College is both beautiful and destructive, simultaneously formative and calamitous. I realized recently that college has been damaging me.
I have five tattoos, and three of them are strings of words that have impacted my life so strongly that I declared them worthy of staining my skin forever.
The first of these is a gentle request: “may my soul resist the rush.”
The second, lyrics to my favorite Billy Joel song, reminds me that it’s okay to live in the here and now: “Vienna waits for you.”
And, finally (for now), my most recent tattoo declares a truth about life: “we are all stories in the end.”
I look at these tattoos every day, and most of the time I don’t think about them for long. But last week, after reading powerful stories from a friend’s blog, I could almost feel the ink draining from my skin as my inner dialogue screamed out, “Nikki, you have forgotten everything!”
This third year of college has been truly trying.
Last semester, my busiest yet, was a constant balancing act between three jobs (two of which could easily be full-time), 16 credit hours, including a major research paper and learning an ancient language, and other social obligations.
This semester, I have been battling a flare-up of an autoimmune disease I developed in middle school. There have been days that getting out of bed seemed impossible and days where just eating a banana was impossible. Many times after class, I would come home and lay down in the dark, wondering why my body decided to attack itself again after all this time.
And maybe, when it comes down to it, I found myself a little afraid…a little afraid that I wasn’t smart enough, brave enough, or worth enough to make it very far.
And you know, friends, that builds up after a while. It takes a toll.
My permanent reminders, etched onto my arms not without pain, were placed on a long-term snooze. But I have awoken, and I have revived. As this semester draws to a close, I am reminded why I am here, why college isn’t the end of my story and that before long I’ll be thrust into the world to actually carry out something that matters.
I am not here to write news stories about radio stations for sale or about job interviews with Donald Trump. I am not here to turn in papers, take tests or to prove my competency in Bible and religion (or journalism). I am not here simply to make the time pass.
I am here to be formed toward a future, to assess my posture toward God, my community and other cultures. I am here to dive in head-first to the things about which I am passionate. I am here to develop an understanding of the world that I could not have come to on my own. I am here to experience life, to dream about tomorrow and to pursue positive change in this world.
It feels so good to be awake again.
I’m not sure what comes after I graduate in December. The possibilities really are endless. But I know now more than ever that wherever I go I want to dedicate myself wholly to “the other” until the ink actually falls off my skin.
There are people in this world, in this very country and abroad, who are not considered whole humans. There are people who are systemically led toward second-class citizenship via unequal access to education, poor public housing, hunger, the criminal justice system and so many other world issues.
This, my friends, is what matters. This is why I am here. I am tired of this disillusioned, privileged existence. I want to be in the dirt, digging my heels in and scraping at inequality until my fingernails fall off (too far?). I am just one small lady from the cornfields of Indiana, but I believe in a future that includes less poverty, less disease, less gender/sex/class/race/ethnic/all-of-the-above inequality.
I believe that in order to make this future a reality I have to actually do something about it. And do something I shall. I don’t want to just graduate, get a 9-5 job and live a “normal” life. I want to live as if tomorrow may never come, and I want to spend each and every “last day” of my life working to make someone else’s days better, happier and more free.
My heart is racing because for the first time in a long, long while, I have found the path I set down years ago. I have finally remembered the way.
(Please, friends, never let me forget this moment. I love you all.)
Nikki is a senior Bible and religion major from Mitchell, Indiana.