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To The Last Day
“Sir, do you need some help with that?”
I asked, but I received no response. The portly man passed me by without a second glance, talking away on his headset while he fumbled with a stack of assorted papers, a steaming cup of coffee, and a device that seemed to control the man’s entire life. I watched him walk away, struggling but never realizing that help was literally standing just a few short feet away. Seconds later, an untied shoelace brought the whole precarious piece tumbling to the ground. A plume of papers shot up from where the man fell, only to fall back down into the newly formed puddle of coffee and fried electronics. Still, even when the struggle was so obvious, pedestrians walked past as if they had not seen a thing.
I slumped to the ground, propped myself up against the wall of a now closed pastry shop, and closed my eyes. A few deep breaths were all I took before I heard yet another commotion. Snapping my eyes open, I searched the landscape before seeing, not to my surprise, that it was the same man that had just fallen having a heated argument with a mere passerby.
“Look at the back of my suit! It’s ruined! What kind of idiot doesn’t have the sense to walk around the puddle of coffee on the sidewalk!” the man bellowed. Fists clenched, the man rose off of his knees and stood straight up, all six-foot-six of him.
“Well, what kind of…” the other man shot off, but I drifted away from the conversation. I knew how this would end. Smart comment from man number two, threat from man number one, a few minutes later they’re both getting their argument dragged to court to be resolved. The worst part - court only takes a few minutes, and then the animals are set free once more to roam the streets for their next victim. ‘Animals. How accurate.’ I thought, reminiscing about my school lessons and all of the information that had been crammed into my mind. My own lessons to my former students came to mind, and the voice of my high school biology teacher rang loud and clear through the confines of my mind. “What distinguishes man from other animals is that man will cooperate. In the wild, no animal would help another of its kind.”
Unwilling to pick myself up once more, I checked my watch. The fading green display shone dimly in the evening night, flickering like a streetlamp in an abandoned part of town. I looked at the massive display on the front of the barber shop across from where I was sitting. I even glanced at the phones of passersby, hoping to get a different answer than the one that had been evident for the last few years. One, the displays read, just one. Just one until I could return home, get some rest, and finally have some peace of mind.
After a short time, I went to stand up, to continue on with my journey, but I found that I simply could not stand. Working in combination, my feeble body, racked with the effects of witnessing what feels like an eternity of sin and hatred, and my exhausted mind, who was crying out for some short rest, had finally brought me to my knees. I sat there, pinned against the glass side of a building and my own struggles. My mind would not let my captive body free, and yet my body rendered the efforts of my mind useless. After what seemed like hours, as I assumed that time must have passed, for the steady stream of people walking past my situation slowed eventually to a trickle, and eventually to the last residual drops that followed the crowd, I finally gave up my struggle. Despair and frailty enveloped me. There was no hope left for this world. There was no hope left for my mission. Feeling that I simply would not be able to complete the task that I had been assigned, I withdrew my mind from its narrow-sighted determination and began to speak aloud to myself.
“Amazing. Simply amazing. You know, I’ve never really thought about my calling before. Well, that is, ever since the day that I was called.” I pulled out a folded paper from my right hand pocket, which had been opened and closed so many times that the creases had become imprinted into the very paper on which my message was written. The entrance to my pocket was just as tattered and ripped, having been entered so many times for this same purpose, but it held a certain air of comfort and solace, to know that I was working for a reason. The paper, on the other hand, had a weight to it, a weight like that of a deadline looming nearby but far enough to keep out of mind. Beginning to read the paper, I felt that the world, in all its ignorance and lack of compassion, should hear the task that it had rendered me unable to finish.
“John: You have been called to a special, unique path in the eyes of God. You have been chosen to bring good and care back into a world that has lost sight of what it means to be human – to care for one another and to make peace with your neighbor. Your life will not be measured in minutes and hours, nor time and space, but in good actions. You shall have a set number of deeds that must be accomplished. You will have all of eternity to complete these on earth, and only when you are finished will you die and pass into heaven. If you should falter and fail in that you should die before the certain number is achieved, it will be a sign that the world is indeed hopeless and can not be restored to its former compassion. May God be with you in the time of your mission.”
I sighed. What an incredible burden, yet what an honor. The pain that I had experienced over the past years had been excruciating, to say the least. To watch neighbor turn against neighbor, to see man turn against son, brother against sister and to know the results of these actions was terrifying, and to hold them on my shoulders was torture. But, to go through life so that I could see people save themselves and to assist them in their endeavors brought me some of the greatest joys that I had ever felt.
“One left.” I muttered to myself. “ ‘One good deed’, ‘one act of kindness’, ‘one last triumph and the world will be deemed worthy’.” The bitterness of forty years of hardship and tiring, exhausting work came through in my aging, cracked voice. “One kind action and you can save the world.” My lips formed into a scowl as I heard screams from the apartment building across the street. Doors slammed, children woke, and more yelling poured out from the flimsy, poorly constructed building. The entire structure seemed ready to collapse every time that a door shut, not to mention when dust flew off the roof with the force of the collisions. A tear welled up in my hardened, tried eyes and slowly ran down my face. “It’s not worth it.” I claimed. My fingers trembled, barely grasping the contract that still tethered me to this world and separated me from the next.
But, as I was about to relinquish my final fetters, a face popped into my line of vision.
“Mister, do you need any help?”
I looked at the face that had startled me out of my decision. Youthful eyes peered back at me from behind a pair of broken, red-framed glasses. Dirt streaks traveled from corner to corner of the child’s face, masking the flushed cheeks that arose from the chilling wind of the evening. In his right hand he held a beat up, muddy baseball, but in the left hand I saw just the tips of interlocking fingers. Following the fingers into a freckle-spotted arm, I traced the second child from the arm to the top of the shoulder, and from there to the girl’s face. She was also young, and seemed to be slightly younger than the boy. She had the same youthful eyes, just as full of concern and worry as were her brother’s. I panned back, looking at the full picture, and, seeing the two children, I added a new perspective to my reflection.
“Yes, yes as a matter of fact I do.” Each child grabbed one of my frail, lifeless arms and, on the count of “twee”, they both pulled, hoisting me into the air. Afterwards, they started to run off, but I quickly noticed that the boy was missing something. I called out after them, and, when they turned around, I tossed the baseball as hard as I could. Even though the ball only made it half the distance, the boy ran back with an eager smile and scooped it up. I offered the kids a smile and quickly checked my watch. I was just in time to see the transition from one to zero. But what made me even happier was what followed. In response, I heard uttered from down the street two words that I had only rarely heard over the entire course of my calling.