It was 12:47 a.m. when I first heard my dad’s scream. Fearing the worst, I immediately closed my eyes and put my hands to my ears. I muttered under my breath that everything was fine, my dad was likely having a nightmare and my mom’s wails were just figments of my imagination.
But I suppose humans have an instinctive way of recognizing the worst in situations, because even before I heard the words said out loud, I knew what had happened. At the age of 14, my cousin had passed away. No doctor could save him. His time on Earth was up.
Only two hours before, he’d been healthy — sort of. For months, my cousin had been bed-ridden with typhoid, going from doctor to doctor to figure out why his sickness wasn’t going away. After all, it was the 21st century — a disease like typhoid is supposed to be inconsequential, easily curable. Even in India, you don’t die from it unless you are dirt-poor.
At least that’s what I thought when my mom asked me if I wanted to say hi to him, and I responded with a resounding no because I was behind on work and needed to catch up. Worst case scenario, I figured I’d say hi to my cousin tomorrow. I would give him a call, and he’d make fun of my fear of dogs and I would respond by gently reminding him how I beat his top score on Forza.
But tomorrow never came, and out of nowhere I lost my baby cousin.
Separated by time, distance and my own selfishness, I never got the chance to tell my cousin how much I loved him and how proud he made me every time he brought home another math medal. I never got the chance to give him a final hug, play one last round of Xbox or get our favorite vanilla ice cream together.
In that instance, I prioritized my work commitments over a conversation with a loved one, and I learned my lesson in the cruelest way possible. Because the fact is, humans need humans. We need each other for our psychological survival because emotional connectivity is a core part of who we are as people.
I spent the majority of my high school years focused on my goals. I wanted to be a model student, a model daughter, a model journalist and a model advocate. Most of my weekends were spent studying, writing or planning a campaign, and I skipped going to almost every party I was invited to. My rationale at the time was that my work came first, the people around me second.
My cousin’s death changed that. I stopped assuming my friends and family would always be constants in my life. Life is short, and anyone can be taken away from us at any point in time.
I began prioritizing the people in my life. I told my best friend that I appreciated her more than she knew, and I was glad to have the privilege of attending high school with her. I hugged my mom before I left for school, and I told my dad how much I look up to him everyday. But most of all, I didn’t hold things in as much as I used to because I now understood the sting of leaving important words unsaid, knowing that I will never get the chance to say them again.
Losing my cousin taught me that if I am going to care for someone, I should care for them right and give everything I have to offer in the moment. I will carry this lesson with me to college and beyond, and I hope you will too.
Don’t let the humdrum of high school, college and career take away from the richness and vibrancy of human interaction. Allow yourself to love and be loved. Know that no grade, no college acceptance and no goal can replace your memories with your friends and family. Whether we like it or not, humans need humans.
That includes you too.