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Weakening the Walls

To say that someone is completely selfless would be a lie. If a person were to think only of others, they would lose themselves in the process. That is why I believe that every child is born into a ‘bubble’, a personal sphere where nothing matters but their problems, their world. When they grow older, the opaque walls of their confinement will turn transparent and thin as they begin to understand that everyone they pass on the street has their own life and tragedies.

Up until fifth grade, reports of natural disasters and sicknesses were like sorrowful fantasies to me. They were tragic, yes, but nothing like that would ever happen near me. Then a boy in my class, James, was diagnosed with leukemia. Suddenly, someone I knew was in danger of dying.

It shocked me, needless to say. I didn’t even tell my parents, thinking that if I didn’t acknowledge James’s condition, it would go away. I didn’t even think about what it must be like for James, actually living through the sickness. I wasn’t scared for James; I was terrified because the people I knew were no longer invulnerable.

Eventually, James’s progress became another news report to me. I’d never known him that well, and he was close to remission, so my mind went to more personal problems. By the time summer came around, I hardly ever thought about the empty seat in our classroom.

A year later, my cousin broke his leg in three places. I was in the room when my aunt called and I saw my mom’s face fall with dread. Dinner was quiet that night. I was concerned and frightened for Alex, and again I was faced with that creeping panic in my gut. Some I knew was in the hospital, and this time it was someone in my family.

I always learned the latest on my cousin from my mom or dad, never Alex himself. These secondhand reports sugarcoated the truth. I couldn’t feel the true weight of the situation because I was never exposed to it. Maybe that was a good thing. When we finally visited him he was almost ready to take off the cast, but his injury still scared me. Everyone laughed and joked about it, but all I could think was, why are they acting like it’s nothing? His leg is in a cast!

I realize now that my family was doing the right thing. They didn’t alienate him because of his leg, like I did.

My conductor got Hodgkin’s lymphoma during my fourth year in the choir. He was calm as he told us, but my fellow singers were crying. It isn’t you, I thought, only he has the right to cry. But there they were, teary-eyed, and there he was, teaching us how to sing even as cancer crawled in his body.

Mr. C. went to every concert that year. He only missed two rehearsals. His hair grew back. No one could estrange him, because he was the same as he’d always been. Later, I heard a speech he gave at Relay for Life. He wrote that he drew his strength from his family, friends and students.

My uncle now has cancer. My dad tells me he has no chance of going into remission. I don’t know my uncle well, but he makes me laugh and I have to admire him when he tells engineering stories. I have that same fear now that I’ve had for everyone I know that gets cancer or breaks a bone. But there is a difference. No one else I know has died.

My bubble is not yet transparent. It would be ignorant of me to that it was. But it’s thin enough for me to know how I can be selfless and selfish at the same time. No one I see every day, which I love with my whole being, has been endangered before. I pray that they never are, and I don’t care if that prayer is a foolish one. But if and when the need arises, I think I’ll be ready to see through my sphere for them.

Because being selfless isn’t just about volunteering and donating. It’s also about staying strong for the injured and sick, the morally scarred and destitute. When James had cancer, I cared only that someone I was closer to could get it. When Alex broke his leg, I couldn’t talk to him or laugh with him, because his leg made me anxious. I let the walls of my own little world trap the emotions I felt and terrify me away from the true victims.

I will never allow that to happen again. Mr. C. drew his infallible strength from his family, friends, and students. So I’ll be strong for my uncle, for everyone I know that’s hurting. I will not cry and beg for condolence, I will remember that they need more comfort than me. And when I can, I will reach through my bubble for a second and help them.





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