Jadzia Santiago

In my 17 years of life, I have witnessed very few moments in which time has stopped completely. In fact, I can count all of them on one hand and assign a finger to each one. In this case, March 13, 2020 lands on my pinky, at number four.

I remember that day vividly, how it moved at an agonizing crawl, how the air was thick and heavy with tension. I remember the assembly at the end of the day, and the collective deep breath that the entire auditorium took as my principal prepared to speak. It was like we were all suspended in the middle of a freefall, sick with the anxiety of hitting the ground. Time was frozen.

When we heard the phrase, “…will be closed for two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic,” our lungs released. Time started back up again so quickly that I’m sure, somewhere, the hands on some antique clock snapped clean off. The world as we Bambies knew it had just changed forever, and all we could do was breathe.

I could talk endlessly about that day, about how I had to sit in silence for hours to process everything. However, I want to talk about exactly what happens when time starts up again after stopping. It moves fast, so fast that a week passes in an hour.

Thus, about a month into quarantine, I came to a realization that would have taken me years had time not stopped on March 13: I was devastatingly miserable inside my own head. I had absolutely no idea how to solve this, and so I surrendered to it.

In my surrender, I collapsed into the darkest ocean. I dove headfirst into toxic interpersonal relationships, and when mi abuela passed away in June 2020, I let the undertow of grief sweep me away. I explored depths of sadness that my skin, still littered with scrapes and dents from childhood, could not handle.

Because of this, my junior year of high school was very difficult for me. I felt hopeless, useless, and worst of all, purposeless. I had no idea what direction to go in, so I just kept going down.

That was, until time stopped again this past summer. I won’t detail what happened, just that once time started again, I swam out of the depths at top speed. You see, I had been hit by a powerful realization: absolutely none of us is purposeless. This is not only because God has a personalized plan for each of us, but also because we are all called to one collective purpose: to honor God by helping humankind. And what’s beautiful about this is the fact that there’s always a way to help humankind.

You don’t need to donate large sums of money, or enact some grand gesture. Fulfilling this purpose can be as simple as donating old clothes, getting vaccinated, or even taking a self-care day. No matter the depths of our misery or the murkiness of our woes, there is always a path to follow toward goodness.

When I explain this to others, I like to compare the collective purpose of helping humankind to a train. Every human being has a place on this train, even though we all have different stops, and this train will carry each of us to where we need to be. Some of us aren’t quite on the train yet, but we are never far from a station.

I often joke that I boarded without a ticket, without knowing where my stop was, and that’s true to this day. I have a vague idea, but nothing solid yet, and I know that this is okay. I know that as long as I stay on the train and continue to help others as much as I can, I will be guided to my stop.

I’ve never been a confident person, but boarding this train has propelled me into my senior year with a confidence I never knew I had. I know that during this pandemic, it may be especially difficult to board the train, as we are all miserable and scared. You may not know how to start helping humankind, and that’s okay.

I tell you, there’s no need for you to single-handedly solve all of humankind’s issues. You can start by making one person’s day a little brighter, and then you’re good to board. And when you do, don’t worry about where to sit. I’ve saved you a seat, and after school (fully in-person this year, can you believe it?), I’ll take you to it. It’s right by the window, so you can look out at the world as we journey forward.

Just wait until you see how beautiful it is from here.

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Jadzia Santiago is a senior at St. Hubert High School for Girls, Philadelphia, who aspires to major in English in college and work as a speech writer.