As I stride into the cold of the night, the only sound I hear is of my footsteps, slight wind and the passing cars that are few and far between. It is mostly dark and silent.
Then the sound of dry tree leaves and plastic bags alert me to a sudden feeling of fear as if there is something out to harm me. Sometimes my moving shadow on the doors of the closed shops terrifies me.
As someone with a long history of anxiety and depression, I am quite vigilant about my surroundings. However, I don’t avoid the experience of situations that might terrify me.
I have learned that fear has to be tackled head-on. Avoiding it only breeds further fear. Moreover, typically, one would not walk at 2:00 a.m. in most places around the world but where I live is much safe.
It is a small town, Highland Park, in New Jersey, where most residents are Jewish Americans. There is also a sizable population of professors and local and international students from Rutgers University, located close by.
It is said about Jews that they invest in their communities’ safety, education, and health facilities. From my experience of living here for the last five years, it seems very real.
I think of zillion things on such late-night walks. Tonight I thought about rewriting a few weak sentences in my Ph.D. proposal, my mother’s illness and the hope of seeing her and my family someday shortly.
I also thought about America’s future and humanity’s future, which largely depends on the direction America takes in the next four years. As I strolled further away from my room, I wondered what role I can play for a positive change in these troubling times.
Then the noise of apparently a big truck somewhere far on a highway captured my imagination. I thought of the driver as an Indian-American Sikh with a long beard and headwear or Dastar, as it is appropriately known. In my observation here, truck drivers are mostly Sikhs.
The thought reminded me of my father, a truck driver, who died in an accident when I was only two. My mother used to tell me that his dead body was received as a handful of ashes. Because of my father’s sad fate, I have special respect and empathy for truck drivers.
Sometimes, it seems unreal when I think of my journey and where I am today and look back at my father’s. The change in my life has been dramatic in such short time. It has brought me both wonderful opportunities but also tremendous challenges to reckon. I just hope it is all worth the long struggle and journey away from home.