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Monday, December 17, 2012

Real or Not Real?

The Bodleian Library.
Occasionally, I have the strange sensation of looking up from my surroundings-- today the LIRR-- and feeling like I've woken up from a very long dream. I swear it was just yesterday that I was a student at MIT, not yet affected by HDGC. But at the same time, that life seems ages away.

The sheer amount of change in my life in the last two years is absolutely mind-blowing: I found out I carry a CDH1 mutation, I graduated from school, I moved to another country, I started graduate school, I moved back home, I had major surgery, I moved back east, I started and finished a new job, I moved back to the UK, I changed disciplines (temporarily), I weaved myself in and out of relationships with friends, old and new. Listing the changes that took place makes it easy for me to see how my life today would be completely unrecognizable to the Jenn of 2010.

The Birmingham Cathedral.
One of the strangest things about my experiences of the recent past is their juxtaposition. I think back to where I was nine months ago-- hospitalized in Hawaii after my total gastrectomy-- and often find my present surroundings unbelievable.

My new life in Oxford so far has been as magical and blessed as I could ever have imagined and hoped for. I am constantly amazed by the concentration of once-in-a-lifetime experiences stuffed into the last ten weeks: reading philosophy in the Duke Humfrey's reading room of the Bodleian Library; running in the mornings with the cows and the mist in the picturesque Christ Church meadows; singing Evensong service at the Birmingham Cathedral; taking piano lessons at the Royal Academy of Music; practicing in the Holywell Music Room; traveling to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany; seeing Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg, Austria; wandering the Christmas Markets in Birmingham, UK and Prague, Czech Republic; and most importantly, meeting and forging connections with some of the most incredible and inspirational people I know.

The Holywell Music Room.
More than once, I've stopped myself to ask of my new surroundings and experiences: is this real life?* As amazing as it all is, there is a strange disconnect, almost an incompatibility between my real life now and my real life then. Sometimes that incompatibility reveals itself as I'm trying to think about an esoteric theoretical debate in musicology, or getting ready for a lavish three-course meal in an ancient (by my standards) hall.

I remember so clearly the night I found out that Jess Mac had cancer in her stomach, and would have to get her gastrectomy soon. I was in the middle of getting ready for the Rhodes Coming-Up dinner-- a festive occasion for which we dressed up in our ball gowns and dinner jackets, and celebrated the beginning of our time together at Oxford over champagne and a delicious three-course meal with wine pairings. Alone in my room, as I zipped up the back of my gown, put the finishing touches on my hair and make-up, I couldn't help but shed some tears as a knot of tension built up inside me. In Jess' present situation, I saw my own experiences-- something I would never wish on anyone else-- and realized they were not as distant as I would have liked. I know now that no matter how much time passes between March 21, 2012 and the present-- my inauguration date into the no-bellies club-- HDGC will never truly be gone. It lingers, not as a nightmare, but as an indelible mark on me and the way I see the world.
The Christmas Market in Old Town Square, Prague.

As wonderful and magical as Oxford is, what is real life? Real life is the connections I've made because of HDGC-- bonds with strangers that immediately bring us together from around the world as family. Real life is knowing that I've finally woken up from this long nightmare a stronger and more whole person, and that my experiences with HDGC are the lens that put my life-- my goals, my priorities-- in focus.

*yeah, this post references both The Hunger Games and David After the Dentist.

1 comment:

  1. You should update again... I would love to know how your studies are going. Something about living the fantasy-England-castle life vicariously through your blog posts. :) Maybe that sounds shallow given the material that your other posts cover, but I think it's fortunate that you've been able to recover and continue with your life, even if it's a bit different now.

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