Nejad: Little Black Box

by Saba Nejad | 10/25/17 2:10am

I spent the summer after my first year at Dartmouth interning in Seattle, Washington. It was a good time. I was in a great city, surrounded by interesting people, not really doing much yet gaining experiences and getting paid. In hindsight, all was well, though I didn’t really think that at the time. I was kind of going through life not thinking much of it. I was 18 and an exact cliché of what an 18-year-old is. Though now, it feels like I’m an 80-year-old trapped inside a 21-year-old’s body. Actually, maybe I was the 80-year-old then, and I’ve regressed my way back to 21 á la Benjamin Button.

Back then, I’d wake up every morning with an attitude of, “Okay, guess it’s another day.” I’d go to work, train, watch a show as I ate dinner, sleep, wake up and do it all over again. It wasn’t the most meaningful existence, to be perfectly honest. Sure, I was thinking on a daily basis, performing to the level I was expected to perform — and exceeding the expectations sometimes — but I wasn’t thinking.

All of that changed on July 8, 2015.

On that day, as I walked the streets of Seattle on my way back from the pool, I called my mom. I was tired and hungry, but in a good mood. She picked up, we chatted, we said “goodbye” and I hung up.

I work at the Collis Center’s front desk. We’re taught about customer service, how to interact with people and leave lasting impressions on them. One thing I’ve learned is that people can hear a smile even over the phone. Turns out I could .

Everything seemed normal, but I knew something was wrong. There was something in her voice that was pulling me back. I couldn’t give up the memory of her voice and return to normalcy. I decided to free myself of this worry. I called her back and after repeatedly asking if anything was wrong, she handed the phone to my youngest uncle. He broke the news to me:

“You know, Saba, you’re a lucky kid. You had 19 years with your grandma.”

I learned my grandmother was in the hospital. I hung up and starting sobbing in a corner. What was happening?

It took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts:

“Why are you crying Saba? She isn’t dead yet!” I asked myself.

I still had a chance to see her, hold her, talk to her one last time, and I wasn’t about to let that pass me by.

I called my mom again and told her I was coming home. I was going to blow all my savings on a plane ticket. I wrote to my boss, packed a bag and got on the plane. About 20 hours later, I was holding her hand in the Intensive Care Unit.

A few days later, after I knew her surgery had gone well and that she was on her way to recovery, I returned to work. Other than my supervisor, no one knew why I was gone. I went back to the same office, looking and acting the same as before, just quieter and probably more pensive. My physical appearance had not changed. Inside me, though, it was a whole other story.

You pass hundreds of people daily, maybe more. What story are they carrying with them? Is what is public enough for you to know what’s actually going on? How many times are you asked, “how are you?” in a day? How many times do you actually truthfully answer this question? Is it that we don’t have the time to answer? Or are we too scared to? Or do we just not know?

My favorite thing to do is hear people’s stories. I’ve been told, “stories are like data with a soul.” It’s true: Stories can inspire us, connect us, make us more human. But it also seems like not all of us are willing to share our stories. Are we scared? Probably. What of, though? Not being accepted?

We’re unique. Our stories show us that. But underneath it all, we’re all pretty much the same. We’re all people with goals and dreams. We want to be happy, to love and be loved. Relating to one another shouldn’t be as hard as it is.

In high school, I participated in the International Physics Olympiad. There was this experiment called the Black Box. It was a circuit inside a box, and the challenge was to guess what the structure of the circuit was based on the outputs you saw from the inputs you had put in.

I’ve come to realize getting to know a person is very similar. It would be much easier if you could just take the lid off and see what the circuit looked like, but it seems as though fear of vulnerability has made most of us pack our beautiful stories away in a tiny little box.

Owning your story takes courage! Honestly reflecting and figuring out what your story is may be the hardest part. Who are you?

I don’t think there’s ever a right or wrong answer to this. You are you! An ever growing, always changing beautiful being with a unique story!