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Under the Lemon Tree This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.


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We stood in the shade of her arching lemon tree; grandmother and granddaughter. She’d asked me to bring her some lemons for pickling, but decided to help me herself after seeing my confused expression. Her slightly brown fingers ran over the bumpy, green lemon caringly. “This one is ripe,” she explained in her gentle voice, teaching me about the lemons adorning the fingered branches.

I loved the small grove at the back of my grandparents’ house in India. The rich smell of the warm brown mud mixed with lemons sprouted sharply in the air when it rained. Standing there, warm droplets running through my hair, I used to feel a simple happiness.

Then, returning to school after a visit to India, everything would fall back into place. The lemon trees would be forgotten, everyone around me whirring by in the banal routines of work and school life. It seemed like my life in India and in America were two sharply separate worlds, distinctly blocked from each other by invisible walls. I was content keeping my life divided into two neat sections.

One day, the walls broke down.

My grandmother had been ill for such a long time that it had become just another part of life. I never expected her to leave us, but it happened. She passed away in August. My life spilled through the broken boundaries, agitated, shocked.

My defensive front was shattered. My mind kept screaming, “It’s all a joke!” and I blocked the news away--shocked silent by the sudden blast of grief hurdled upon myself. Slowly, the sadness unwound. The deep feeling would stretch though my body painfully, then disappear. Some days I would feel fine, and then, at the oddest of moments, I’d be overcome with sorrow and have to fight to keep tears away. Despite all this, my body continued to battle with the harrowing truth. I did all I could to keep my mind occupied with something, anything other than my grandma.

I’d always read about people losing loved ones, but until that day, I never realized the raw pain it brought on. Most times, I shut myself off to the world, wearing a composed mask, perfect except for a vaguely strained smile and sad crinkles around the eyes.

Hiding my sadness over my grandmother’s death helped me open myself to others’ mindsets in the end. Returning to school in September, I felt like I was seeing people through new eyes. My experience with my grandmother’s death exposed me to the real feelings of the students around myself. I thought more carefully before speaking harshly to people. I realized that the behavior of people might have deeper connections to physical or emotional events--that sometimes, people couldn’t help acting the way they did.

After my grandma passed away, I recognized that any arbitrary person walking by me in the halls of my school or the streets in town might be going through difficult times because of something in their personal lives. Even though it is impossible to step into everyone’s shoes, now I am less quick to judge people by what they might seem like on the surface. I know every face in a classroom can tell a story—and every story is important in its own way.

Superficially, it may seem like our lives are each separate, unaffected by the things that happen to other people. It is strange to think that the actions of someone in a hallway or standing beside a storefront influence our own lives, but I understand now that that is exactly what happens. Threads in life’s web bind us all together, from familiar places to the world, and beyond. Some ties are stronger than others are, but all of them are plausible, existent-- real. A strain on a thread on one end of the web loosens another, even if it does so almost imperceptibly.

It is up to us to become conscious of the lives of others. Prejudice and hate stem from the minds of people closed off to their connection with the rest of the world. Sometimes it is difficult to hold back from judging people based on their outward actions. When I’m faced with such a situation, I try and remember that beneath someone’s exterior shell lies an endless array of events, actions, and memories that have shaped their lives.

This is only the beginning. As we, young adolescents, move on through high school and college, we will experience some of the best times of our lives, and some of the most difficult times. We will lose touch with some friends, gain others. We will forget some memories, but create our own new ones. Wound together in the web that connects us all, we will carve out our own paths among the maze of trails of those before us.




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