Hospital visits seem, to me, to always reinforce the necessity of human beings in each other’s lives. And, in considering the necessity of human beings in each other’s lives, I always question whether the Penn community falls short.
The first time I ever spent the night in a hospital, I spent it in complete silence and solitude. My throat had closed up after eating some pesto. My parents couldn’t fly over, and my phone had died while I was rasping to my sister, asking her to stay with me. I came out the next morning with an enormous existential crisis and the certainty that everyone comes into this world alone and dies alone.
It’s a mindset that I’ve kept with me, rather subconsciously, as a method of survival. It’s something I tell people, and something my mother often tells me. “You have to grow up, girl,” she says. “You can’t expect anyone else to take care of you.” So I walk around, always a little closed off from people, always a little wary of others, and do my best to depend only on myself.
This weekend in Paris, I visited the hospital for the second time in my life. I slipped and cut myself on glass. I didn’t think it was that serious until the blood wouldn’t stop gushing and the doctors wouldn’t let me leave and they kept repeating, “This is not normal.” I have to hand it to the French; they never sugarcoat the truth.
During it all, though I thought I could do it alone, I needed someone to help me. If no one else had found me and called the ambulance after I fell, I could have bled out. If no one had supported me, I would not have been able to walk out of the hospital. And though I felt awful for ruining my friends’ trip, one friend turned to me and said, “It’s a responsibility we have when we travel with people. We agree to take care of each other.”
It was a shocking statement to me. The concept of taking care of someone else beyond my family and best friends has never seemed like an obligation. Being the "Good Samaritan" is, after all, only a parable. Kind-hearted people who give without thinking of themselves exist only in stories, or in far-away lands a long time ago. So I thought.
But then why is it that I, and I am sure many others, have this mindset? Why do we have to only look out for ourselves?
In a world that is dangerous and changeable, we cannot do it alone. All we really have to count on is each other. We are all human beings, imperfect and lonely and a little small. We all come from the same place, and because of that, we understand each other.
And because of that, we have a duty to take care of each other. I find it laughable that in almost every other animal group in the world, the natural instinct is to take care of their kind, whereas human beings are always finding ways to tear each other down. We say that humans are social creatures, and that is why we always seek to please, to make connections; yet when it comes down to it, we cut and run when someone really needs us.
I thought a lot about Penn and my unhappiness there. I thought about all the mental health problems, and the suicides that happen at least once a year. My heart breaks to consider the people who seem so happy on the surface, but who feel so terribly alone.
At Penn, we pretend to take care of each other. We say to take care of each other all the time because it’s the right thing to say. We tell people to be honest with us and we ask them how they are doing. But we don’t follow through when the time comes. We are passive in our care for others. We need to be active.
It shouldn’t be just a nice idea for people to help each other out. It should be a reality. It should be a responsibility.
Mental health problems flourish in an environment of isolation. People struggle, they feel as if they cannot tell anyone and that creates a burden too heavy for them to carry on their own. It perpetuates a cycle of feeling and being alone. The only way to break that cycle is for us to step in and help when they cannot help themselves. We call ourselves a community. Let’s actually make the word mean something.
AMY CHAN is a College junior from Augusta, Ga., studying Classics and English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.
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