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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

TTLG: Loosen Your Grip

Former arts editor Jessica Sun Li ’24 reflects on enduring the ebb and flow of personal change at Dartmouth.


Outside of Guangzhou, China, atop Baiyun Mountain, I became deeply ill. 

The nausea hit me like a tidal wave. It didn’t leave for what felt like days, and right when I thought it was gone, it returned almost immediately. 

It was my fault, really. We climbed the mountain too fast — well, “climb” is rather generous. I should say, we walked up the stairs too fast. I was with my uncle who, despite being nearly 60 years old, is in far better shape than me. Still, I thought I could keep up. I began the climb quite confidently, and then at a certain point grew too embarrassed to ask him to slow down. After concluding the hike and taking a shaky, car sick-inducing taxi ride to a restaurant for dinner with the rest of my family, my nausea only grew worse. During the meal, while I was staring at the mounds of food in front of me, I thought I would collapse right then and there.

What I hate most about nausea is that there isn’t one medication that easily or quickly makes it go away. It’s not like a headache, where I know that if I just take an Advil and give myself half an hour, I’ll be fine. With nausea, I never know how long it’ll last. I sat in the restaurant, swaying back and forth, begging for my stomach to settle.

My mom felt so bad that she ordered me an iced tea, but it had too much sugar, which only made me feel sicker. On the car ride back to my aunt’s apartment, I sat shotgun because my family thought I would throw up if I sat in the back seat. I went to bed and woke up the next day, my stomach still furious with me, and thought that maybe the nausea might never end.

Of course, it did end — eventually. It subsided over the next several days and it faded into what it is now — just a silly story. Although, sometimes in a long car ride, the nausea comes back. Before this experience, I thought I had a strong stomach. Though I wasn’t immune to motion sickness, I could withstand it. Now, though, more than 15 minutes in a car will make me start to sweat, which is a shame because most car rides are longer than 15 minutes. I descended Baiyun Mountain as a changed person in a way that I can still physically feel.

So often, when something terrible happens, we think, “This is it. It can’t possibly get worse than this, and I will never feel better again.” But then, one day, we look up, and it is somehow  better. It’s different from how it was before, but it’s better. We’ll carry things with us, but we continue to move forward or, rather, continue the climb. 

In high school, I read the book “When Things Fall Apart” by Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön, where she writes, “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

I’ve danced with my friends completely carefree, but I’ve also ached with loneliness. I’ve laughed until I was gasping for air, but I’ve also sobbed until I couldn’t breathe. I’ve loved this school, but I’ve also hated it.

I would be remiss not to mention the pandemic that colored the beginning of my college experience, or the death of my friend which happened during my freshman year spring break. I sometimes hesitate to bring up these tragedies because neither specifically feel like they are solely my experience or grief to claim, yet they are both significant parts of my life. From each  these moments, in ways I cannot even begin to describe, I am deeply changed.

And yet, there is still so much happiness to be found, so much more to life that I cannot wait to experience. The good moments in life do not last forever, but neither do the bad ones. 

I’m so happy right now, and so grateful to have had the college experience I’ve had and to be surrounded by the people I love. I try to just let it be, to not grip on so tight. The rest of the term will play out, and then it will be over. When it ends, I’m sure I’ll mourn, but I’ll try not to grip onto those feelings too tightly either. Things will come together again, and things will then fall apart. I will change over and over and over, and yet  I can’t wait to see it all happen again.

Jessica Sun Li ’24 is a former arts editor. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

Jessica Sun Li

Jessica Sun Li '24 is a sociology major and English minor from the suburbs of Chicago. She was the 180th Directorate's arts editor, and her passion project is the "Dear Mirror" column. Outside of The Dartmouth, she is involved in the figure skating team and sociology research. She really wants to adopt a cat.