I’ve been told the unofficial uniform of New York is everything black. My closet color scheme has always been anything but, focused more on light colors. I tend to navigate toward monochrome nudes, whites, camel, usually avoid black like the plague. Perhaps it was my Algerian mother who engraining in me that I should embrace bright colors in my youth, that for some reason, in our culture, wearing black ages you. According to her there is one thing an Arab woman with bare hands in her mid-twenties shouldn’t do — age herself.
When the leaves started changing colors in New York, and the temperatures started dropping, and I had to start wrapping myself in sweaters and scarves and coats far earlier than I have ever done in my life, I embraced the weather change with open arms. I mimicked what I saw in nature before me: I wore yellows, and burgundy, and brown, and olive green, I attempted to represent autumn with my being, to converse with the world around me in its warm, colorful language. My camera roll filled with pictures of trees in vibrant hues, and I felt as if I was walking through romantic masterpieces. I never knew colors could be so rich, that their saturation could fool my eyes into believing this was a dream. I was here to witness this exquisite beauty that happens year, after year, like clockwork, without ever knowing this was possible. How have I lived, year, after year, without witnessing this?
So I walked around in an embrace of Autumn. I sat on the benches of Washington Square listening to jazz bands sing into the cool air, strolled through Central Park as runners and bikers passed me by, jumped around in piles of leaves in the abandoned Morningside park, rested under trees on campus at Columbia University and read books, brushing away the leaves that fell onto their pages, onto my hijab, onto my coat, in the crevices of my scarf. I took a bus up to Middletown, a small town in upstate New York, where, with friends, we hiked up a (quite difficult) trail to witness the vibrancy of fall. I finally understood how this season felt, which is a very odd thing to say, but I’ve never experienced true fall before. I wanted to soak it all in, in its full bloom, on top of a mountain overlooking thousands of trees the moment before it was to all disappear and we would transition into the bitter, cold, darkness of winter.
This is the transition point, from one to the next. In this transience we lose something before we gain something, and in that switch lies the uncomfortable moments of vulnerability. I always considered myself adaptable, but the truth is, I fall into routine far too easy, anxiously dread taking new steps, and always fall back into my comfort zone. These are the seasons I’m witnessing. It is reminding me to adapt, physically, mentally. Time moves far too fast to watch it from the sidelines.
Now we tell the sun see you tomorrow at 4:30pm. The skies are cloudy, and they throw a gray cast onto the buildings, and the streets, and the trees. Leaves, once vibrant hues, are now dulling out, falling from their branches, littering the sidewalks and the streets with crunchy remnants of what once was. It saddens me to see the leaves fall and leave the trees bare. It hasn’t happened completely, but enough so that the peak of autumn’s vibrancy has passed. But in the bare trees there’s this haunting beauty my finger can’t quite place. My favorite are the trees that still have a few yellow leaves hanging on, what seems, for life itself. The bark has darkened, so it looks nearly black, and the contrast against the mustard is striking. They rise like fingers reaching for the sky, twist like the veins visible under our skin, cast the cloudy shades that devoid all warmth and make us cling to our coats and our scarves and our bodies a little tighter, curling into ourselves.
My father always said to take advantage of what’s before you before it’s gone, and he is constantly reminding us of the regret of moments left unrealized. I do not regret, but I reflect deeply. I realized I’m no where near as close to becoming who I wanted to be as I thought I was before. It was the consequence of having a world far too small and becoming too accustomed to my surroundings. I’m learning of new languages, siding with new comrades, pushing the constructs that I have mindlessly lived within. The problem with small worlds, with being consumed entirely by one goal (ie. medicine) that thrusts you into a space that doesn’t let you expand your mind in more ways than one, is that you start to lose the critical analysis that is required to look upon the world and desire more. Blatantly speaking, you simply breathe to exist, not for existence itself. How did I expect to fight when the fight was beaten out of me? How could I deconstruct problematic constructions without knowing the foundations upon which they were built? How did I expect to be a healer without recognizing the nuances that existed outside paper gowns, hospital halls, white coats, stethoscopes, and scrubs, that found themselves nonetheless on top of beds begging to be included in our medical histories?
I’ve withdrawn my long captions from Instagram, currently facing the daily struggle with whether to disappear from the platform completely or not — it’s come to the point where I started to feel as if the words I shared no longer held value, nor did I need to prove myself a writer by sharing pieces of myself. When I tried to tease out why I felt that way, reflect on the reasons for which I started writing in the first place, I remembered that all this had been for my growth. Those many years ago I switched from private to public to work on the stifling fears I had to share my work. I started documenting not simply my experiences as a medical student, but the thoughts and turmoils behind them to keep little time capsules of me. I ended up keeping an online account of the person I was growing into, and there are some nights, when nostalgia is thick, that I read through them and laugh at how naive I was, or how wrong I was, or how much more of the world I know now than I did back then. But recently I started noticing stagnation. There came a point, I’m not sure where or when, where I stopped growing in the ways I wished to grow. I reached the end of what I could gain from a platform focused on selfie-sharing, a platform that grew into something that no longer had space for me. I desire to be nourished in other ways, to interact with the world in different ways, to move onto more substantial chapters and conversations, while also still recognizing my roots. I need someplace that isn’t a highly curated lifestyle app focused on follows, likes, comments, and consumption. That’s where I’m at now, but I think this is always where I find myself. At the fork of the road, afraid of choosing a path, knowing I must choose one anyway, and reminding myself to trust that the road I will inevitably walk has always been the road destined for me. Step by step.
I have fallen into wearing everything black and gray, head to toe. Stone cold face in the streets, steps with purpose, walking quickly in my heeled boots that click on cobblestone paths. It feels empowering, for some odd reason, casually slipping into the shadows of the world naturally and elegantly but still demanding your space, still searching for who you are but doing so with constant mindfulness. And in this stage of life I find myself in, far from everything I’ve ever known, embracing what happens because it is meant to happen and not because we will it to happen, I’m finding that it suits me perfectly. I’m matching what I see around me, absorbing as much as I can, conversing with the world in this new language. The last couple of months have been unbearably hard at times, and they have changed my life forever, but seasons come, and I must learn to move on with them.