To be Human in a Busy World

December 24, 2011
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Walking down the hallway for the fifth time today brings the familiar sight of clingy couples, scattered papers, and the aroma that everyone knows as “the freshman smell.” It’s a usual Thursday morning for Shaina Adams. She glances at the bulletin board, seeing all the daily announcements for College View Academy in Lincoln, Nebraska. She catches a glimpse of herself in the glass. Her soft brunette hair hangs down, sitting barely past her slightly muscular shoulders. Shaina wishes her hair was pulled up into a simple ponytail, but she doesn’t want people to think she doesn’t care about how she looks. The same goes for what she wears. Today it’s a nicely fitted pink shirt and blue jeans. She would rather be sporting an oversize t-shirt and the basketball shorts that go past her knees, but she doesn’t for the sake of looking good.

Shaina opens her blue locker, right next to her best friend’s and three away from Ethan’s, her boyfriend. Her locker is the epitome of organization. She brought her own organizer box from home, with a place for pens, pencils, scissors, highlighters – everything. Not one piece of paper is out of place. While other students have pictures plastered all over their lockers, Shaina has one single picture of herself and Ethan at last year’s banquet. In the photo she wears a beautiful black dress with a touch of pink on it, and Ethan is dressed up in his finest suit. She closes her locker door and not for the first time sees the word “B****” scratched into the top of her locker. Although meant for someone before Shaina’s time, it makes her shudder every time. She would never say that word, let alone write it out.
Shaina hears the bell ringing and knows she has five seconds to run to her next class, British Literature. She steps inside the narrow doorframe right on time, taking her seat right behind Bayle. She and Bayle used to be really good friends, until Bayle went to Colorado to receive help for her suicidal problems. Shaina cringes every time she looks at Bayle’s arms, covered in scars from cutting herself. Shaina doesn’t know how to act around Bayle anymore, and she wonders to herself if that’s wrong. So Shaina just sits in silence. Few people know why Shaina is so quiet in the classroom, but one cold night I found out why that is.

Lying tucked in our sleeping bags, Shaina and I engage in another one of our deep conversations. It’s pitch black outside as we lie on the rough ground. The only thing between our sleeping bags and the ground is a thin sheet of plastic. We are on Senior Survival, and part of surviving is building our own “tent” with only two sheets of plastic, twine, and duct tape. Even being nestled in our warm sleeping bags didn’t seem to keep the cold away from our shivering bodies. We lie there in silence for what seems like hours until I hear her whisper, “When I first moved to Nebraska in third grade I was made fun of for voicing my opinion in class. After that, I have never wanted to talk in class again.” I search for her hand in the silent darkness and when I brush over her warm fingers, I grab them to offer an ounce of comfort. I understood why it was that she just sat at her desk, saying nothing.

Silently, Shaina looks past Bayle to the surrounding British Literature classroom. The room glows with color. The sky blue color on the walls makes her smile. She gets such happiness from the smallest things in life. Today she just feels like getting lost in her thoughts, which quickly turn to the Physics test she just took and how it will affect her grade. Shaina knows that she is at the top of her class and she wants to keep it that way – not for herself, but for her parents. She feels overwhelmed by the burden of always having to be a straight A student and having to be perfect. Shaina thinks of everything she has to do today in her busy life. She pulls out a piece of paper and starts making a list. Always so organized.

The final bell rings, and she finds herself being pushed and shoved through the small hallway. Shaina is happy to head home, then realizes she still has to do grading for Mrs. Schnell. She feels like she never has time to do anything for herself anymore. “Oh, to be young again,” Shaina thinks to herself, then giggles at the fact that she is only seventeen.

I wonder to myself as I lie on Shaina’s bed with her in the darkness of her room. Why is it that we are always in the dark? Her window is open a soft breeze is blowing the curtains forward and backward. Even with the fan going, it isn’t cold in her room because both of us are managing to fit on a single bed. We are both only seventeen years old, but we have conversations way past our years. We don’t talk about nuclear physics or why the earth is round; we talk about the important things. I can talk to Shaina in a way that I have never been able to talk to anyone else. Shaina understands me and accepts me for who I am, which is a relief beyond comprehension. We talk about sex, boys, friends, enemies, and our lives before we knew each other, but what we really like to talk about is God. Shaina is the only person I have really been able to open up to about my relationship(or lack thereof with God.)
“I am so busy and overwhelmed that I don’t seem to have time for God,” I say, looking into the darkness, knowing that Shaina’s bright blue eyes are staring back at me somewhere.
There is a moment of silence before I hear her voice. “I know exactly how you feel. I try to pray and read my Bible, but it feels more like an obligation than a relationship.” Before I can reply, she continues. “And isn’t that better than nothing?”
I think about that for a moment and say, “Is it a friendship if I feel obligated to be your friend?” At that moment, we both realize how much we are falling away from God, and we know exactly why we are doing so – the overwhelming busyness of teenage life.
Shaina feels completely exhausted from all the pressures this week has brought her and finishes her grading rapidly, thinking only of the soft bed and cool fan that awaits her. She sees Mr. Hansen in the hall, and he informs her that she scored a seventy-five percent on the last Physics test. Shaina holds back the tears that want to flow down her cheeks. She feels so overwhelmed with life, and it is really weighing on her today.
I ask Stacy, Shaina’s little sister, why it is that Shaina feels like she always has to be perfect. To which she replies, “Shaina is the middle child. Sharyn, our older sister, has always been a perfect daughter. She never does anything bad and she always gets the best grades. Shaina feels like our parents and the teachers that had Sharyn in class expect her to be just like Sharyn or even better.”
Stacy looks down at the ground and then looks up with tears in her eyes, “And then there is me. Shaina thinks that she needs to set a good example for me. That she needs to be perfect so I will grow up and maybe want to be like her.”
I asked, “Do you want to be like her Stacy?”
With her blue eyes filled with salty water she says, “Shaina is my role model. I do look up to her. I couldn’t choose a better person to be when I am older. I feel so horrible that my sister stresses out because she wants to be a perfect example for me.” With tears streaming down her face she finally tells me what is weighing on her mind, “After Shaina comes home from school. I hear her crying in her room sometimes.”

Shaina walks home, which is only five minutes away. She puts on her basketball shorts and oversize t-shirt and she ties up her hair. Sliding under her covers, Shaina holds on tight to Butler, her stuffed bulldog. She cries herself to sleep, knowing that she has to do it all over again tomorrow. The pressure of being perfect for her parents is worth more than her sanity, which is slipping away.

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