“The more I think about it, the more I’d like to take a rain check on the topic of me. What I’d like to know more about is the objective reality of things outside myself. How important the world outside is to me, how I maintain a sense of equilibrium by coming to terms with it. That’s how I’d grasp a clearer sense of who I am.” – K from Sputnick Sweetheart, pg. 55
I looked back through the book because I could not remember the name of the character who expressed this. Funny how easy it is to forget that the narrator of a story is an actual person with a name. We tend to forget the people in the happenings of this world.
The person who said these words is a fictional young man who is an elementary school teacher, has a devoted one-sided love for his best friend, and is referred to as the letter “K” in the novel. K(ay) also happens to be my middle name.
K’s thoughts resonates with my beliefs – by probing and understanding the outside world, you grasp a clearer sense of who you are. As I approach a milestone of my life, graduating college, trying to place the puzzle pieces of my goals together, and being loomed over by a personal statement I have to write to prove my worth to medical schools, I constantly ask, and try to answer, who the hell am I...? And of course, this is not a one-word answer. Rather, an evolving hodgepodge of your core values, experiences, successes and failures, and how you like your coffee in the morning. But, although no two people have the same answer to the question, “who am I?”, I always found my answer so incredibly monotonous –
My name is Stella.
I want to become a doctor. Why?
Well…I am interested in the sciences.
I want to help people.
And to set myself apart from the thousands of other doctors-to-be: I love Sour Patch Kids.
Every time I do some deep soul-searching, these few lines are the grand products. Give or take the last one.
Throughout most of my life, I believed in order to understand who I was, I had to look solely within myself. Deep soul-searching I began calling it. But, while you exude elements of who you are from the inside out, you are in a constant process of becoming in ways you are affected by, bounce back from, and grow from all things happening outside of the temple of your mind. We are always in a dynamic relationship with the outside world. Thus, when a friend is miserable plowing through finals week with strep throat, are you the person who unexpectedly brings them hot tea, or does melancholy set into your own mood as you worry about them throughout the day? When the 405 is ridden with traffic, all day, everyday, will you allow someone running late to cut you off as a gesture of empathy, or will you be perseverant protecting the spot you worked so hard to earn? When news of a threatening epidemic grabs the attention of the world, are you the type of person intrigued by the mechanism of how the virus monstrously propagates, or are your heartstrings tugged to raise money for communities inflicted by the devastation? Or both? There is no one “good” and “bad” response to the outside world. Rather, there is an endless, gradient of a web of how we see and respond, some equally altruistic and empathetic, others just as immoral as another. Thus, how you maintain a sense of equilibrium with the happenings of this world pushes and pulls “who you are” into different shapes. We are all different shapes, inside and out. In that sense, it is true that understanding the importance of the outside world allows you to grasp a clearer sense of who you are. In fact, perhaps that is the best way to do so.
So, while it is true that I am interested in the sciences, I want to help people, and I love Sour Patch Kids, I also cried a little, humbled and touched, after meeting a Deaf patient who was overjoyed that I knew sign language. When our college campus received a grade of C+ on mental health resources, I decided to join the conversation because while I may not have a mental illness, we all need to care for our mental health. When we watched B cells hugging up against T cells for immune response activation in our favorite class, Immunology, I was proud to be an MIMG major and knew if I could go back in time, I would sacrifice my GPA and choose this major all over again. And the kick of Sour Patch Kids always takes me back to when my dad secretly bought them for me as a young girl without my mom’s permission, which makes my heart ache knowing we’ve grown apart over the years.
Therefore, contrary to how K phrases it, I don’t think it is taking a raincheck on the topic of yourself if you try to understand the outside world. The two are inevitably and permanently threaded together in a complex mesh. That is something I have learned this year. While you grow more mindful of the outside reality, you internalize what happens around you more deeply, having it change the way you see and think about this world. And ultimately, that is what defines who we are.