No Turning Back This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 19, 2009
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Gasps sounded as lightning flashed. In the two seats next to me, my friends were sleeping peacefully. I, however, was wringing my hands; I was scared. It wasn't one of those absolute horror moments, but just pure anxiety rearing its head. I was 16 and on a plane over Guatemala City.

As the lights came on in the cabin and the pilot explained that they were preparing for a lightning strike, I knew there was no turning back. And somewhere deep down, I knew that the coming week would change my life. There was no turning back.

I could write for hours about that one week, during that one summer. I could write about the markets, the mission house, Amor del Ni'os, and all the smiling, disabled children there. I could write about the relationships I formed with people who took that journey with me, but what struck me above all else were the Guatemalans.

I met a widow with grown children who cried and hugged and thanked us for the home we gave her. With tears rolling down her wrinkled face, we held each other. I personally had not worked on her home, but that didn't matter to her. As a group we had come from the United States and given her a home when all she'd had before was cardboard covered with plastic bags. The homes we made weren't much – four walls and a roof, all of tin, on a cement block 10 feet by 10 feet. I wouldn't even call them shacks. And yet, the people were so thankful.

I met children who had nothing compared to me. Shoeless and in ratty clothes, they played in a yard – if they were lucky – inhabited by emaciated pigs and chickens. At one home, three little boys came out to greet us, one named Michelangelo. He played on a barbed-wire fence while he watched us, always smiling. They smile a lot there.

After that summer and that one week in Guatemala, I entered the twelfth grade and realized something about myself. Making an A in AP Calculus wasn't as important as it once had been. I have always been a straight-A student, perhaps I always will be, but the grade I earn in some class in high school doesn't really matter in life. What matters more is what I do with what I've been given.

People in Guatemala have nothing, and yet they continue. I have everything going for me and I can no longer ignore that. In my life I plan to use what I have to benefit others.

All that I do, academically and intellectually, I do for the purpose of helping others. When I work and achieve good grades, good test results, I do it not to brag but to open more opportunities so that I might go even further and some day help more people. Yet in the same way, when I have a test the next day and a friend calls, crying, I now realize that it's more important to be with that friend than to make a perfect grade on some test.

When preparing to land at the airport in Guatemala City, our plane was not struck by lightning. I, however, was struck. I was struck by reality in that week. I was struck by compassion for those who have nothing. And there's no turning back.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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anukiiiii166 said...
Nov. 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm
this was really emotional, i have also experienced fear of death, sound of exploating bombs and shaking windows, when you don't know where to go where to hide, I had a house friends everything but I could lose it in one day, now I'm in USA and but i wanna go back so much because it's still my home, God I sound so stupid
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