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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"...and remember not to take others for 'granite'"--Anonymous student writer

Last week, I participated as a judge for the annual Veteran’s Day Essay contest.  I look forward to this every year because it involves listening to the words of both the young and the young-at-heart.  One evening a year, the judges for the contest  meet at the VFW and sit at large round tables reading essays from children.  This year, we had over 500 essays to read and narrow down to just a few winners.  These children are then visited at school and surprised with an award in front of all their peers. 

I am the youngest person in the room.  When one of my parents’ dear friends gradually lost his eye sight, I was offered the honor to take his place to read and score the essays.  He has now since passed away but I still go each year, sit in his chair, and read for him.  It is a quiet evening for me, a once-a-year evening when I sit, listen, and see people that I haven’t seen since last November.  Several people in the room are parents of my childhood classmates, so when they walk in the door and I hear their voices, it triggers many wonderful memories of when I grew up, went to school, went trick-or-treating or holiday caroling.  It’s funny how that is, isn’t it?  How just the timber of someone’s voice can bring you back in time.

  As they offer me their homemade cookies, the old-fashioned kind of course--like peanut butter blossoms and almond crescents (the best!), I’m sure they have no idea how much I love to listen to them talk to one another, reminisce, share stories, kid one another, and even joke about .  

Then, the reading begins and I get the pleasure of listening to the voices of the children reading their essays aloud in my mind.  Their voices are full of innocence, their belief so strong in those people around them, their thoughts so candid.  I smile when I read many of the essays and tear up when I read others.  As in years past, many of the children write about their parents who are away serving the country and how much they miss them.  They write about stories relatives have told them.  They write about September 11th although many of them were just preschoolers or toddlers then.  This year, many wrote about the financial crisis and how even though they had lost their house or their parent had lost his job, they still believed that all would work out.  They wrote about tolerance of all people no matter the circumstance or who they may be.  Many more wrote about Hurricanes Irene and Lee and how these natural disasters affected them.  Even more wrote about the natural disasters across the globe and how they were moved to help--donating money, food, even going to Haiti with relatives to help.  In fact, one of the most moving essays was written by a child who had just immigrated.   Even through their innocent misspellings—“if you ever see jalapenos from Japan, be sure to greet them and say hello” or “remember not to take others for granite”--the children authors uplift their readers with their strong spirit, their resilience, and their faith in the fundamental goodness in people. 

As the evening wanes on there is a dichotomy of old versus young voices mingling around the room that somehow replenishes the listening soul.  So, acting like a child once again, with one last sneaky handful of cookies, I always leave smiling with a renewed joy in humankind, an inspired resilience, and thankfulness for life’s offerings. 

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