A Humble Reminder

January 7, 2009
By Kirtley Righi, Brattleboro, VT

I immediately recognize the thirteen year old girl in the photograph as Rosemary. Her facial features don’t indicate a distinguishable gender, but it is an attractive face that stares back at me. Her dark eyes are thoughtful, warm, and at ease. There’s a smile hiding above her chin; a small sliver of plum colored lips creased into her flawless, cocoa skin, and encased by two shy dimples. The oversized clothing that drapes over her slender figure is simple, but the earthy tones mirror her humble smile and her classic, stark white shirt pops against the lush green background of the vegetation behind her. She’s standing alone, posing for a photograph that will be sent to an American family living thousands of miles away from her rural village in Uganda.

The photograph rests on a heap of mail and disheveled newspapers. Another letter of hers addressed to my mother is splayed out on the counter near her picture, left open for my family to read. I ease my backpack off of my stiff shoulders and gradually lower it to the ground before picking up her letter. The script is similar to that of a textbook, with perfectly formed letters and tentative spaces between each word. In crayon, she has drawn a creative border on the paper which fences her words in with bright designs and a waxy, smooth finish.

Dear Mrs. Nancy, she writes, I can not thank you and your family enough for the gift you’ve given me. I keep you all in my prayers every night. I study hard at school. My teachers just gave us our grades and I’m first in my class. I study hard before every test. With your gift, I have bought school books and text books and pencils. Your money is very helpful. My mother says she will not buy my family a goat until my schooling is paid for. She is very thankful, too. She keeps your family in her prayers. God Bless, Rosemary. Hiding behind Rosemary’s modest veil appears to be a young girl with pride and indubitable commitment to her learning. Her appreciation of my parents’ donation and the enthusiasm she radiates for school convinces me that $25 a month could not be better spent than on her future.

In past and present times, many Americans have been raised in a household where food wasn’t allowed to be wasted. The parents scolded the children who daintily jabbed at their dinners with unenthused utensils, all the while reiterating that there are “children starving in Africa!” In that same vain, my own parents (also instilled this awareness of global hunger) have always stressed the importance of education. My plate was to be piled high with decadent challenges, savory books, and then doused with appreciation. Like food, the opportunity to learn can not be wasted, taken for granted, or pushed around the plate mindlessly by a fork. In Rosemary, I see a ravenous learner. She is a young girl who considers her education as the foundation to her future success, and the portal leading towards a brighter future.

I place her letter adjacent to her photograph and heave my backpack onto the table. This night will not be forgiving to procrastination, I conclude after reviewing my list of homework assignments. With a gentle sigh, I extract my binders and textbooks and begin. When the early hours of morning blanket my house in silence, I’m still in the kitchen finishing my homework. Although math problems pale in comparison to the real problems Rosemary witnesses everyday such as poverty, disease, and war, I know that if I ever want to make a difference, my pre-requisite training can be found in my schoolwork. My geometry homework may not be finding a cure for A.I.D.S., but by taking the time and effort to learn now, I’m indirectly enhancing my ability to help Rosemary and others in need later.

I peer down at my completed homework assignment and call it a night. The only light glowing in the kitchen are the neon green numbers from the microwave clock, indicated that it is now 1:30 A.M. I amble up the stairs and think of tomorrow’s school day. I know I’ll hear drone complaints of class work and research papers, exasperated sighs protesting vocabulary tests and project presentations, all forming a thick, musky air in the hallways that undoubtedly will smother all enthusiasm to learn. I think of Rosemary and hope that in her lifetime, the grumbles of disinterested students that I hear everyday never seep into her own ears. If she and those who depend on a small, monthly donation in order to attend school were to visit our high school, I can’t imagine what they would think. America is the land of opportunity, but also of fading appreciation. She receives $25 a month and is fervently grateful; students here receive a free education and skip class. How would Rosemary and her classmates react to our society’s deflating value put on education?

In my lifetime, it is quite probable that I will never meet Rosemary. I’ll see her maturing face in the annual photographs the organization sends and she’ll see mine when my mom sends a picture of my family around Christmas, but our knowledge of each other will be limited to the letters. During the years of our correspondence, her letters will have served as a humble reminder of the gift I’ve been given and the gratitude that must always shadow my steps as I walk down the halls of my school. Tomorrow I’ll be tired, but I’ll stifle my yawns and pick my head up for her.

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