My love/hate relationship with social media took a turn for the best this past weekend. My Instagram account reminded me of a picture from two years ago: I was on a Long Island beach (best in the world, by the way) on a cool September evening. It was right after Darcy and I took some much-needed time off to do a road trip through American history.

We drove to Gettysburg, and then onto the battlefield at Antietam, before finally playing tourist in Washington DC , where we visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Arlington National Cemetery, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, many of the monuments throughout the city plus the Watergate Hotel. The most defining part of the trip, though, was on the drive home because we started talking about our future together. Stuck in traffic on I-95, Darcy and I started chatting about graduate school, and how when I was college, I had planned to go to law school, but couldn’t because of my health.

Back then we had been planning to move into New York City – she was looking for a job in the city, and I was playing with the idea of getting an M.F.A. to sharpen my writing and communication skills. On the ride, though, she encouraged me to think broader than that. She asked, “well what do you really want to do with your life?”

It was a loaded question. I had been in the Trikafta trial for five months at that point, and my health was officially better than ever. Her question wasn’t so much a practical one as it was an invitation to look beyond the few-days-at-a-time horizon that I had been using to live my life. It was validation that I could look to my future, and it was really the first time I had considered it.

My answer was, “I want patients to be involved in healthcare industry decision making.”

She said, “Well, an M.F.A won’t help you do that.” And that is when the idea of business school was born. A few days later, I took my first campus trip, started studying for the GRE, and committed to living at home for another several months while I applied to schools, all the while Darcy began to uproot her own life and make the move with me to school.

It was almost by chance that we stumbled upon Dartmouth’s CF program and the joint MBA/MPH degree that I am in. On my campus visit, a few months after that road trip (and to be clear – in the heart of January winter), I fell in love with the small-town living.

The rest is history.

Looking back, that conversation with Darcy has to be one of the most impactful of my life.

Given all that has happened in our lives since then – Trikafta’s FDA approval, Darcy and I getting engaged, the pandemic and everything in between – we can’t help but feel like living in Hanover is the best possible scenario for us. Whenever we get frustrated about how our lives have been turned upside down, we return to the idea that we were a breath away from living in New York City, in the heart of the initial coronavirus surge.

The last two years have already proven to be some of the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally challenging of my life. Not long after that road trip, Lea passed. In grieving, I turned hostile, and yes, after reflecting and looking back on that time, I’ve concluded that I irrationally took my pain, anger and mental hardship out on the CF movie (whether it was worth it or not). Losing a best friend was not anything I was prepared for, but it’s something I think about every day. Lea is in my virtual classroom in the shape of some artwork her sister, Leeza, made for me. Lea looks on, and I hope, she watches over me.

I am a week away from starting my second year of business school, and I look on with optimism. It frustrates me that this year will be unlike the one I had hoped for, but the opportunity to stretch my mind has me encouraged. In the last year alone, I learned more than I could have ever imagined I would – both technical and practical skills. Some of those skills – like algorithmic modeling and practical financial sense – are some I thought I would never possess. I can’t help but be excited for what I will pick up this year. In some ways, it feels like the last two years has brought me to emotional and physical extremes, and that journey has allowed me to motivate myself to new heights.

Today, I look back feeling as though that conversation with Darcy two years ago was one of the best things that ever happened to me.