There are exactly one hundred photographs on my dorm room wall. The cold, impersonal, white paint was oppressive, so I hung a large Italian flag, a string of white Christmas lights, and filled the rest of the space with photograph collages in mismatching black frames. Some of the photos were taken before I was born; a few date back to before my parents met. There are also photos taken during my last year of High School, quite a few feature my friends and I in graduation caps and gowns.
My favorite photograph, however, sits on my desk, in a small black frame. I look at it so frequently that I no longer see it. The photograph’s scene looks staged and its blatant happiness seems canned. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really mine or if it came with the frame, if the people in the picture are just look-alikes of me and my mother. It is easy to feel incredibly unattached from the physical photograph, but I find myself constantly looking back onto the moment it was taken and time period it represents. The photograph was taken outside: my mother is sitting cross-legged on the ground, leaning slightly to the side. She wears a beige cardigan and jeans and smiles so widely you can see each one of her perfect teeth that I have always envied. Unfortunately, I was blessed with my father’s strangely small teeth and crooked smile. She holds me, at eight or nine years old, on her back. My arms are wrapped around her shoulders, and I aim my face slightly toward her neck, so that it is partially hidden. I’m squinting into the sun, or perhaps grimacing at the photographer, tired of holding the pose. The man who took the picture is a family friend who took so many pictures that day that if you switch from one photograph to the other in rapid succession, they make a wordless movie reel. My old dog is lying on the grass, asleep, with her tongue dangling moronically out of her open mouth. The grass is brilliantly green, with some brownish spots, dating this photo to early April or late May. The backdrop is the terrace of my childhood home in the Italian countryside. Next to us, there is a bow-shaped wood structure that held a hammock in the summer. The photograph portends a long, hot Italian summer: oppressive heat, clothes constantly drenched in sweat. Or perhaps it points to a prolonged spring: cool breezes in early June and late-blooming cherry trees.
I can’t remember the moment when this photograph was taken. That moment blends into all the memories of the four years when we lived in that house: my elementary school years. Painfully, this time period often appears fuzzy when I try to look back on it. When I can’t remember the events of that day, I think about how strange it is that the moment captured by that photograph actually happened. Even though I see this photograph every day, the second the picture was taken happened only once. I lived through that moment I can now only see through this photograph. Similarly, I lived through all those moments that I am now only able to see in brief snapshots- pictures, pieces of writing, short memories. After all, this is why we take pictures or write down significant memories: we need something concrete by which to remember those moments
These photographs and written memories may not be as concrete as we pretend they are. By looking at a photograph, we give some kind of meaning to those memories- “look how happy I look… that was the best time of my life”, “look how handsome my father looks, he was always so kind”. Perhaps those moments do not hold all the cosmic significance that we often assign them. The very act of looking at photographs is strange to think about. We put some kind of blinders on by looking at a single moment in time. Do we really see these moments as they were?
When I look at this photograph, I often find myself reconstructing the day it was taken. I’m not seeing that day as it was—let me be clear, I have no memories of those hours outside of the multiple photographs that were taken. I am seeing idealized images of my childhood: I see a walk around our property holding my father’s hand, asking when the cherries and peaches will finally come. I see a sunset and watching the horizon with my brothers, throwing sticks over the hill, making a contest out of how far away they land. I see a huge bowl of pasta and a bottle of wine placed on the table, on top of a stained blue gingham tablecloth. I don’t see the fight between my mother and my father. I don’t see the still gray sky, a reminder of the long winter spent with badly functioning centralized heating. I don’t see the sleepless night spent in fear of the dark or monsters in my closet. What is fascinating is that none of these imagined moments actually occurred; perhaps they all occurred. How would I be able to tell from a photograph of my smiling mother, my nine year-old self, and our dog?
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The songs my father would sing
Or tunes whistled
Liturgical- in lieu of religion
We worshipped at the church of tradition
Of joyful Sundays spent slow cooking
Meat for a sauce
Of sunny porches
Of sleepy summer mornings
Warm milk and cookies for breakfast
Not because we’re backward-
We’re trying to enjoy the day
From the first bite
My father- shirtless, brambles in his chest hair
Safe and warm laps- elementary school
Repeating history lessons
Couches and old Italian movies
The movements of their lips don’t
Match the sounds
I feel that way now
This absence, this disconnect
That should be filled by silence
Developing as a teenager and becoming acquainted with oneself is a difficult task no matter the era or the social status of a person. The impulses and hormones firing in the adolescent brain scream commands that contrast with what what most authority figures tells us is right. As teenagers, we are stuck in the crossfire of these two battling extremes: a moral struggle within our own bodies. We tend toward self destruction and hedonism, no matter how much one single person tries to suppress these urges. I suppose this argument is flawed because it suggests that hedonism and self destruction are inextricably linked. I only argue this simply because we aim toward feeling pleasure, as most humans. teenagers only have themselves to look after and have very few adult responsibilities. Death also seems to be a distant concept, as a teenager’s life consists only of 13-19 years. Therefore, the feeling of near-invincibility is a common feeling among adolescents. Because of this, teenagers may seek fundamentally hedonistic (and often self-destructive) activities. However, self-destructive and pleasure-seeking behavior is not limited to teenagers. . These experiences and choices are not exclusively found in those caught between childhood and adulthood. In fact, it is evident that we are continuously influenced throughout our life by the instinctual pull of hedonism. The pleasure centers in the human brain are active and demand constant fuel, and we naturally indulge them when we can, even if it is detrimental to us in the long run. Because of this, teenagers are not only caught in a moral crossfire, but we are also caught in the conflict between adult desire and childish need. These dilemmas have been radically changed by the development of technology. Our brains are becoming re-wired and children are becoming acquainted, from the moment they can perceive and react, with instant gratification: computers are fast and technology is developing quickly. Everything has been made readily available; practically any information that you need can be found online. With this influx of technology and astounding scientific advances, human life and human interactions are being drastically changed. And how can we resist these changes? Are we to become driven and controlled exclusively by technology? Now, teenagers have yet another conflict to deal with: the conflict between information overload (and it’s consequences) and emotional development.
This summer I went to see the second part of the final Harry Potter movie. I was greeted with droves of diehard fans, like me, dressed up as various characters, talking excitedly about the movie or the books. There was a wonderful sense of community in the theatre where we sat, waiting for the conclusion of the epic series. Many people knew each other, and we were all there for a common purpose. In the five hours we waited, I experienced a game of Quidditch, a re-enacment of the popular Potter Puppet Pals youtube video, and recitations of various lines in the book. It was one of the best nights of my life, and one of the saddest. As many people had said, it was the end of an era. To me, it felt like the beginning of the end of my childhood. I grew up with Harry Potter. I began reading the first book around age eight, and finished the last book at age fifteen. We grew with the characters, and as the books became more intense, we were developing the maturity to handle the emotions brought on by the story. Waiting for the books and movies, the sense of excitement and anticipation, was also a significant part of growing up. I devoured the books, enthralled by Rowling’s beautifully connected plot and living the story alongside my favorite fictional characters. I thought, discussed, and argued about the books and movies with my two best friends, both enthusiastic fans. This friendship, in fact, is widely founded upon our love for Harry Potter. It brings us and keeps us together through the years, despite my perpetual absence, and the fact that the three of us only get together once every two months or so. But the magic of the book extends far beyond my love for it. The premise of Harry Potter is, in the simplest terms possible, good versus evil. Throughout the books, Harry, and those on the ‘good’ side, are trying to defeat Lord Voldemort. Loved ones die, and times are dark and we almost think that evil has won. But in the end, the sheer will power of love and unity overpower the darkness of evil. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “…in the light of Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” And this is the message of Harry Potter, the world is on the side of justice and good just as long as we will it to be. So thank you Ms. Rowling, for a magical childhood, and for always giving me hope and faith in human justice.
To all those who lost their lives, or whose lives were torn apart ten years ago, I pay my respects. To all those who committed extraordinary acts of bravery and selflessness ten years ago, I give my sincerest gratitude. But to all those who use the events that occurred ten years ago to spread hatred, racism, and bigotry, I will dedicate these thoughts. If the people who lost loved ones, coworkers, and acquaintances can learn to forgive and use the lessons they learned to spread a message of peace and love, then everyone else has a duty to do the same. It is so important to eliminate any feelings of terror, hate, and revenge: how else can we move past this devastating episode of human tragedy? Unfortunately, 9/11 was not a unique experience: thousands of people lose their lives each day due to war, hunger, and terrorism. Many of these acts are committed by people who are overseas seeking revenge for what happened ten years ago. What makes the loved ones American soldiers kill any different from those who died in the 9/11 attacks? Is a mother with three children to nourish and love any different here than she is there? What makes an Iraqi grandfather different from an American grandfather? A life is equally as valuable and important whether or not that person dresses or believes differently than you and I do. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a common thought for those who can’t see past their past hatred and violence. The only way to be sure that these kind of events never occur anywhere ever again is to put aside feelings of anger and desires for retaliation, and move forward toward peace. I will once again pay my respects to the heroes and victims of 9/11.
The first semester of this year, I studied abroad in Italy. When I came back, every person who was aware of said experience asked me, “how was your semester abroad?” or “how was Italy?”. In answering this questions I’m afraid I always fell short of the asker’s expectations. I usually replied with a short, “it was amazing” or “it was the best experience of my life” without further explanation or a little story or anecdote. This is not because I do not like the asker, or because am simply being rude, but rather because I truly can’t come up with an appropriate way to describe the experience. So, if anyone is actually reading this, here is an explanation, long overdue, of my experience abroad. It was unique for many reasons: most high schoolers do not get to study abroad as I did. Most people who study abroad study in a country that is foreign to them, with a language they do not speak well. This was not the case for me. I spent my elementary school years in Italy and speak Italian with my father at home, every day. It may seem bizarre that I studied abroad in a country whose culture I was more than familiar with. However, the experience was no less valuable than if I had not known the language. Rather, knowing the culture may have rendered the experience more valuable and gratifying. I became aware of facets of Italy, a country that I proudly consider my home, that I was not familiar with before. In addition, the whole experience changed me, both in ways that may seem insignificant and ways that are quite significant. It matured me. I learned how to use public transportation effectively, and how to not get lost in unfamiliar situations. I learned how to be safe in unfamiliar situations. I became more worldly. Being around other students from many different cultures meant that I became acquainted with their viewpoints and learned how to be sensitive towards them. I learned that loneliness is not always so bad, I felt alone and sad sometimes, but learned to make the most of it. I made friends, and six beautiful months in the country that I love. I fell deeper in love with my favorite city, Florence, after learning it’s many flaws and infinite beauties. I learned that nobody could have explained what kind of an experience I would have. And that is the difficulty in writing this piece. I know that the complexity of such an experience can only be understand by those who go out and have a similar adventure. For this reason, I encourage anyone that has the means and the opportunity to do something similar to do it. Without question, if you have the right attitude going into it, it will be an amazing and life altering experience. So, I will end this post with what is perhaps my favorite quote of all time, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Another school year has come and gone, and I feel nostalgic. Looking back, of course, last year was a huge amount of work and stress. However, the fact that it ended obviously indicates the ending of one phase and the entrance into another. This new phase is one of huge amounts of decision making and responsibility. An internship, college applications, scholarship applications, adulthood, and graduation from high school. Inevitably, I will have to decide what my path is after that. While these new responsibilities are exciting on a certain level, its connotations are extremely daunting. Adulthood, I suppose, is inevitable, as time passes, it becomes more imminent. However, I am beginning to feel more prepared for this next phase, this year, and the experiences I have had this year- both negative and positive, have matured me greatly. While I still wonder where the time is going and why it’s passing me by so fast, I now that what is coming next is inevitable, and thus, I resolve to live in the moment, in the present, without compromising my plans for the future. I will take as many opportunities as I can, but will also accept my limitations. Until tomorrow, today will be my focus, but I will continue building bridges toward my future.