This is the prompt for my college application essay: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
When my school let out for a two week “hiatus” because of COVID-19, the first thing I did when I got home was read. Since every extracurricular activity was suspended, and homework had been canceled, I had two options: I could read a book, or turn on the television and watch the news, with all its anxiety-inducing uncertainty. I chose the former.
The book I read was Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman, which, in hindsight, seems like a strange choice. It was about World War 2 and the siege of Stalingrad, full of gory details, sorrowful moments, and despairing characters. It was not cheerful or comforting, but it gave me a sense of perspective. All the characters were consumed by their misery, but I knew that in ten years, World War 2 would be over, and their hardships would pass.
This was a lesson I would hold onto in the coming months. It would have been easy to let the pandemic consume my life. But I understood, from what I read, that COVID-19 was merely a temporary disturbance, even if it felt overwhelming in the moment.
Though it is a temporary disturbance, it has still been quite serious. So many things that filled my time, like school, friends, and extracurriculars, completely disappeared or were drastically reduced. In this emptiness, I turned to the one thing that hadn’t changed: books. Literature became my lifeline. It was the one part of my life that didn't have to change, that could continue to grow and flourish while everything else became stunted and wilted.
At a time where I was unable to go out and meet new people, I could open a book to meet new, interesting characters. I couldn’t leave my house physically, but I could visit other countries and fantasy lands in my imagination. Most importantly, from the stories of other people, fictional and real, I gained strength and inspiration. I saw them overcoming obstacles even more daunting than my own, and it gave me the courage to believe I could make it through my own struggles.
I also began to write more and more, to work through my feelings. I was overloaded with emotions, facing the normal turbulence of the teenage years, along with the uncertainty of the pandemic. To make it worse, I was cut off from my friends, who would have understood what I was going through. Writing became my outlet, the only place where I could explore my many, confusing thoughts.
Most of what I wrote was poetry, which was uniquely suited to my mind. I found it easier to uncover my feelings through metaphors and imagery rather than try to name them outright and find them elude my grasp. Through writing, I would often find fears or worries I hadn’t known were there, but had nonetheless been tormenting me. Putting those thoughts on the page took away their power to scare me, and what had once seemed scary now seemed only mildly annoying.
It’s been nearly two years since my school closed down, and the pandemic has since become an established fact. We are living with masks, with hand sanitizer, with frequent COVID testing, and that will not go away any time soon. This may seem like a depressing fact, but I choose to console myself with the lessons I’ve learned from all the books I’ve read. In life, there will be many things you cannot control, but they do not matter; what matters is your reaction to your hardships. If you can persevere and stay true to yourself, you can overcome anything. That idea means something different for every person, but for me, it means writing lots of poems and reading lots of books. There will be many obstacles I will have to overcome in my life, but as long as I love literature, I know I will always be able to find joy.