“Life” has a formal definition. It reads, “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter.” Well, that’s how science explains life simply, but veterans of this abstraction know that life is a challenging idea to expound upon, and those who can craft a working definition are likely to fall short of encompassing every aspect of life’s multidimensional personality. But pretend for one moment that life actually had a personality. In other words, if a young, seventeen-year-old girl named “Life” walked into your classroom and sat in the seat next to you, how would she look? Act? Think?
I envision a slim physique – long legs that walk with a gentle step, and long arms that sway in rhythm with her movements. Cut short across her neck is chestnut-colored hair that waves slightly at the ends, refusing to smooth out in a straight fashion. Slightly higher up are side-swept bangs that rest atop round-rimmed glasses. Behind those black frames are rare, midnight blue, almond-shape eyes that harbor a delicate fleck of yellow in the iris. Full, red lips and a slender nose compliment her rather prominent cheekbones and, together, her features exude a certain innocence that clearly is a façade for a more brazen character.
When we first introduce ourselves, she whispers her name under her breath, so much so that I strain just to catch the one syllable. Gently, her eyes lift and I see those midnight blues and the rosy red blush that suddenly enters her tanned cheeks. Over time, as I got to know her, she displays her incredible wit, cracking jokes left and right – how a bear without bees would become ears and how pushing the envelope does not change the fact that it is still stationery. And her laugh, boy her laugh, if anything tickles her as funny she positively howls, giving her knee the occasional, involuntary slap and tilting her head back to share her smiles with those above. Plump tears travel down her cheeks and only after several minutes does she gather enough breath to tell us what she had found so amusing. Even then, we seldom understood the joke, but in those moments, the light in the classroom would shine a little brighter and even the teacher couldn’t help but grin.
Her kindness pervades any atmosphere; she befriends the cafeteria lady, mends the sore spirits of her late-puberty friends, and guides anyone unfamiliar with the school campus. But it’s a mistake to think her kindness is any indication of subservience. Her opinions are firm: respect is key, love is essential, and curiosity is paramount. But aside from that, her thoughts remain a secret until revealed, and many times over, their flowering is the result of some utterly unexpected event. For instance, she conveys her frustration against racism after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., or voices her distaste for British rule after the Sons of Liberty dump thousands of pounds of imported tea into the ocean. Her thoughts are secrets just waiting to run out the exit door, but those are locked and she doesn’t have access to the keys.
A complex person, wouldn’t you agree? Her purpose, however, is simple: to perfect the art of imperfection. Just as her hair refuses to be straight, a teenage path is seldom simple. Just as her eyes are dotted with yellow, a teenage future may seem unclear. Just as her voice is soft, a teenage purpose feels bleak. But just as her secrets are revealed, a teenage life has a way of working out with a little tinkering of a locksmith looking for the right key.