Real Wealth This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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      For as long as I can remember, I considered myself an intelligent, attractive and confident person. My confidence, however, was a fa/ssade. I knew I was unhappy, but I had no motivation to change, and didn’t think I could. When I was prodded to sign up for a service trip to Guatemala, I scoffed at the idea. I was terrified to travel to a place where people were poor, where children starved, where the comforts of home were a distant dream.

Everything changed when I arrived in Guatemala. I was scared at first and wanted to go home. In all honesty, I wanted to remain ignorant. The day my group arrived at our work site to build a house smaller than my bedroom for a family of seven, though, my eyes and heart opened.

There was one little girl, Brenda, who was the most beautiful child I have ever seen. I had the hardest time wrapping my mind around how she could be so happy when she had so little. I finally realized that she had learned a lesson in her six years that I, for all my material wealth and assumed knowledge, was just beginning to understand - and I wept. Curled in the back of a truck as we left the site that day, I let my tears flow, blurring the awesome horizon dotted with smoking volcanoes.

I was ashamed of the walls I had constructed in my heart to shield me from the shallowness of my life, but their ruin left me unguarded, vulner- able and able to understand why this child could still wonder at the world. Brenda knew the secret to joy: you must focus on the good in your life, and deal with everything else. This little girl who wore rags, who was absolutely delighted with the dollar-store toys we had brought her and her siblings, woke me from my deep sleep. And I knew, when I joined her in jump rope and bubble blowing and felt the happiest I had in three years, that I had finally gained something I could hold in my heart. At last, I felt whole, and it was given to me by the light in that child’s eyes.

I returned to the United States a different person. I saw the abundance of wealth and felt the raw injustice of it. I knew in my heart that material wealth was not what made life worth living. Riches do not buy happiness; shiny things do not make life brighter. I am finally able to open myself to the world and let it come pouring back in, filling me in a way I never thought I could be filled. I was put back together and made complete by a child, wiser than us all.

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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