Shared Meal This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   We stepped out of the cold night air into the dark basement of the church and into an alien world. The room was crowded with people sitting at tables set for dinner. Sister Willy stood on a small stage addressing the diners with a microphone. She introduced the college students who had brought the meal and us, the volunteers from Notre Dame Academy, who would watch their children while they danced. Then she mentioned the sad loss of three AIDS victims and that's when I realized that I had been thinking, There are people here dying of AIDS. This bothered me immensely. I know that we weren't in danger of contracting AIDS; I wasn't worried about that. It just hurt to think that anyone here could be dying - from the energetic toddlers to the elderly woman who reminded me of my grandmother.

Suddenly I questioned whether I should be here at a dinner/dance for people with AIDS and their families. Students from Campus Ministry attend every month to provide desserts and to play with the kids. All my friends had assured me that it wasn't sad, as you'd expect, and it was really fun. I have to admit though, as the names of the three deceased echoed in the silent room, I began to have serious doubts. Abruptly I realized that my problems didn't compare with these people's troubles.

In one corner, we spread out coloring books, markers, and games. Then we waited patiently for the kids to wander over. While we were playing a game of Chutes and Ladders, we were slowly joined by an adorable, little girl and a small, dark-haired boy. I forgot everything else as we tried to convince him that moving four spaces when you'd spun a one was cheating. Next, a pudgy, blond boy named Christopher drafted me to color with him. I spent the rest of the evening helping him color in a picture of an officer and a squad car for his mother.

Our conversation was limited to his constant insistence that I stay within the lines because the basement had become more lively as dinner ended. The music was blaring and someone encouraged spectators to work off their large meal by joining in the dancing. The room took on a happier glow as adults danced to the electric slide. Christopher's mother even tried to convince him to dance, but he was too busy coloring the sky green. Somehow time slipped by and it was time to go. In about two hours everything had changed. I was sorry to leave and I'm still looking forward to my next visit at Shared Meal.

So, what did I learn? I learned some valuable lessons: expect the unexpected; don't judge a book by its cover; giving of yourself makes you feel good. Most important, I learned two things from a little boy named Christopher that I knew when I was his age but I had forgotten. Namely, stay within the lines and it's dull and unimaginative to color anything the color it is in real life. fl


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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