Wordy Wednesday (“The Truth About High School”)

Gosh, so much has happened since last week! For the sake of brevity though, I’m going to try to keep this short, so…

  • My Blogiversary Giveaway ended New Year’s Eve and I’ve contacted the winners, so congratulations to the three of you, and your books should be in your hands shortly! 🙂 To everyone else who entered, thanks so much, and I’m sorry you didn’t win–if I could send prizes to all of you, I would! It meant a lot to me that you entered the raffle.
  • I found out that Lauren Oliver’s hosting a really-super-awesome contest over on Figment that I am EXTREMELY excited about, and I think you should enter, just because it is too really-super-awesome not to (and then if you win, you should totally thank me for telling you about it): http://dailyfig.figment.com/2013/01/07/the-requiem-writing-contest/
  • I ALSO found out that I’m going to be going to an Ally Carter book signing next month, and besides the fact that I’m just about dying from excitement over it, I wanted to ask: Would you be interested in winning a signed copy of one of her books? Do you want me to pick up an extra at the signing, if possible, to giveaway on the blog?
  • I FINISHED WRITING CADENCE!!!!! After two months and 20,000 words more than I’d been planning on spending on the first draft, I finally managed to get to the end yesterday afternoon, and I am exceedingly happy with how it turned out (despite the 20,000 extra words).
  • I moved back to college yesterday evening, which means that I’m now back sitting in the cozy little cave under my bed (my lofted bed, that is), and it’s 78 degrees in my room despite the fact that it’s 22 outside and we have the windows open and our fans on, and I don’t even care, because I am just so happy to be back here at the moment. (Although, let’s be honest, I barely managed to get out the door without stuffing Sammy in my duffel bag last night.)
  • And, last but not least, I just got back from my first college creative writing class (which was also my first class of the semester–fantastic way to start, right?), and let me just say: This semester is going to be interesting. The professor’s awesome, the other students seem really into it, and that actually scares me a little bit, just because I’ve never been in an environment like that before. Like, I have never sat in a room with a bunch of other people the same age as me who are all into creative writing as much as I am. I’m one part scared, and one part excited, and overall just very, very nervous about it all, but hey: At least it’s guaranteed to be an adventure, right?

Now, moving on from that not-nearly-as-short-as-I-meant-it-to-be recap of the past week…

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a personal essay I wrote as a part of the Senior Sunday sermon at my church this past summer, in honor of all of us graduating from high school. It’s pretty Christian-y, obviously, since I wrote it for church, so if you don’t want to read something like that, I apologize. But I am a Christian, and it’s a big part of who I am, so something God-related was bound to pop on here eventually. 😉

So, I mean… I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry? Something like that.

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            “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?”

An issue a lot of us struggle with in high school is identity. Who should we be friends with? Who should we sit with at lunch? What classes should we take, and what extra-curriculars should we do?

This all seemed big and real and scary when I was there, but looking back, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Because the fact of the matter about high school is, well, first of all: It’s just four years of your life, and those four years go by really, really fast, so why spend so much time being nervous and afraid when it’s going to be over so quickly? And second of all: While you’re all caught up feeling uncomfortable and shy and like nobody likes you? Well, everybody else is feeling the same way too.

So why does it take four years to figure that out? Why am I just now saying it? – You know, now that I’ve graduated? And the fact of that matter is: When you’re there, it’s like seeing the forest through the trees – or any number of other similes or metaphors that they teach you in English class. When you’re in high school, you’re extremely likely to look at everybody else through rose tinted glasses, and then look at yourself without any glasses on at all. It’s hard to really see something when you’re staring it in the face; easier to look back on it, and understand what was happening, now that it’s over.

And just like how, “‘[t]he eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you,’” you are always important, even when you don’t feel like it.

High school is about finding yourself. Experimenting, trying new things, and meeting new people. Chances are, a lot of the stuff you try isn’t going to work out, but that’s okay because a few of the things will. That’s high school – and beyond that, that’s life. Because high school, ultimately, is your training ground for the rest of your life.

Yes, you learn all about factoring, and the Civil War, and the differences between protons and electrons and neutrons. But you also learn about the type of person you’re going to be when you leave high school. You learn that it’s okay to talk to someone who might be more “popular” or “smarter” than you, and that no matter what you’re into – should it be theatre, or robotics, or sports, or art, or anything else – there’s likely to be a group of other students, just like you, just waiting to be your friends. I mean, my school even has a table tennis club, of all things.

So, how does all of this affect us as graduating seniors? Now that we’ve learned all of these lessons? Well, just like it’s our job to remember that Holden Caulfield is the main character of Catcher in the Rye, which takes place in New York City, and yada yada yada… It’s also our job to remember all the things that we learned outside of the classroom during high school. Like how to be selfless, by helping others during mission trips. Like how to understand that sometimes what you want to do isn’t what others need you to do, by understanding when you don’t get a role in the spring musical.

High school is about disappointments. It’s about not making your goals, feeling left out, and feeling worthless. Because without those things, how would we ever grow as people? How would we ever grow in our faith in God, unless we let Him challenge us every once in a while?

High school is about honesty. It’s about learning who you are, and learning who you aren’t. It’s about crying when you lose, and then crying when you win, too.  It’s about taking risks, doing the thing that scares you, no matter how small that is – whether it be sitting with some people who you don’t know very well at lunch, or flying halfway across the country to follow one of your dreams.

And no matter what it might be for you, and what it might be for me, all of us who have gone through high school, or are going through high school, or will go through high school sometime in the future, have one thing in common: While going through high school, we have the opportunity to come here. To church. Where you’re appreciated and loved, no matter where you are in life. No matter what your grades are or if you’re fighting with your friends.

God appreciates each and every one of us. It makes no difference whether you’re the star football player or “just another stagehand” in the school play – See what I did there, hands and feet?

“If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.”

We’re all important, no matter what.

An issue a lot of us struggle with in high school is identity. Isn’t it nice to know, in the end, that everything turns out fine? Because God loves us no matter whom we are?

That’s what I learned in high school, and what I’m going to take now, as a high school graduate, out into the world.

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~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“I Cannot Forget”)

The winning genre for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is Memoir, so I hope you don’t mind that the piece I’ve chosen is more of a personal essay than anything else. My English class this semester is Holocaust-themed, and a little while back my professor had us write reaction essays about how the course was affecting us, and I think it’s an important topic to talk about–the Holocaust–so here we are.

 

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Our life is fragile. Breathe on it, examine it, try to reach out and touch it, to hold it close, and it could collapse. It could strangle us all.

Walking out of that first film, on that first Monday, there was the most beautiful sunset stretching right over the undergraduate library and the trees and sidewalks, lighting up the whole world with oranges and pinks, like sherbet ice cream melting over everything. Students walked by in groups, speaking loudly, cheerfully, with hands stuffed in jeans pockets and the first breath of fall reddening their cheeks.

Ivy on the buildings. Squirrels tramping through the grass. Summer-green leaves rustling, the sound coming from every direction, everywhere, gaining momentum until it turned from a whisper to a scream.

It is fragile, this life.

As I walked, it slipped from my fingers, through the holes. Our reality flickered, and I stumbled against a sidewalk crack, and all of a sudden the world was a dark, dark place. For once it was easier to focus on the darkness of the night sky than the stars within it.

Our life is fake. It’s a mirage; a scrim on a stage, with actors before it who think they’re in reality, but it’s only just reality TV. Watch it from a distance, and it is solid and impenetrable. Look at it from up close, and it is no less of a perception than the passing of time.

How can we separate ourselves from that? How can we look at the Holocaust as a solid It, an Event, rather than an Ongoing Memory? Because it is a memory, which means that it happened. It’s not just something that random people write about in text books, but something that is ongoing and constant—but fading now. It touches us. It reaches out from the past, wisps of smoke carrying like the scent of coffee coming from Espresso Royale on my walk home; reaching out from the past—out, out, out—until it grabs hold of us here in the present.

I cannot lose it. I cannot forget it, cannot block it off into another part of my mind. It is a constant; a swirling and a spreading that grabs hold of me, tangles itself in my hair and my lungs. I breathe it in, but I can’t breathe it out. It chokes me. It squeezes in on my chest until I swear I’m having an asthma attack, but the inhaler won’t do anything.  Because it’s not in the past, for me. It’s in the present—this is when I’m learning it. This is when I’m experiencing it, and when it’s happening to me, and when I’m finally coming to realize the full scope and horror of what happened, if it’s even possible to realize that of the Holocaust.

That first Monday, after that first film, I sat at my desk, and stared at the picture frames fighting for space on the shelves, with their posed, traditional shots of my friends and me, fake smiles plastered on our faces with eyes somehow disconnected from our mouths, and I wondered how you could describe something like the Holocaust, when every single word that once could have has been used, like how horrific and senseless and horrible and impossible have all been watered down to make room for lesser events. Like:

            I got a C on my math test today. It was horrific.

            What a senseless waste of ice cream.

            The weather yesterday was horrible.

            Can you believe how impossible the end of The Dark Knight Rises was?

            And it all means nothing. There is no way to describe this feeling welling up inside me, boiling to the surface until I could just scream—scream at the top of my lungs for all the world to hear that This. Is. Wrong. This is wrong, our forgetting; our betrayal.

I lay in bed that night with the darkness all around me in a swirl of black and grey, and I tried to justify it to myself, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I did.

It’s been a long time. No, it really hasn’t. Not in the long run.

They’d want us to move on. How can you prove that? They died, so how can you prove that?

            Everybody dies eventually. Yes. And I’ve been crying for a year now over my cat. Why aren’t people still crying over this? Over people? Over people just like you and me, just like all of us, with hopes and dreams and fears and nightmares and beliefs, all just snuffed out—snuffed out like a candle, with only the barest drippings of wax reaching down to us outside? If I can cry for a year because my cat died, shouldn’t we cry for hundreds of years for these poor, stolen people?

            How could they go through that horror? How could they go through that horror, and die in those horrific, unforgivable ways, and then have us we just assume that they’d want us to forget them and leave them in the past, because it’s the easier answer for those of us in the present? Who cares if it’s easier for us, when it was so hard and horrible and impossible for them?

They didn’t have a choice, so why should we? Why should we have the option whether to be sad or happy or living and breathing or laughing or crying and lying in the darkness of our dorm rooms, studying the ceiling and the pictures on the walls and the sounds of laughter coming from the courtyard at 2:00 in the morning? Why?

I want to reach back into the past and pull them away to safety; to reach my hand into those camps, and cup my palms around them, and protect them from those sights and sounds and smells and feelings against their fragile, delicate, beautiful skin. The impact of a bullet to a head. Oxygen being squeezed painfully from lungs, with pins and needles spreading across their chests.

Numb. I feel so much, I am numb, and unable to feel anything anymore, and I am in overload. Overdrive. Somebody please pull me away to safety, to my warm little cocoon of Upper Middle Class College Freshman in the United States. How dare I complain about anything—about my Spanish homework, and my allergies taking up residence in my nose and throat, and my homesickness; the pang in my chest whenever I eat peanut butter and can’t sneak a spoonful to my dog? How can I complain?

These are such miniscule problems, not even just in the grand scheme of everything, but in the smaller scheme that is my life. These are nothing, and I am nothing, and all those people were everything, are everything, are taking over my brain and my heart and my being until I am all full up of this, of them, and there’s no room left for anything else.

Our life is fragile. I can’t get beyond that, can’t work myself back into this tapestry we’ve woven. I’m a thread come lose, and I can’t find my way home again.

And it’s not even just, Where do I fit? but, How do we exist? After everything, how do we move, move around, onward and continuously into this time and future that still contains them, that still contains all of us, but we only remember what’s absolutely pertinent to ourselves? How are we so selfish? How are we so horrible, to choose to forget them when it could have been the other way around—It could have been us who had died, and them choosing whether or not to remember.

Fake, and fragile, and I am stuck in it. Breathe on this city, on these people, on this world, and we will crumble. We will fall over, roll to show our bellies and give up the hard fight in favor of what is easy.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Not until it was daylight again, and it was safe again, and the sun was too bright to look at, let alone stare at like we do the sunsets. It was not sherbet, it was not melting—instead of bathing the world in light, it burned away the darkness, and that was just enough for me to move forward with myself. It was just enough to step away from the scrim and look at it from the audience again, instead of as an actor on the stage. But it’s always there in the back of my mind, now; the truth. It’s always there, nudging away everything else and planting itself firmly in my conscious.

They died, and I am alive. They died, and I know them only through a memory.

My dreams are lighter now than they used to be, trying to counteract the darkness. But it’s nothing but sunset, descending now into night. It’s nothing but that last moment before the light winks out and the darkness swirls, and maybe we stop being able to choose, for just a moment, to forget. Maybe it imposes itself upon us, and maybe we think for an instant of other human beings—one moment of purity in that half-second before our eyes readjust to the change in light. That moment when we are blind, and newborn, and fresh to the world.

Maybe we do think of them, for that half-second. All of us. Enough people all thinking, in unison, to fill the void, to remember each and every one of their lives lost, even if we don’t know their names and stories and lives. Maybe it’s just enough to account for the darkness. To see the stars.

Fragile. This life, and us: we are all fragile. And for some reason we think ignoring that fact makes us strong, when in truth it just means we’re easier to blow over with the wind.

I am one of them. They are just like me. And for some twisted reason I’m the one who’s alive right now rather than the babies and grandchildren they were supposed to have.

I am alive, and they are dead, and I cannot forget. I cannot forget. I cannot forget.

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~Julia