Jordan Sims

2017-2018 Live Deliberately Essay Contest

Jordan Sims, 18
Winner, 17-18 Age Group
Seattle, WA

“Grateful for the Challenge”

One of my favorite series is Harry Potter. As in many fictional works, Rowling’s characters face a constant struggle between good and evil. Although doing the honorable thing is often a challenging task for these individuals, there is rarely a question of what is inevitably right. They live in a world of black and white.  Unfortunately, we don’t. We live in a world painted in shades of grey. A world of complexities, nuances and exceptions. I used to envy the straightforward paths these characters tread, but now I don’t. The narrow and crooked path I stumble down has made me the person I am today, and I quite like that person.

I attend a traditional Russian Orthodox Church. Although the outside world has changed drastically, stepping through the doors of our chapel one enters a world consistent with centuries prior. While my friends complain about forty-five minute services, ours run three hours on a good day. We refuse to alter our traditions to accommodate the busy schedules of a fast-paced world. We even continue to utilize the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian one the rest of the world uses. This means that when most celebrate Christmas on December 25th, my family’s “Nativity,” as it is called, is still thirteen days away. For context, the calendar we use was last employed by the Thirteen Colonies in 1752.

I may adopt a humorous tone regarding the fierce immobility of my church, but the core of why I elect to spend hours here each week runs deep. Orthodoxy is the legacy my great-grandparents brought as immigrants from Ukraine, my lasting connection to this distant past. Over the years I’ve learned the same Byzantine hymns that my grandmother did, finding solace that although she left my life early, we share our faith.  Beyond a familial importance, Orthodoxy has shaped who I am, ingraining values of honesty, charity and appreciation for community deep within me.

However, religion is only one path I walk. My home, the vibrant, progressive, change-making city of Seattle has equally influenced my identity.  We are home to the fifth largest percentage of LGBTQ citizens and proudly fly our rainbow flags. Our yards exhibit “Love is Love” and “Black Lives Matter” signs, daring anyone to disagree. I am proud to reflect on how this community has influenced me. I am a strong proponent of marriage equality and equal opportunities for women. I dedicate time to Teenlink, a local organization with a strong LGBTQ focus. I participate in Human Rights Club, which often involves pursuing progressive ideals.

It is no surprise that the beliefs of these two communities often conflict. Orthodoxy is firmly rooted in the past and draws respect from its immobility, whereas the Seattle culture delights in its encouragement of change.  I struggle to reconcile these disparate paths. I might spend Saturday evening tabling for Teenlink at a local Everybody Every Body Fashion Show, promoting body positivity and freedom of gender, but eight hours later I will wear a headscarf, long-sleeves and floor-length skirt, following the clothing requirements set by my religion centuries ago. Women’s equality in the workplace was the theme of Human Rights Club last semester, and I would participate knowing my other community doesn’t stand for these ideals. But it is not only my religious community that falls short. I am sometimes disheartened by my progressive one.  My classmates vow to embrace all beliefs, but this seems an empty promise when I see them react to mentions of “God” with criticisms like “uneducated” or “stuck in the past”. Thus, I see hypocrisy on both sides.

For a while I thought it necessary to choose a definitive path.  But I have learned that I don’t have to limit myself or my identity. Instead, I have chosen to forge my own path, a path that combines the two. My path is narrow and crooked and requires quite the balancing act. It is a path of continual struggle where the right answer isn’t always clear.  But I have found love and reverence for the challenge this journey provides. It has made me an individual of empathy and compassion, someone with appreciation for contrasting viewpoints and the honest conversations they cultivate. It has helped me find my voice and learn to advocate for both of my communities when I see instances of disrespect or intolerance. I may walk a narrow and crooked path, but it has made me who I am today and for that I am forever grateful.