Photo Courtesy of Cindy Wen

Photo Courtesy of Cindy Wen

March 11, 2016

WHITE KNUCKLES | A Redbreast Robin can Save Us

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I’m a firm believer in the necessity of detachment. And by detachment I don’t mean disinterest, or selfishness or insensitivity. I am talking about the will to stand firm in the midst of the storm, to face the horror of the world, and to not let death devastate you when it hits home. When I was in middle school, I knew a girl whose mother died in a car accident. A few hours before she received the news, I saw her in the bathroom and waved at her. She had no idea. It was my birthday, and when I went home in tears after hearing about her mother’s death, my own mother advised me to let it go; it was my birthday and death should be accepted. We need to stay detached; otherwise, we would drown in sorrow.

I found out about President Garrett’s passing as I was eating a salad – mixed greens, tuna, blue cheese, eggs and tomatoes. It hit the part of me that was thin as glass and just as fragile. It shattered something, the barrier of detached sorrow and temporary silence that I wore to protect the beauty of the world and my young age from the thought of the end. When people die, we usually remember their smiling photographs; various Cornell groups and pages on Facebook shared the same image, in which she had a big smile, leaving no choice for detachment.

I can’t say I knew President Garrett or that the tragic news affected me the same way the passing of a family member or a close friend would. That Monday was a strange day, but I can’t say that my Tuesday was different from any other. Nonetheless, she has entered the Cornell life briefly but left permanent marks. At the beginning of last semester, I took an early bus to get on campus, intending to spend some time at the library before heading to class. I happened to cross the Arts Quad during President Garrett’s inauguration speech, and decided to stop and listen to her, to set my backpack and iced chai on the grass and forget about the library. And her words moved something that must have been built with the same thin crystal her death shattered. As I am writing this post, I am trying to remember what she said, but I can’t. And it is ok. What I remember vividly, what is painted in bright colors in my memory is how fortunate I feel to be where I am, how excited about the things I was dreaming I could accomplish, about open doors and possibilities, how lucky for the library I did not go to that day and for the people around me, for the families I found along the way, for Time’s fast and intense pace.

A time that refused to stop but slowed down on Monday afternoon, when students and faculty gathered in silence and listened to the chimes and rustle of what leaves us. The sky was overcast, softly illuminated by the silver potency of the sun when it tries to break through thick clouds; the warm breeze was chilling. A girl in front of me was wearing boho pants and a white tank top, and I could see goosebumps on her shoulders, but under my fleece jacket, no one could see mine. Silence filled the air – it was almost suffocating. Most people had their eyes casted to the ground when a robin redbreast flew over our heads. And that was what we needed to know: sometimes, we are strong enough to wake up in the morning as if death did not exist, to enjoy a sunny day in Ithaca without lamenting that a late snowstorm will come and put an end to it; sometimes, people cross our paths lightly and briefly, and then they go – but they always leave a trace of color, a light, a bright tinge of red.

Emma is a junior Classics major in the College of Arts and Sciences. An Italian native, she loves Virginia Woolf and dreads Ithaca winters. She writes about her experience at Cornell as an international student, and has an uncontrollable passion for excessively long sentences and vivid metaphors. She can be usually found enjoying a soup in Temple of Zeus, and can be reached at ei54@cornell.edu

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