2016-2017 Live Deliberately Essay Contest
Shana Hadi, 18
Winner, 17-18 Age Group
Notre Dame Academy
Los Angeles, California
I Carry the Seeds with Me
Flecks of crumpled eucalyptus leaves flutter from my hands, the pungent scent dissolving into the breeze like a whisper. A lone twig snaps under my feet as I grasp the edge of my grandmother’s tombstone and place a wreath of branches against the unfeeling stone slab. I weep.
Memories unbidden encircle my mind like a vine; one blossoms into a recollection of a few simple words. As a seven-year-old scion of my mother’s family tree, my grandmother would constantly rap me on the shoulders and sternly scold me to “stand upright” in her attempts to correct my permanent slouch. (Berdiri tegak in Bahasa Indonesia.) Rubbing my reddened skin, I would grudgingly endure her lecture on the importance of good posture, for my physical appearance and for my endurance of life’s occasional thorns. Over a meal of rice wrapped in banana leaves, she addressed her unwilling audience of one on the importance of receiving an education to escape the cycle of poverty and the historical subjugation of women of which she was a victim. My younger self-feigned understanding of her lofty speech, but little did I know that the seeds of her ideas did indeed find nourishment within my mind.
Thoreau writes in Journal to “cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil. Regard not your past failures nor successes. All the past is equally a failure and a success; it is a success in as much as it offers you the present opportunity.” I am the sum total of my experiences and memories. And my past, filled with both sadness and joy, is what will grant me the opportunity to stretch my limbs upward toward the open sky like the branches of a eucalyptus tree. My grandmother’s words helped me keep my feet firmly planted when faced with bullies determined to mock my cultural heritage, who laughed at my slur and stutter when I used the English tongue. And in turn, my experience with bullying nurtured my ability to support my sister when she faced the biting words of her peers. My “present opportunity” lies before me like a gleaming pathway — unlike my grandmother, unlike my grandmother’s sister, unlike much of my grandmother’s family, I will fulfill her hopes by the simple fact that I am graduating high school and going to college.
However, my story and my words are not just mine alone. I carry with me the hopeful seeds of those who are not so fortunate, along with their wishes and their dreams. The gliding letters that float off my pencil and imprint onto this very page are a product of a vast conspiracy of other trees who offered me wisdom and the beaming of the sun’s rays. I am here because of all the decisions of my past selves, but I am also here because of all who have preceded me and eased my growing pains with their guidance. My grandmother’s memory cannot be forgotten.
And so I must pay my blessings forward. While I am an unwieldy sapling confined to the restraints of my age, I will nourish my little sister so that one day, she too will have the opportunity to pursue a higher education and any goals she sets. And when I grow tall enough to hug the clouds and the wide expanse of my future, I will continue “standing upright” so that I may bear fruit for others in my small corner of the forest. For is this not the purpose of human life, encouraging the growth of fellow trees? To twist the common Greek proverb, “a society grows great when we nourish other trees whose fruit we will never enjoy.” In this way, I will live on, and my grandmother’s legacy will continue through me. Her intoxicating eucalyptus scent always lingers within my mind as motivation.