November 13, 2019

On remembering that you’re stronger than you seem.

Surya Gowda

February 23, 2024

A response to The Harper Review’s winter 2024 proposition, “We should never forget the past.”

Dear editors,

At some point during my trek to the hospital, I made up my mind. That morning, I had been cramming for a biology midterm. But by 2 p.m., I was sitting in the waiting area of UChicago Medicine’s pharmacy calling my dad to tell him I was quitting college and that he needed to come pick me up.

“Appa, I can’t wait that long. Can you come now?” I asked when my dad told me he could book a flight to Chicago for the coming weekend—just three days away.

I headed back to Max Palevsky West with my newly prescribed medication in hand. Luckily, no one could tell whether the redness of my nose was due to the 30-degree mid-November cold or the fact that I was about a minute away from calling my mom from my dorm room and bawling my eyes out. I calmed after I learned my dad had somehow managed to find a red-eye flight from Florida set to leave that very night. I scheduled a meeting for later that evening with someone from the dean’s office to declare my leave of absence.

As I waited, I started googling: “Palm Beach Post writing jobs,” “UChicago transfer credits,” “Massive Open Online Courses.” It should’ve been the last thing on my mind, but I felt weirdly energized, motivated, excited, even, to learn new skills and challenge myself intellectually during my time off. It had been almost a year since I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, and my disease was further out of control than ever. I knew I needed to leave school for at least a year to prove to myself that I could get my health under control long-term, and I was determined to do so without compromising the personal and professional development I felt I owed to myself.

Going home to West Palm Beach would still entail a full roll of packing tape, multiple teary goodbyes, a partial colonoscopy, an infusion, and a week and a half of total mental and physical weakness. And yet, through all the toilet bowls filled with blood, all the unbearable pain, and at times, all the hopelessness, I felt a strange, unexplainable sense of optimism. I hadn’t the slightest idea when I would go into remission or what opportunities would present themselves to me. But even at my lowest point, I knew instinctively that sometimes it takes being pushed to your absolute limits to realize your potential.

Forgetting the past would mean getting to throw out all recollection of the times I cried in hospital rooms or collapsed after painful trips to the bathroom. In a more general sense, it would mean being able to erase all remembrance of the sorrow we felt after the death of a loved one or the feelings of failure we experienced after being rejected by our dream school. However, forgetting the past would also mean vanquishing all memory of the astonishing strength we found in our moments of utter weakness—and that’s why we never should.


Surya Gowda

Surya Gowda is the cofounder and coeditor in chief of The Harper Review and a fourth-year at the University of Chicago studying political theory.