One of the most sublime moments in my life took place this summer. It was a warm June night that was spent biking throughout the urban cityscape of Memphis, Tennessee and ended on the bridge that spans the Mississippi River connecting Tennessee and Arkansas. We made our way to the middle of the bridge and found a hatch that let us access the massive structural piers below it. As we climbed down through the hatch on a rusty, rickety ladder we were overcome with a giddy nervousness of the dangerous and somewhat illicit nature of this exploration. Once we were on the pier, the scale of the surroundings became readily apparent. Above us, we could hear tractor-trailers passing over us at 60 miles an hours, all 18 wheels thundering over the pavement. Below us, the angry waters of the Mississippi rushed by, with only a rusty railing separating us from falling into its depths and being swept away. As we looked around at the rare glimpse of the city this secret viewpoint provided, I was shivering, not from the evening breeze, but the realization of how small I seemed.
When I was eight years old, my younger brother was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood cancer. My family moved from the sunny suburbs of Orlando to Memphis so he could begin treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Though we all love St. Jude and are immensely grateful for the care provided, it remains to this day a very uncanny place for me. I remember walking around the hospital seeing colorful murals along all the walls, all comprised of primary colors meant to appeal to children. When you see a family, however, leaning against these walls heaving with sorrow after terrible news, they become anything but comforting. They become a reminder of the happiness you are so desperately lacking. I am certain that these colorful paintings do serve to help children, but at times they can seem taunting to those who are not so blissfully ignorant.
During the free travel period of my time abroad, I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Berlin for a week. They were out of town for the first three days of my visit, so when I arrived in Berlin I was completely alone. As I had spent the previous month in close quarters with the same seven people for nearly twenty-four hours a day, this new found solitude was so welcome and almost euphoric. I had no agenda and no responsibilities and simply reveled in complete freedom. At times it was a little frightening due to the language barrier and my innately poor sense of direction, but to this day I have never experienced such liberation as that feeling of being completely alone and anonymous in a new city.