100 days

by Gilbert Keith

I wrote this a week ago today. I’ve had a chance to share with friends and family. I thought I ought to share it with everyone.

100 Days

A lot has happened over the course of 100 days. Napoleon raised a large army to take on a large coalition of European nations during his return from exile. President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration enacted a sweeping set of changes that pulled the United States out of the Great Depression.

A lot can happen over the course of 100 days. It is a little over 14 weeks, which is plenty of time to complete on a beginner half-marathon training program. It is, within 5% error, the number of calendar days in a semester at most American universities.

But I am not writing to educate you about historical trivia or to inspire you to pursue a class or an endurance activity. I am writing to thank you for being over the last 100 days. Being. Being present, being there, being around.

I have a simple, Tolstoy-like belief: “All losses of loved ones are alike; every individual’s coping with the loss is a unique journey.” Today, May 20, 2016, marks exactly 100 days since I heard my uncle tell me that my father was in the hospital in a critical condition; a few hours later, he told me my father passed away.  It was not the worst that I had feared (for, given the circumstances, I had about a million other things to fear.) But it was the worst thing to come to pass. While I could rationalize my other fears, this greatest of fears seemed so remote that I could never give myself the time to contemplate it or discuss the eventuality with anyone. When it became manifest on Feb 10, 2016, I simply had to accept it.

In the immediate aftermath of my father’s passing away, I told everyone that while it was a difficult loss, “it is the reality, and accept it I must.” But deep down I keep telling myself that the reality has not sunk in yet. I suspect that it will have the force of a thousand bricks falling on me when it does sink in.

Until recently, the idea of “the reality sinking in” was one of my (new) worst fears. Today, thanks to the support you have given me, I think I am ready to accept it. For over the course of the last 100 days, I have realized that “the reality sinking in” is one of several events in the process of grieving and dealing with the loss. And events have a dirty secret: they are localized in space and time… Few deep breaths before, few deep breaths after, and for someone like me, a long run during the event, and I return to seeing the world clearly.  It is the journey of grieving itself which is unique to me, and how my journey plays out will inform how I perceive myself as an individual.

My father was a very well-read man, but what stands out to me is not his reading list or bookish knowledge. My father really enjoyed action. He enjoyed doing things for the sake of doing things. He cared not for the result (he sometimes identified this apathy as a flaw of his) … karmanyev adhikarste and all. He had his hands in many things all at once, guiding each activity along towards its next destination. The two quotes I have listed below are ones from his email signatures over the last several years; they will perhaps give you a better glimpse into his character:

“Act first! The ideas will follow, and if not — well, it’s progress” – Tom Stoppard

“The world can only be grasped by action not by contemplation … The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.” Jacob Bronowski, from The Ascent of Man.

I had not realized until recently, when I began to reflect on my personal evolution over the last several years, how much of a liking I had taken to action. I know it is gauche to toot my own horn but I know that there is something special I inherited from my father that has let me pursue math, running, quizbowl, travel, work, etc. I still cannot put to words the nature of the fuel the feeds the fire for action. Even though I sometimes have tendencies of a coffee junkie, I assure you that I don’t have to stock up on coffee beans every week. While the fire burns though, it is my duty to give it the right environment to keep burning.

There are some other meaningful, important things the last 100 days have taught me. I have learned to realize the value of wanting something from the bottom of my heart; of not being afraid of what I want; of giving it my all when the time is right; of letting go when it is not; of valuing the big picture; of having the foresight to plan for the big picture. I have realized a need to verbalize and vocalize my mind; to convert thoughts to words, talk my mind with those around me, and write 1000 word essays like this one to everyone’s dismay. I’m a little disappointed in myself that this learning couldn’t have come earlier, with happier memories. But some of us are late bloomers, and I’ve come to peace with that.

I know what I’ve written is deeply personal. I do not exist in a vacuum, however. I am product of my interactions with those around me, those who inspire me, those who help me feel happy. This is where you fit in. I wish I could write a 1000 word essay about each of you, but you know yourself best and only you could write that essay. You could simply write “I am awesome” 333 times. If you’re not yet convinced that you’re awesome, then you should challenge the notion. Awesomeness isn’t a binary metric that confirms some milestone you’ve achieved. It starts with having a meaningful impact on someone, like one you’ve had on me. Stay awesome. And thanks for your support.