When My Education And Real Life Collide

Last semester I took a course called “Environmental Preservation and Improvement”, an upper-level seminar where every week students gave presentations on current environmental topics. It was an awesome class, and it excited me so much that I got a little over-ambitious and said that I would provide a brief recap of the presentations given every week. Unfortunately, real life interfered and I only managed to summarize the first presentation about geoengineering and then one of my own presentations on colony collapse disorder.

In the course of that research, I basically came to the conclusion that the culprit at the bottom of all these interacting factors is the use of systemic pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids, on the crops honeybees pollinate (refer to the older post for details).

That was back in October. Almost six months later and the New York Times recently came out with this article and corresponding video (below), which says, in so many words, that growing evidence is pointing to systemic pesticides as the primary cause in colony collapse disorder.

Was I the first person to make this connection? Of course not. Nor has it been determined what exactly is causing CCD. But it’s always rewarding and exciting to see work that I’ve done in class being discussed out in the real world, and it only gets me more psyched to continue learning.

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Experiencing a Local Tragedy From 8000 Miles Away

I’m not sure if any of this comes to a “point”, but I’m not getting any other work done and I don’t know how else to deal with the anger, confusion, depression, and anxiety that continue to flood my mind.

My roommate in Hong Kong woke me up at 7:28 Tuesday morning: “Will. Will! There was a bombing at the Boston Marathon.” My slumbering brain struggled to comprehend what he had said. Bombing? Just the night before I had wished good luck to my friends running the marathon (Jessie & Sarah you guys are badass), and expressed to my housemates just how much I wanted to join them on the sidelines to have a few beers and cheer on the runners. Less than 12 hours later I was frantically checking Facebook to see if they were alright.

A quick search assured me that Jessie and Sarah were safe and sound. They were both less than half a mile from the finish when the explosions went off. At first I was angry that they were robbed of the absolutely amazing experience of crossing the finish line after all their hard work. But my anger quickly faded to quiet and profound relief. But Jessie and Sarah were only 2 of over 50 runners that proudly wore the Tufts jersey on Monday, and my newsfeed was struggling to keep up as friends and peers looked for each other in real time. I watched in relief as my fellow Jumbos confirmed their safety and reached out to each other in support.

A message from my roommate/housemate of three years and best friend was a little more unnerving. He and his girlfriend had been at the finish line, standing next to the flags of the participating nations that were later pulled down in a frantic effort to get to the wounded. They had moved only “two minutes before” because it was too crowded and they could no longer see.

Another message from my close friend at Boston College was waiting on my phone. It read, “I’m ok along with everyone else I know.” The last two years I have gone to BC on Marathon Monday to cheer on the runners coming over heartbreak hill at mile 21. It has become a tradition and a highlight of my springs in Boston, despite my absence this year. The next message from Connor simply said “bombs dude.” I re-read that over and over (I still am). Bombs dude. Bombs. 

I was shaking, my stomach twisted into such tight knots that they are still unwinding. Here I was halfway around the world, waking up to messages from my best friends who had just narrowly escaped a terrible fate. More than that, it was a fate that just as easily could’ve belonged to me, or a fellow Tufts student, or to a loving parent. It is a fate that tragically caught up with over 100 people and their families on Boylston street on Monday afternoon.

Within 20 minutes of my rude awakening I had absorbed every piece of news and Facebook update I could find. But I kept re-reading and re-watching, transfixed by the utter unfathomable nature of what had happened. I still don’t think I will ever have a firm grasp on what occurred on Boylston Street that day. As I sat in class later that morning with Alvaro, another Tufts exchange student, I could see him doing the same: going back in time on Facebook, trying to keep track of all the people and the stories that were spilling off of his screen and occupying our thoughts.

Thank God for social media. This is not something I ever thought I would say. In general I feel that Facebook and Twitter distract and remove us from the real world. But that morning I could not be more grateful for Facebook. Grateful that in less then 10 minutes I could account for all the people who are near and dear to me and let out a giant sigh of relief, even as the uncertainties continued. It is inconceivable that I might have gone the whole day (and maybe more) without knowing that my friends were safe and unharmed. More than that, social media provided a way for me to essentially re-live the explosions as they happend. It made me feel as if I was there.

Yet as grateful as I am for the peace of mind that Facebook was able to bring me, it did not  substitute for truly being there. And at the end of the day, it is this disconnect that makes this event so difficult to comprehend, beyond its obvious tragic and unexpected nature. Boston has become my city. These were my friends, my peers, my role models out there running 26.2 miles in an event that has come to define springtime in Boston for me. The explosions on Boylston Street created a terrible scene of senseless destruction in my city and shook members of my community to the very core. And I am 8000 miles away.

One of my greatest fears of going abroad was that I would miss out on exciting weekends, inside jokes, and drunk escapades. But for the most part during my time here I have not really been homesick for Tufts. That all changed Tuesday morning. More than anything right now I want to be surrounded by my fellow Jumbos, to sit down and talk with them about what just happened, what it all means, and how we are involved. This event will leave a lasting mark on our college career and I am not sure yet what that mark is or how it will affect us. Despite the presence of other Tufts students here, I have never felt so alone, so far away, and so homesick during my time in Hong Kong as I do now.

My heart goes out to all those who were directly affected by these attacks, and those like myself who are trying to come to grips with what happened in the city we call home.