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Out of reach but not out of mind

September 21, 2018

“You aren’t immortal. Your time is limited and precious,” my mom constantly tells me.

It’s not as if she gives this advice to deter me from doing the things I love—or even from pursuing life-threatening endeavors. She understands our home state of Alaska and the ways it tempts you to enjoy every forest, river or peak—as do my friends and I. That’s why, two weeks ago, when I woke to a voicemail from my best friend Robin saying that she had been in a plane crash, it was believable. There was no question whether this could happen. I had seen it happen. I had felt the repercussions of crashes like this in my small Alaskan community—and family—before.

When I called back, I received my update. A bone had splintered, cut through skin and now protruded from Robin’s left ankle. The right ankle was not as gruesome, but still broken. Her back was cracked and nearly broken, much like the branch that had clipped the wing of her airplane and sent her spinning toward the ground. After being tossed around the interior of the plane like a rock breaking free and tumbling from a mountainside down into a ravine, she was concussed and badly bruised. The impact knocked her out. She awoke to her co-pilot crying, “I’m so sorry Robin,” and felt the odd trickle of blood as it seeped out of numerous scrapes, cuts and gashes—not to mention the tear in her skin from the fragmented bone now curiously outside her body. Still, to her (and me), the prognosis seemed good. She was alive, conscious and only had a couple weeks in the hospital.

We ended our all-too-short FaceTime by blowing a kiss before I slowly slumped against the giant maple I was using for support. Letting it sink in that she was there, and I was over 4,000 miles away. Next, I did the thing I always do when I am down—I called my mom and wept. I’m sure my sobs were heard across the expanse of grass. In fact, I know. Through the glistening of water-filled eyes, I was aware of all the other stupefied students examining me like I was a petri dish of bacteria. An out-of-place disturbance in this pristine environment we call Bowdoin. I didn’t have time to care. It felt as though my body was convulsing like the earth during a quake, as if I was shaking free the few early autumn leaves that drifted down from the maple branches above me. I stayed there, crying, for a while. Until I felt a warm hand touch my shoulder and a familiar perfume envelop me in a hug.

I have had a lucky life of meeting some of the most wonderful people on this planet and befriending them. Sabrina Lin is one of those friends. As I explained what had just happened, she understood. Not the exact details of a plane crash, but rather how difficult it can be to deal with such heartache thousands of miles away from home. When all you want is to be hugging and caring for those you love, because in your mind, they are vivid and only a fingertip away—only they aren’t.  Not an arm’s length, or a mile, or train ride or even a flight away. Most of my loved ones are three, if not four, grueling plane rides away. And Sabrina’s are even further. She guided me back to the comfort of my bed before having to rush off to class.

As I took this information about Robin in, I couldn’t help but also recognize my own selfishness. It was not I who was hurt, but yet I could barely make it through a full class about Shakespeare without walking out. I seemed to care less and less about Prospero and more and more about Robin throughout the day. Her beautiful, blonde hair that I love to braid. The rivers which we raft and wade in every summer. The baked goods we try to remake from “The Great British Baking Show” when the rain is too hard to enjoy. And yes, even the plane rides she took me on before I left for Bowdoin this year.

I so badly want to be with her as she regains health. I want to carry books for her and braid her hair again. I want to remind her of how gifted she is at helping people, and that, this time, it is my turn to help her.

As usual, it took FaceTiming my mom for me to resolve the problems racing through my head. “We love deeply and fully, Mitchel,” she said. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the guilt I feel about not being with Robin springs from my endless love for her. I can only categorize the selfishness I feel as a human reaction to my yearning to live up to the love Robin has given me over so many years—or at least, that’s how I’m coping with it.

I have been wary of empathetic support from others all my life, as I constantly question if one can really know what any other person is going through. But the community of Bowdoin and the people I have found to trust here continuously surprise me—now is no exception. From listening to me rant for hours about how wonderful this blonde-haired girl is to walking to shops all around Brunswick with me just so I can pick out the perfect care package gifts for her, the community Bowdoin provided—and I have begrudgingly accepted during my time here—has given me nothing but comfort. It is these connections—the new ones I have made here in Maine and the multiple I keep strung across North America to my home—that I value above all else. Because my mom is right. We are not immortal, and our time is limited and precious. So we must fill our lives with people we love and hold onto them no matter what, even if distance makes it feel like they are just out of reach.

Mitchel Jurasek is a member of the Class of 2021.

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