Simin was one of the first few friends that I made when I came over to Mizzou. Even though we’re enrolled in different colleges, we had commonalities that gelled us together in this foreign land.:
1. We’re all exchange students at the J-school
2. We all live in the same dormitory, in fact Simin’s room is right beside mine.
3. We’re all Singaporeans and went through the same education system, same culture for the past 20 years of our lives.
Last weekend, we took a trip down to St. Louis, the first time we’ve left Columbia, this little university town, since we arrived here in January. We had a lot of fun, did crazy and some dangerous stuff.
What struck me during the trip was a sentence that Simin said repeatedly, probably unconsciously, “It feels good to be free!” I asked her again why does she not feel free prior to the St. Louis trip? Her reply was, “Over here, I feel like a child again. It feels like freedom.”
That’s a side of her that others would rarely see because she appears to have a very optimistic outlook in life and always looks happy.
But in reality, she rarely says no to others because she doesn’t know how to reject them. She’ll also procrastinate doing her assignments all the time. A lot of her time would be spent on prioritizing her long to-do lists and completing her homework. By going to St. Louis, she was liberated from the usual routines in life, even if it was only temporary. At that moment, there was nothing else she had to worry about, apart from living the present.
We were rolling on the grass, running around and jumping about on the grass patch in front of the arch, something that we’ve not done in such a long while. The feeling of doing nothing useful and remembering how to live had some what a soothing effect. As city kids, we grew up on a tiny island-like country, surrounded by tall concrete buildings and few empty spaces. We never really had the luxury of space and even time to savor what we see or experience daily. Perhaps, being able to move around freely on a vast patch of land was relaxing for the fatigued body and mind of trying to be better than the others.
Growing up was another process that we never really had the choice to choose how fast we want to go be moving. As a single child, she saw that she had to responsibility to care for her mom and dad who are not particularly well to do. She misses them back home, yet at the same time, was glad that she could be away from them for a while, to see how it was like living on her own, even at the cost of taking up loans for her study abroad program. For a moment, escaping from home and anything associated with a place that feels so faraway is a form of liberation.
I wonder when she said she had the freedom, did she meant that she was free from her assignment deadlines or was it because of a change in spatial perspective or was it because she has found room for independence?
This reminds me of a quote from Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”
“The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.
Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.
What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”