The street dead-ended into a dusty trail as I left suburbia and entered the Cherry Creek State Park. The Denver sun reminded me of my first day in India, and my mind began to wander.
It was very different from home in every conceivable way. The landscape was unsettling; trees grew where buildings might be; cows roamed where supermarkets and stores should have stood; bikes on dirt paths carried people on their day’s journeys. What hit me first, however, was the smell of the animals, which easily overpowered the vegetable garden where my grandfather grew bell peppers, cabbages, and brinjal. This was my first visit to the small, rural village in India where my grandparents live, the very place where my mom grew up. It was the summer of 2015. While we’d left behind clear sunshine in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado, the heat here took on a life of its own.
I had taken up track during the spring of my sophomore year. It had started as just another activity, but over that year it became a sanctuary for me from all the external and emotional stress of work and school, a place where everything made sense. Running was liberating. I often sorted out my life in the Cherry Creek State Park, making sense of memories and reimagining my priorities.
Everybody in the village seemed to know each other. Stray dogs ruled the streets while cows mooed every now and then at the people in their yards. In the clay houses, we had to warm buckets of water for showers and burn wood for fire to cook our meals. But the meals were fresh from the garden and very different from our dinners at home, where everything mostly came from industrialized food markets or fast food restaurants. Neither our repellent bracelets nor the mosquito nets around our beds at night were a match against the constant bites. I wasn’t accustomed to any aspect of the village. I missed being surrounded by the suburbs and buildings; I longed for the dry mountain air of Colorado; I yearned for some familiarity. As I walked around that first day, a sinking pit of homesickness grew in my belly.
As I ran through the state park trail, I tried to remember how I’d seen my parents before our trip to India. I’d assumed I knew everything about them, but this village was so foreign. It was unbelievable that my mom had grown up here while I’d lived on a cul-de-sac my whole life. Her relatives were practically strangers to me and this lifestyle was completely unimagined. Sitting with their cows made me think about how little I knew about my parents’ upbringing, and I wondered at the distance between their childhoods and my own.
My mom and I walked every inch of the village, over grassy fields and to the bird observatory. I got to walk through my mom’s past. She told me about the time when she’d become friends with a monkey in a nearby tree. I’d never felt more connected with her than on that day. As we laughed together at the playground of her former school, I realized that my sense of homesickness had faded away. I felt the distance between my mom’s history and my own shrinking, and my uncertainty began to disappear.
On the plane ride home, I don’t think I realized at the time that I now carried the burden to work hard and achieve to make my mom’s story worthwhile. I couldn’t waste the opportunities my parents had given me to be successful. But as I run today, I feel the expectations and relentless drive imported by me from India, that burden that used to weigh me down, now lift me up and pull me forward. On this run, I embrace all that I am thankful for and channel my history into this single moment.