A Story To Leave Behind

September 30, 2016: Test

He studied for hours and hours for days on end. A high mark on the final exam would secure a perfect academic record, admission into the most selective universities, a high-paying job, status, privilege and comfort. Raheem fulfilled the caricature of an over achiever. He serves on the boards of a range of local non-profit organizations, is the Editor of his high school newspaper, plays the piano, violin, guitar and drums, starts for the high school basketball team, speaks three languages and will be the valedictorian of his class – if he does well on tomorrows final exam. He slept well that night, confident that he will get the job done. He walked into the classroom anxious to get started. Ms. Abdoun handed him the test and Raheem was ready to apply all that he studied for, until he saw the single test question. At the top of the page, the prompt read: “If your life ended right now, what story would you tell of yourself?” He dropped his pen and his heart beat began to quicken. Sweat trickled down from his brow. Raheem knew how to write well, and so he knew that he could not fake a valedictorian-worthy answer. He could write of his achievements and his dedication to success, but what does it matter that he tutored seventh graders in math or won the spelling bee? He thought of what his family would say of him: hard-working. He thought of what his teachers would say of him: studious. He then thought of what he wanted them to say, what he wanted his story to be. That was the prompt after all. Shaken by the premise of the prompt, by the reality that his life could end at any moment, Raheem began to write the story he would want to be told of him. A story of a boy who gave love. Equipped with advanced literary techniques, Raheem did well enough on the exam to secure his perfect academic record and his right to be proclaimed valedictorian.

But he was a changed young man now. In his Valedictorian speech at the graduation ceremony, he spoke of humility, love and compassion. He spoke of these things not as qualities that he demonstrates, but as virtues that he seeks to espouse, as virtues that qualify success. That test changed Raheem. It channeled his ambition away from himself and towards what he wants to create for this world, for others. For what he would want to leave behind.



The Stock Market

September 29, 2016: Facade

I tuned in to Get Rich, Now! hoping to get rich, now. The host was tall, dark and handsome and was dressed in a navy blue pin-striped suit, red tie and a light blue shirt with french cuffs held together by shiny gold cuff links. In his strong, reassuring voice, he began today’s episode by saying, “If you want to know how the economy will be doing six months from now, see how the stock market is doing right now.” I recalled my old economics professor teaching us bright eyed students of the fundamentals of the stock market – that the price of a stock reflects its true value of what it contributes to the economy. So Mr. TV must be right. After all, he looked rich, so he must be speaking from experience. Anxious to get rich, now, I went to my computer and saw that the stock market is booming! This was my moment, I needed to seize the opportunity. I put in all my savings into the stock market, confident in Mr. TV, my old economics professor, and the booming stock market. I was about to get rich, now! After I got off the phone with my stock broker, I laid back on the couch and waited for the money to come flowing in. I turned the channel to the news, where I saw Mr. News on TV reporting that the country’s biggest bank just collapsed, and that the last 5 minutes witnessed the biggest stock market crash since the Great Depression in the 1930s. But…. but what happened?! What about my savings?! Was it all a facade? Mr. TV, the economics textbook, the stock market, my stock broker – all of it. Now how will anyone know what the economy will look like in 6 months?


The Tortoise and the Hare

September 28, 2016: Disagree

The tortoise and the hare agreed to disagree. So, the hare sped ahead and the tortoise inched along. Neither of them were interested in racing the other: that would be as silly as asking a thief to look after your luggage. They reached this point of agreement during a disagreement on the benefits of speed. The tortoise argued that slow is better than fast. The hare scoffed, of course. They went back and forth and forth and back until they agreed to disagree. Not only did they fail in persuading each other, but they failed themselves.

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say”


Another Way

September 27, 2016: Unfinished

It was as if the world stopped spinning and she was chasing the night. Either too many or too few ideas would come to her at once. Niara stood at a juncture, musing over whether to make sense of what she started or to conjure a path to closure. Two little birds were perched on each of her shoulders, whispering persuasive nothings into her ears. She went back and forth like a pendulum in a vacuum. Niara wanted to break free, to leave it behind and to start anew. But one of the birds admonished her of unfinished business. It was the wisdom of the ages to finish what one begins. Yet Niara, stuck as she was between up and down, left and right, and East and West, sought another way. She looked down at her notebook with her pen in hand and marked an X over the letter she was writing. Niara stretched her arms high towards the sky as she relieved a most liberating breathe which carried the birds on her shoulders off into the distance.


Until You Make It

September 25, 2016: Pretend

Fake it until you make it. Pretend until it’s real. A dangerous proposition, yet one with hope. Beware the risk, be ready to cope. Until you achieve the end, and lose need to pretend. You have created a new reality for which you are now responsible. How dangerously hopeful.


The Steady Hand Speech

September 24, 2016: Panic

Professors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and investors clashed over optimism and pessimism as panic took hold across the land. Profitable media outlets and expedient politicians seized the moment, aggravating society’s angst for self-interested gain. Households around the country were in a panic: robots have taken over many of their jobs, mortgages have become too burdensome to fulfill and the drinking water has been contaminated with poison. A sense of unease has grown into a full blown panic, and people began to turn on one another. The gap between the haves and have nots seemed insurmountable. The only option was to take up arms. The leader of this nation was surrounded by the elite classes who benefit from a different fate, but he himself was of a different breed. In a sudden move, he replaced his entire administration with new, capable public-spirited people. He delivered an impassioned address to the nation that soon thereafter, once the panic was replaced with trust, became known as The Steady Hand Speech.



September 23, 2016: Generous

Setting: A local San Francisco coffee shop.

“Generous,” Karim answered, “and it’s used that way just as regularly.” He focused very carefully on his tone and body language to avoid an air of smugness as he explained to Craig and Charlene that his name mean’s generous in Arabic. Craig and Charlene paused for a moment as they processed this new information about their friend Karim. They thought of him as a kind person, but now they wondered if it was all fabricated, just a label that he lived by yet somehow a disguise of his character. The truth is, Karim is attached to his name. Easily pronounced in America, familiar to whites and common to blacks, brown Karim felt able to connect with both groups. Thanks to his name, his familiarity with both American cultures supported a more inclusive, enriched and adaptable view of society. Though it often led to confusing questions of identity, grappling with those questions led in turn to an even wider net of humanity. He was most grateful for that. It expanded his understanding of himself and of others. It made him kinder and more generous. It made him Karim.


Jumping Jumpa

September 22, 2016: Jump

Jumpa jumped, hopped and skipped only. It’s not that she didn’t know how to walk, but that she couldn’t walk. From a young age, Jumpa has suffered from Exnay Pedestrious Disease that kept her from walking. As determined as she was to not let this evil disease bully her into depending on others to get around, Jumpa became quite skilled at jumping. She jumped on one leg at a time, two legs, alternating legs, varying heights, varying distances, fast, medium and slow. School was two miles away and she jumped there and back every school day. Sometimes she would skip or hop, but never walk. This meant that Jumpa typically jumped alone. The other kids felt awkward, strange or uncool jumping around the way Jumpa did, so they stayed away from her. One day, Jumpa jumped so high that she hit her head on the ceiling and broke her ankle as she landed on the ground. The doctor told her she couldn’t jump, hop or skip for another 8 months, practically a full school year. Jumpa was heartbroken. She was now immobile and had to use a wheelchair. The other kids at school had never seen anyone on a wheelchair before, especially at such a young age. They felt bad for Jumpa and felt guilty for never befriending her. It was too late to make friends now, Jumpa wouldn’t accept anyones pity. One day, Jumpa arrived at school and noticed that everyone was jumping. The other students, teachers, even the principal! She was confused. When the school bell rang and everyone took their seats to begin the day, there was an announcement on the loudspeaker proclaiming today as an annual Jumpathon Day, in honor of Jumpa. Jumpa smiled so wide that her cheeks squinched her eyes closed, beginning to swell and tear. She never really cared about walking.



Concert Moments

September 20, 2016: Silence

Lara arrived at the concert hall full of anticipation for the third time that week. Although she was deaf, she was an avid concert-goer. Punk rock, hip hop, classical, reggae, heavy metal, country – she loved them all. Hearing-impaired, Lara did not care for the sound of the music. Yet in the silence of the gleeful crowd, she immersed herself in its rhythm. The clothes, the dancing, the passionate lip-singing – it was all as loud as the sound blasting from the speakers. Sharing those moments with her fellow concert-goers meant the world to Lara. When the sound was loudest, everyone was deaf to each other. Unable to hear the music herself, her only connection was through the spirit of the crowd. Among all the happy faces, Lara’s would always shine brightest.