Nneoma Magnus-Nwakuna

2021-2022 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Nneoma Magnus-Nwakuna, 18

17-19 Age Group Honorable Mention

Colorado Springs, CO

Hold Fast to Dreams

At first, living through a pandemic was like sleeping through a bad dream: An endless murky haze of distorted images, twitching limbs and falling from a building accompanied by the sensation of being swallowed by a vortex. Everything is sluggish and hazed, and I ask myself: Why am I running so slow? Why can’t I avoid the ledge of the building? And why have I been dancing to my alarm for forty-five minutes? I knew that nightmares are our worst fears warped together into a world we cannot possibly imagine living in…but I never knew that I had never woken up from my nightmares, I simply continued to walk with them in the daylight.

Before, I was Nneoma. I never said ‘no’; never complained; never spoke up when everyone mispronounced my name. Was this my favorite dream? No. But was I waking up in cold sweats every night? Not exactly either. I was content being a shadow. I was content locked in my bedroom counting off my days before graduation instead of outside exploring the world and losing track of those days. I had the choice to search for who I was and what I loved, yet chose not to. Not because I was so meek that I could not fathom leaving my house, but because all my life, I had been told that I was enough as I was, and I saw no reason to improve or to explore if I thought for myself if I was enough. 

Then, like that first gasp after waking up,  I lost any sense of reality. My constants–school, work, and homework–were barred from my life. My life was suddenly filled with endless time for me to do nothing but listen to my own thoughts. Thoughts that had been drowned by the chatter of a classroom, slapping of pizza dough, and droning of recorded lectures. Like a toddler finally becoming self-aware, I met Nne. Nne, who questioned the social constraints of racial, class, and social divisions. Nne, who had the temper of a philosopher and the ideas to spark a revolution. Nne who said ‘no’ when she meant it and looked you straight in the eye when she said it too. Nne who never knew high school and its limits…only this tiny world where she was only allowed six feet from others, and even then, their opinions and criticisms remained worlds apart. Unfathomable, a blaze of lightning streaking across my sense of identity, Nne showed me what it mean to be alone, but not lonely. All this time, Nneoma had been lonely, because she had never truly taken the time to know herself. And without knowing ourselves, we can never truly be at peace in the presence of others.   

Before, I was simple-minded and dreamed what others advised me to dream. Following the flow around me, I never took the chance to find myself. At the beginning, I was barely sixteen. I could tell you my favorite color, and sometimes my favorite food, but I had no beliefs or thoughts of my own. I was told school was more important than developing my interests and sense of individuality. My world was driven by discipline, devoid of passion, and leading me towards a path of regrets on my dying bed. But I am not disciplined: I am wild and erratic, and I leap into risks because I do not know better. Will I ever admit that the pandemic consisted of some of the best days of my life? Never. But without the pandemic, I would never have found my strength of being everything that is Nne: everything that makes me drive hours to a library just for a good book, or drop all my plans just to fly a kite, or look my parents in the eye and refuse to sacrifice my dream to fulfill theirs. I dream vividly now. I dream of my future in college and life beyond that as an OB/GYN. I dream of trips across the world and meeting a rainbow of people. I dream of  rallying with my friends to fight for what I believe in, and I dream of never, ever, letting go of Nne again. 

I cannot be certain that the same Nne of eighteen, will be the same Nne of eighty, but I know that I will always strive to be better than Nneoma.