All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
"Two more rounds." I raced around the perimeter of the rink, ice chips flying as the blades made contact. I kept going until I heard the whistle.
"Great job, Leah. Keep practicing, and next week I'll bring Carol in to race you. Come out now."
I skated gratefully to the exit and plopped down on the bench next to Coach. I began to take off my speed skates.
"Just one more thing, Leah." Coach looked more serious than usual- there were no laugh lines by his eyes, like there usually were. "I know you take this seriously, and I know we have the 1000m in 2 weeks, but I think you do need to take some pressure off yourself. You're trying too hard, and you're stressing yourself out."
"Listen to me. Relax a bit. Go out to the movies with your friends, go to the mall and shop, go read a book. Just relax. You never know what might happen."
I was confused. What had made him say that? I got up to leave.
I turned back.
"You may want to go put your shoes on and take off those socks. It's 95 degrees out." His laugh lines were back.
I looked down and grinned. I was still wearing my fuzzy Mickey Mouse socks. I turned to the locker room to get my shoes, forgetting the strange warning on the way.
My Babi has a saying: Man tracht und Gott lacht. Translated, it means man plans and God laughs. Whenever I heard her say it, I told her that I intended to be the one to laugh in the end. My life was totally planned. I practiced my speed skating every afternoon, and I easily won the local competitions. Next step was the Northeastern championships, then the nationals. From there, the road was clear to the Olympics.
To traverse that road, however, I had to practice like mad. Every day, from 5:00 to 7:00, I spent racing around the rink at the local JCC. Everything came afterward- homework, friends, relaxation. I was determined.
My Babi shook her head at me and clucked her tongue. "What will be with you? You're too intense," she sighed. She sounded almost sad.
"And what's the problem with that?" I shot back, almost accusingly. But you can't be accusing at my Babi.
"The problem is, you'll never accept failure. It'll ruin you, and make you miserable. You won't be able to survive it." She looked up and smiled at me- a warm, grandmotherly smile. "But I shouldn't talk this way. Come, give me a hug."
I did, and promptly forgot every word she said. Only a niggling worm in my subconscious flared up every so often on the rink.
I knew I couldn't fail. I had beaten Carol, a former national champion and Olympic bronze medalist, and I was way up high. I couldn't wait for the 1000m. Coach gave me a high-five as I glided, panting but exhilarated, off the rink.
"Go on, have an ice cream on me," he said, grinning broadly and slipping me a dollar. "You're doing great."
I knew I could win this race. I was psyching myself up. I knew it, I was confident, I was even clearing out space on my shelf for my future trophy.
Then my school bus stopped short, throwing me down the aisle. I heard my leg crack before I fainted.
I was miserable through those three weeks after the operation. My bone was shattered, and my doctor told me quite bluntly that he'd consider it enough of a miracle if I ever skated again, let alone speed skating. I was started of physical therapy, and the rest of the time, I was stuck in a wheelchair, brooding.
Coach came to visit. He tried to comfort me, but I could tell that he was as upset as I was about my injury. It was the first time that I realized that he had wanted me to win as much as I had.
Babi came too, with a container of my favorite vegetable soup and a sketchpad and pen. "Something for you to do," she said. "I know it can't be pleasant sitting here when you like to move around." I nodded cursory thanks, and relegated them to the drawer of my night table. What was a sketchpad for, anyway?
But soon I was doodling out of boredom. The pen, I noticed, was perfect for designing, and I began to draw how I would redecorate that ridiculous hospital room. It was so drab, with the metallic bed and the sterilized-white walls. I planned out a room with pale purple walls, a black bed with a purple headboard which covered all of the tubes I had noticed in some of the rooms, and a TV cabinet with a closet on the side and a chest of drawers on the bottom.
I told my favorite nurse, Abigail, about my design, and she smiled and asked to see it. She examined it and gasped.
“I didn’t know you were an artist. You need training to draw like that. That shading is something you need to learn how to do. Even mine’s not that good, and I’ve taken lessons since I was in fourth grade. Who’s your teacher?”
“Uh- nobody, really. I just copied what my grandmother used to do when she drew pictures of us when we were little. Look,” and I pointed to a little cartoon she had drawn of me in the hospital bed.
“Your grandmother’s an incredible artist.” She sounded awed. “What’s her name?”
“She’s brilliant. You need to take lessons, so you can do this professionally. It’s incredible. You CAN’T waste a gift like this.”
I shrugged, and said I’d think about it. Abigail left my tray with Babi’s heated-up soup on my bedside table and left the room.
It was strange. I’d never thought of the fact that Babi must be a professional artist before. Her pictures hanging on the walls of her apartment, her pile of “favorite” picture books, whose illustrations seemed strangely familiar, her looking over my shoulder as I doodled at her house, smiling with a secret pride and telling me, “Beautiful detailing. But try to shade in the face more.” I remembered Babi looking miserable as I told her that I couldn’t come to draw at her house anymore, because I had skate practice.
Next time Babi came to visit, I showed her my sketch, and her face creased into a broad smile, a proud smile. She inspected it closely and said, “Excellent proportions, just try to add more detailing.” Those words said everything she’s wanted to say since I’d been little, and I impulsively reached up and gave her a huge hug. All the emotions I’d ever felt were in that hug, and from the tears in her eyes, I knew that she knew it.
I’m writing this from my office, where I design everything from houses to shopping centers to, yes, hospital rooms. I’ve achieved renown in my profession, and I’ve never once looked back with regret at my accident. It only opened up a new vista to me that I’d never known before.
I still skate, but only shakily, and definitely not at the speed I used to. But I don’t mind so much now. Now I skate because I enjoy it, not to get a prize.
Last week, I went to visit Babi, and she asked me, “Remember the saying about Man tracht und Gott lacht?”
I smiled and replied, “Yes, I do But you know, I was right in the end. God may be laughing, but so am I.”