Burning. If I had to describe how I felt in that moment, it would be burning. My ears, my neck, my face, all on fire. The pit of my stomach, a raging inferno of angst. I couldn’t hear the words cascading out of my mouth, rushing to be heard, rushing to be judged. I could feel my legs shaking, as if they were trying to run away, run away from this exposure, run away to the safety of being anywhere other than where they were. Everything blurred. I couldn’t recognize the people in front of me. As I spoke, I started asking myself the same question over and over. “Do I really want to do this?” Self-doubt that I had suppressed awoke and joined the flames that engulfed me.
How did it all start? I’d never felt a strong inclination to be involved like this in the politics of my grade, to lead or to organize. But I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t simply walk past the sign-up sheet for class office every day. It stared me in the face, glared into me, dared me to write down just three small words. But, how could I? How could I run against my peers, my friends, and make the statement that I was more suited for class office than them, that I deserved to be chosen over them? Uncertainty filled my mind, yet something, something inexplicable, started growing persistently inside me. It pushed me closer and closer to the paper. It pushed my hand into my backpack, to grab a pencil, and write those three words: “Tomer W: president.”
It all seemed easy. In my mind, I had no doubts, no second thoughts about what I was supposed to do. I had always felt comfortable expressing myself, and I was certain that speaking in front of the whole grade would be just as easy as speaking with my friends. I knew what I wanted to say, what I thought was truly important, what I believed would be meaningful to the other students in my grade. I felt ready.
On the floor, I could feel the heat of the lights, and I could see the reflection of the other candidates around me in the audience’s eyes. Then it struck me. The weight of my decision and the significance of what was about to take place. Every student there with me had prepared, had stressed, and was just as, if not more qualified than me.
Burning. I can still feel the burning disappointment as I walked down the long, narrow hall and heard the new class president celebrating with her friends the email she received, addressed to the “class president.” The flames engulfed me as I put my head down and hurried, trying to get as far as I could from the humiliation that was destined to come eventually. I wished that I had never ran, that I had never risked something like this. I felt the burning disappointment of failure.
I recently read “The Third and Final Continent,” a short story in Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. In Lahiri’s story, the narrator immigrates from India to London, and then to Boston. He builds a life for himself, his wife, and his son in this new world, and every chance he gets he visits the first place he lived in in Boston, the home of an elderly woman, Mrs. Croft. At times like this when he visits, he reflects upon his achievement of living in a new place and succeeding in raising a son who would attend Harvard. He says that while it may seem ordinary to others, and while he knows he is not the first to live such a life, it seems extraordinary to him at times, and it took courage to go out and brave the unknown, to embrace it.
I realize that I’m not the first nor the last person to run for class office. It in itself is not an achievement of any sort. But at times, when I reflect upon it, I realize that it demanded a true, unwavering motivation, one that was persistent and unfaltering, and it took courage. It took courage to brave the unknown and ask for the trust of my peers. I lost. Someone else became the class president. But when I consider the experience of running for a position, of feeling the burning heat in front of 300 other kids, I know that it was extraordinary.