One of my favorite sitcoms growing up was Community on NBC, fronted by the ingenious Dan Harmon. The best episode of that show is widely considered to be S03E04: “Remedial Chaos Theory”, in which the characters gather for a pizza party. When the deliveryman knocks, they decide to roll a die to determine which of them will answer the door. The show then presents all of the iterations of how the situation could play out, to varying degrees of commotion. It ends on a solemn note as the plotline with the most negative consequences – referred to in meta fashion by the characters as the “darkest timeline” – is revealed to be the one that will be accepted into the show’s canon.
For much of my adolescence, I prescribed to the belief that I was perhaps in the “darkest timeline” of my own life. My path to success had some extremely trying roadblocks, particularly in my teenage years, and it often made it difficult to appreciate the many blessings concurrently afforded to me. The most critical blessing was inherent in my birthright; from the day I entered this world, I was surrounded on all sides by incredibly supportive, giving, caring people who lifted me up and over every hurdle that came my way. As such, when I graduated high school, I found it very difficult to accept the messages of congratulations and pride that people conveyed to me because deep down I firmly believed (and, to a degree, still do) that I would never have succeeded in surmounting those obstacles without the help of the very people praising me for overcoming them.
These beliefs sowed the seeds of self-loathing that plagued me throughout the first half of my college career. It was not until late in my junior year that I began to truly understand that I could take credit for my achievements without channeling false conceit. While this might seem self-evident to most people, I quite honestly had never come to terms with it. Recognizing this and allowing myself to feel pride in my work was an indescribably significant turning point for me in terms of my mental health, my personal work ethic and my general effectiveness as a member of this absurd species.
Today (or… well… yesterday, as I’m posting this after midnight), my family held a shindig for me to celebrate both my graduation from Penn and my preparation for Fulbright. In fact, it was literally the first time in over a decade that my entire immediate family was in the same room altogether. Yet, rather than being burdened by uncomfortable tensions, the party seemed somehow sacrosanct. Characters from many different chapters of my story intermixed and mingled with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. As I looked around that room, I felt increasingly fortunate with every face I saw. I was even more humbled to realize that for every person present, there were several more who could not make it but who were fully there in spirit.
While the party was held in my honor, to me it felt like a communal celebration. Although my achievements were the ones being observed, I felt truly privileged in knowing that I did not attain them entirely on my own. As the attendees congratulated me and wished me well, I made mental notes of how each of them had helped me get to where I am today. I allowed myself to reminisce on the challenges I conquered to reach this point in my life and saw how the negative circumstances of my past had enabled my friends and family to mold me into a better version of myself. Considering all of this, the only troubling thought I had was how much I wished there was some way to express the depth of my gratitude besides simply saying thanks. I have taken comfort in the fact that I can demonstrate my appreciation by putting 110% of my effort in everything I attempt.
To everyone who has helped me get to where I am today, I owe you so much more than I am capable of giving, but I hope you know that I will continue to take every opportunity I can to pay it forward. While many of you have commended me for choosing a path of service over one of material wealth, I want you to know that all of the compassion and love I hope to spread in my journeys is merely a reflection of that shown to me up until this point.
In truth, every timeline must have moments of darkness and others of light. With that in mind, I don’t know how the versions of me in other dimensions are doing, but right about now, I think my timeline is pretty darn bright.
With unbounded gratitude,