• Ava Hoffman

A REFLECTION || of what was, what is, and what is to come

Broken. Cracked. Crumbled. Crushed. Defective and demolished. Fractured. Fragmented. Mangled. Smashed. Shattered. Pulverized. Destroyed, ruined, and wrecked. So many pieces of my life can be described in all of those ways – My body. My health. My mind. My dreams and plans. My college experience. College for me has been…a pile of shards and splinters.

I had dreamed of tailgates, football and basketball games with the besties, screaming my head off and being hoarse for the next week. I envisioned coffee dates, smoothie trips, and grocery store escapades with roomies. I foresaw loving classes, lively discussions with professors, and easy A’s. I dreamed up four years of grand adventures, shaping me into a sophisticated twenty-something ready to change the world.

My grand adventures did not include four surgeries, 21 emergency room visits, three new diagnoses, and eight weeks in the hospital within three-and-a-half years. My dreams did not include missing out on game nights, parties, casual hangs, and donut dates. I did not fantasize about laying in bed, hearing life continue outside my door, outside my window, crying and longing to take part. I did not visualize struggling to reconcile my Instagram perfect college expectations with the reality I was and am forced to exist in each day.

And yet. Here I am.

Chipped and far from whole, but blessed to be approaching the day I am able to celebrate a new chapter. The day I walk across a stage, tassel swinging merrily and heels clicking in a most satisfying manner, commemorating my hard work and my family’s sacrifice. A day we thought might never happen. Here I am. Missing pieces and bits, yet joyfully preparing to celebrate an accomplishment that, for me, feels like so much more than a mere graduation.

Three-and-a-half years ago, I did not know if I was going to live another month. Three-and-a-half years ago, my family and I had to make a choice, take a risk, and alter life totally, completely, irreversibly. We did not know where the pieces would fall; we did not even know if enough pieces remained to create a life worth living. We chose a path, and we gratefully watched as, despite a multitude of complications, my quality of life improved and there was healing. As graduation draws ever nearer, the gratitude for being here, for being alive, for reaching this milestone grows ever greater.

So we rejoice. Celebrate. Revel and let loose. We shout. Dance. Clap our hands. Whoop and holler. We delight in and enjoy each part of this. The triumph. The prosperity. The thriving, the flourishing, the conquering. The ability to overcome.

Instead of seeing what was lost and missed and broken, I choose to see and love and remember the games I could attend. The chunks that were lovely and wonderful and involved lifelong memories. I choose to focus on the late nights and pie dates I went on. The number of hours spent doing absolutely nothing with people who will forever have residence in my heart - discovering new coffee shops, finding new favorite smoothies, and accidentally setting off fire alarms with asparagus.

The past three-and-a-half years have been anything but easy.

Along with student disability, student assistance, student accommodation came extra work, more communication requirements, and less than lovely conversations with professors; and right next to that were hall directors that became my advocates, friends that spent countless hours bedside in the ER treatment rooms with me, and coworkers that covered my shifts always. I learned I did not have to have all the pieces together because those that surround me also hold pieces of me in place.

I never fathomed the depth of community I would create in college. I never dreamt of friends that would become family, custodians becoming an integral part of my support system, and a boss better than words can explain. My dreams of college never reached the end, never grasped the hurt that would accompany leaving, never had a concept of how relationship shapes you, grows you, and utterly changes who you are. I am learning graduation is bittersweet. As it should be. It is a sign of a college life well-lived.

I have learned much these last three-and-a-half years. From study habits and coffee drinks to walking with hurting people, not to mention the intricacies of the human genome and metabolism processes, my poor neurons and neuronal networks have grown immensely. I’ve learned about myself – how I think, how I respond in certain situations, the types of people I have to work harder to love. I’ve learned to use my voice, and I am learning when to be cautious and hush. I’ve learned that neonates are my passion. I’ve learned I am not a natural coder. Biochemistry is super neat. Genetics will change the world. Nutritional genomics has currently captured my fancy. I’ve honed my paper crafting skills and improved my lettering and doodles. Cleaning is constant and not much fun – I do not know how my poor mother manages (#newfoundappreciation). I’ve learned to embrace the cracks, the chips, the missing pieces. I have learned to redefine what "whole" means, what college means, what good times and good fun looks like. I’ve learned to be grateful for the parts of me that are intact, the parts that have been restored and resurrected. I’ve learned what some of my strengths are and identified a hundred-and-one areas I need to grow in.

While college has not looked like my 17-year-old self dreamed it to be, I daresay it has been better.

And that gives me much hope looking forward to post-graduation life. Hope that despite whatever plans and dreams are shattered, ripped apart, and stacked in a pile to be forgotten and discarded in the future, despite the hard and challenging journey fraught with cuts, scrapes, and bruises, the end result will be beautiful and inspirational, full of life and color and cherished memories. It gives me hope that the sharp edges will be woven into the tapestry of my life, the shards put in their rightful place, even if it is different than what I expected.

The past three-and-a-half years show me that despite it all, I can – I will – overcome. Perfection is overrated and despicable - the beauty is in the broken. People are important, and there is always good, even when all I can see are tears.

So bring on the next two months, six days, 14 hours, and 17 minutes. Bring on graduation. Let’s finish this chapter strong and step into the new one with confidence, vulnerability, and an absolutely unreasonable and unquenchable desire to grow and mature and flourish and impact in the next place I am planted.

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