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A lesson in opportunity


“Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend;
And, being frank, she lends to those are free”…
…The pencil in my left hand scratches Shakespeare’s fourth sonnet laboriously across the notebook paper lying on my father’s desk as the dreary rain patters lightly on the screen door to my left. Somehow, the rain gives solace to my melancholy: as the weather cycles emulate the constant changes in the world around me, they remind me that the only constant is change itself. However cliché and ambiguous an idea that is, it is comforting to know that there is some order in this forever-changing world, that the water in an ocean thousands of miles away will continue to evaporate, condense, and fall on my North Texas rooftop, no matter what goes on in my slightly insignificant life.

Why, you may be thinking, am I copying the sonnets of Shakespeare on this drab evening? Why this, instead of just reading them? Or why with my left hand, when I am in fact right-handed? I was in no adventurous accident, have broken no bones in my right hand, and no firearm is being held to my brunette head, despite what you may think would be necessary to get a 16-year-old girl to copy 500-year-old poems. Rewind a few hours. I’m sitting in the senior center of the hospital where I volunteer, highlighting admittance forms, pausing now and then to explain to a patient in slightly-too-loud tones that they missed this line, that they were supposed to sign here, laughing comfortingly and assuring them that “these forms are so complicated,” highlighting and wondering to myself why they are so complicated, and why exactly the patients have to sign the same forms every time they come in for an appointment?... My right hand grows tired. I decide to use my left hand and decide that I would like to teach myself to write with my left hand. I’m grounded, after all, for the first time in my life…why not take advantage of this daunting week-long house-arrest? I come home, pick up the complete works of Shakespeare I got for five dollars at my favorite book-reseller last week, turn from the page of Romeo and Juliet that I was reading for the fourth or fifth time last night, and scavenge for a pencil. After three some-odd sonnets, I have yet to see any marked improvement, but remain confident that by the time I get to the 154th, at the end of my long week of nothing but work and volunteering, my left-handed writing with be somewhat decipherable.

While my slightly insignificant life continues on in the (maybe a little eccentric) way I just described, the cosmos far beyond the dull-gray stratus clouds above continue their elaborate movements, their endless dance above and infinitely beyond the scope of our finite realm. In this finite realm, while at the bookstore the other day, in addition to Shakespeare’s complete works, I picked up Virgil’s Aeneid, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Voltaire’s Candide, Zadig and Other Short Stories, and my summer reading books for AP English IV. After making quick work of the latter (I’ll read them again before school starts), I moved on to the works of Francois Marie Arouet, i.e. Voltaire. My friends, co-workers, and especially my boyfriend Cameron (who learned to appreciate them after I elaborated on a few of Voltaire’s arguments), might make fun of me for it, but I really find this book fascinating! While eating lunch at the hospital cafeteria before my shift today, I came to the short story “Micromegas.” This little gem is quite the story. It is the tale of a giant (don’t be fooled by the “micro” in his name, pay your regards to the suffix), native to one of the planets orbiting the star Sirius, who comes to earth seeking adventure. Because their size is exponentially bigger than that of us five-foot humans, he and his travelling companion from Saturn fail to see the humans around them on Earth. The Saturn-ite (if there be such a title) argues that there is no one on Earth, for he cannot see them. “Micromegas,” however, “politely made him sense that this was rather bad reasoning. ‘For,’ he said, ‘you do not see with your little eyes certain stars of the fiftieth magnitude that I perceive very distinctly; do you conclude from this that theses starts do not exist?’” To these colossal beings, we humans were mere atoms on a cramped little globe, and our million-men wars were completely foolish quibbles over pieces of land the size of their heels. The Saturn-ite was closed-minded: he thought that no one sensible could live on such a planet, and looked down on the people once his friend found them. Micromegas, while recognizing that “People at my court would not deign to look at [humans],” offered the people he had found his protection, because was willing to hear their ideas and discerned that they were truly remarkable beings.

Many of us, I believe, could learn a lesson from this character. While we are sitting here in our microscopic homes worrying about what miniscule problems we will face tomorrow, a whole world awaits us. Perhaps we cannot ride on the tails of comets and use Aurora as a doorkeeper like Voltaire’s fantastical characters do, here is our world before us, and however subjectively small or large it is, we will never lack opportunities to do some small bit of good in it. When we walk into school or work, we never lack opportunities to be open-minded in our interactions with other people gaining knowledge where we can and giving it where we are asked, discerning but not judging, and doing good wherever we can. In Voltaire’s “Zadig,” I read that “The opportunity of doing harm comes a hundred times a day, and that of doing good once a year.” I believe that an education will provide me with many opportunities to do good in the world around me, and would to love to be able to experience them myself.



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stayandsea said...
Aug. 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm
Wow, thank you for crafting a beautifully-written, inspired essay that doesn't have to do with death, Africa, or hardship. Your essay strikes a cord because its well-thought out, eloquent and deep. You made a "mundane moment" into the source of an ephiphany. Congrats and best of luck to you! 
 
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