The sickeningly sweet and earthy smell of marijuana smoke is probably my least favorite scent in the world. For so many Yalies it’s something casual. We joke about what people did when they were high or how often people smoke, and then we forget about it, right?
It’s funny how memory works: the smell is so deeply attached to images in my head and memories I would pay to forget. But here on campus, in the safety of your dorm room or apartment, it means nothing more than a burning plant and a chemical reaction in your brain.
I see the endless deserts of Northern Mexico. I see the border. I remember the phone call one evening in March a few years ago when we were told that my cousins, living somewhere along the border at the time, had been killed. They had been shot in the chest, while their baby was left crying in the back seat of their car until someone found him. I see the health centers that women run into and are later dragged out of, dead or alive, when they run away from local gang leaders and “narcos” who want them for their own.
My options always seemed so limited. I wasn’t a voice people were excited to hear at a party. Friends stared at me blankly when I told them I hated the smell of marijuana. All I saw were burning dollar signs going straight into the hands of local dealers, and then into the pockets of men working a system that leaves blood on the hands of every individual from here to Mexico to Colombia. What stays behind, in the residual cloud of smoke, is the collateral damage.
I wanted some cold, calculated way that I could present a case against drug use, separating me from it entirely. Somehow quoting statistics and death tolls and reading my news alerts gave me credibility and people listened. I made it part of my thesis.
I wanted to ask my friends to stop smoking. No matter how good I became at paralyzing my face when people talked about their drug use, it will always be a reality for me. My cousin died when she was 22, the same age I am today. But it’s never been easy to be an activist in any field: it’s difficult to know what I could or should say, how to package it or what would make any sort of difference.
And so I have sought a quiet, internal grace — as I tell you why I don’t smoke without causing you to turn away from my words.
This is my cause. So many of us are looking for missions to push us through life, and to give meaning to our daily toil. Sometimes we take them on; sometimes they fall into our laps and inspire us through the rest of our days. When that day comes, how do you put yourself outside of the issue, so you know how to approach it in a broad discussion? When you really care about something, how do you learn to talk about it outside of the language you grew up with, outside of your memories and experiences and hopes for change?
Maybe the most important piece of this search for a “life mission” is an understanding that no part of it will be easy. It’s a journey often filled with uncertainty.
Some of my friends have left these difficult conversations with me feeling attacked — like I paint myself the victim and they the villains. Some are left speechless. It’s almost like a wall comes up between us, where their use becomes an even more private feature of their lives — as if they are protecting me. As I ask my friends to reject what has become normal, I have to be prepared for however they react.
And so if you give yourself to a mission, make a promise that you’ll keep something for yourself. Spending day after day worrying about your work and how people respond to your words is draining. You may believe wholeheartedly in what you are doing and where you are going, but that will not give you the balance and strength you need to keep fighting in the long run. Appreciate the opinions of those around you, but also carve out some space in your head where you can take a step back and consider your case.
Balance your mission with space for reflection. This is where I find grace. No one can ever take it away from you.
Diana Enriquez is a senior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .