One day, I was reading a magazine when a headline caught my eye. “Writing Contest - A Winner Every Month,” it screamed. The topic: what matters. Some entries had already been published and their essays were there: a story about a dying friend named Hope, a trip to the Grand Canyon, a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s. In disgust, I threw the magazine down. I hated contests like that because I lacked the one thing the entrants had: life experience. But there was one thing I had to know: what matters.
Closing my eyes, I racked my brain for an answer. Friends ... family ... love. No, all those were too obvious. I took a deep breath and thought some more.
In the silence I noticed a sound from my neighbor’s apartment - a saxophone’s searing notes were seeping into my room. I listened, soaking in the sunshine from my bedroom window, my foot tapping against the bed frame. Then I knew what mattered. I sat up and hastily started a list that is now over two years old. I add to it whenever the mood strikes, and every time I review it, I smile.
So back to the list, back to what matters: The sunrise flooding the horizon; the bright moon in the night sky. The harmonic voices in the choir, sliding into that perfect pitch; when my dad holds me close. The sigh you hear when a baby sleeps; when the shower water gets warm, and the feeling of a tear on my cheek. The jar full of pens on my desk that no longer work. The feeling of floating in the ocean; the jazz music leaking into my room. The night I almost saw the moon from my bedroom window; the hand-written letter from years ago.
The old diaries on my shelves, some filled and some not. My breath fogging the crisp winter air; all the miles I’ve walked alone in the early morning hours. Late-night phone conversations and mugs of hot chocolate. “I love you,” whispered from a hundred miles away on a Saturday night; meandering mountain roads and forgotten sunsets. The canvases in the back room among the boxes of paint and brushes not used in years. Crayoned walls, the colors still visible through new paint. The warmth of the cat fast asleep on my feet; old photographs. All the letters I’ve written but never sent. The stained glass wind catcher hanging in the kitchen for as long as I can remember; the plastic rose so red against the gray walls. The sound of early-morning sprinklers; when I write one whole page, just to write another.
Dancing in the rain; the squeaky floorboard. The flickering street lamp at the end of my street; not knowing where I am when I wake up. Fireflies caught in a jar; the first luminous star in the twilight. Old scratched records; blown-out speakers; watching the same movie for the third time. My brother, drifting into a deep slumber against my shoulder; hushed secrets with my sister. A damp cloth across my forehead; the cool touch of my mom’s hand. Sitting on the roof before anyone realizes I’m gone; the cold brick on the unseen side of the house. Passing sorrow through hallway glances.
I’ve never had to fight cancer or watch someone I love die. I am not one of those people who suffers and learns and is always beautiful on the inside, but I still care about stuff in my life. Although they may seem insignificant to you, these things really do matter. They make me feel alive, and that’s what really matters: that I’m alive, right now, right here.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.