The Misfortune of Others This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

June 1, 2010
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The dreadful sun was beating down on my neck. The heat was all around. There was no escape, not even in the shade. The sun is supposed to move during the day, but not today. If it was, it was just coming closer and closer to me. This was Chicago, so where was the wind? There wasn't even the slightest breeze to lessen my sweat. The only thing stranger than this scorching, windless day was that it would be one of the most important days of my life.

You may be wondering what I was doing outside on the hottest day of the year. Well, the truth is that I didn't really want to be here. I'd been forced, if you will. I was at Angels Church doing volunteer work. I, as you may have guessed, did not volunteer. My mom threw me under the bus.

Angels wasn't in the best neighborhood. It wasn't always a slum, though. A few decades ago, it was a thriving community – until tragedy struck. The Angels School fell victim to a devastating fire. Ninety-two children died as the school burned to the ground. Ninety-two.

This is why I was here: to help build a memorial. Almost 50 years after the tragedy, the parish finally had enough money for a monument. Our job was to clear a space in the church garden. Ninety plus degrees in the afternoon, and I was pulling weeds.

As I worked, I saw five kids I can remember even now. They had one bike; half a bike, really. The back wheel was bent, spokes missing and sticking out everywhere, no seat, one of the handlebars cracked and duct-taped together, but these kids were all sharing it. They took turns riding it around the block, all wearing huge smiles. All I could think was, How can that be fun? Don't they realize it's barely even rideable?

Then I felt angry with myself. Why did I care so much about the condition of the bike? Material things had taken over my life. I always needed to have the newest of everything, otherwise it wasn't good enough while these kids grew up here, where every day was a struggle. I knew I needed to change.

At the end of that day, I went home to my air-conditioned house, ate a great dinner, and watched TV. While I may have acted the same, I couldn't help but think what I had seen earlier. I remember hearing the priest say, “There are drug deals right on this corner, in front of the church. So we put up a light to help the police. The next day, it was broken.”

A few months later, my mom asked if I wanted to help out at the Angels' Thanksgiving food drive. When we arrived on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we saw a line that continued for four blocks. It looked as though every person in the neighborhood was waiting to get food for Thanksgiving. An argument broke out between two women, one accusing the other of cutting the line, that the priest had to break up. As I saw this, all I could think about was how we had enjoyed three turkeys at my family's Thanksgiving dinner the year before.

Shouldn't I feel happy to be so fortunate? Why did I feel so angry at myself? I then realized it was because I took my good fortune for granted day after day. Each time I went to the kitchen for a snack and found that we were out of my favorite cookie, I felt as though I was being starved (though there was enough food to feed a small country). Meanwhile, hundreds of people just miles from my house were struggling, waiting in line all day so their family could have a half-satisfying Thanksgiving.

I am still very confused. Why did I have to see families struggling for their lives? Why couldn't I have come to this conclusion through a positive event?

My experiences at Angels changed my life. I used to feel selfish and deserving, but I was really just fortunate. I still remember the five children sharing a broken bicycle, the neighborhood with violence and drugs, and people at each others' throats for a meal. Sadly, I didn't realize how lucky I was until I witnessed the misfortune of others.

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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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

mjayne4 said...
Feb. 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm
I really loved your story. It is very inspiring to others and it really makes you appreciate what you have. You should be very proud of yourself for making a difference!
haha4579 said...
Jan. 10, 2011 at 9:04 pm
This was 1. really good wrighting and 2. so true. I saw the same when I was in texas and I felt horrible about it. Loved this piece!
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