with my teachers, as they are with me. They’re asking how I’m doing and if I need any support. It makes me gush with gratitude to know that these bonds will be there after we graduate, and after this pandemic dwindles out.

< Even though I can’t be with them right now, these are the people who have kept the rhythm of my life, and will continue to push me through the hard days.

My creative mind and body still remain. In fact, they are beginning to find new and rich forms of expression. Taking yoga on my outdoor deck, improvising in my bedroom, singing with my mom, cooking, and even writing pieces like these have all allowed me to redirect my artistry. As artists, we often have to create amidst a myriad of structures, such as budgets, deadlines, and others’ expectations, so it’s nice to be liberated from these at this moment in time. Although we now face quite different constraints of space and human communication, we get to create without the pressure of an end result.

Despite the blessings that I have counted, I am sad. Profoundly sad. I have lost some of the most precious milestones that my friends and I have waited so long and worked so hard for. This strange sorrow will set the tone for my entire adult life, for better or for worse. This virus has taken so much from all of us, stripped our lives down to a pretty barren reality. But it hasn’t taken everything, and I challenge all of us, going forward, to discover, savor, and relish those beautiful things— the gems that still remain.

I saw this stunning work, by Native American artist Jeffery Gibson, at the Brooklyn Museum, just days before school was cancelled (it reads: “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE GOT ‘TIL IT’S GONE). The universe never fails to reveal its truth.

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