FIRST PLACE, Grades 7-9 Division, 2009
Grade 7, Alice Deal MS
Teacher: Mr. Michael Hughes
Imagine you are at the top of a rollercoaster, looking down at the amusement park below. Your friends surround you and then everything is a blur. Your stomach feels as if it’s in your throat and you’re screaming as loud as you can. Maybe your friends convinced you to go on that rollercoaster or maybe you just love the thrill. But either way, it takes a bit of courage to ride it.
When I was six years old and in first grade, a new family arrived from Switzerland to our Washington, D.C. neighborhood. They moved in just down the block. Our family, being the welcome wagon, visited them soon afterward. I remember meeting Paul, who was my age and would start at my school in a few days. He took me to his room where we started to play with Playmobils, small intricate toys a lot like Legos. That is when I noticed Paul’s hand.
Paul’s hand is not fully formed. He does not have any fingers on his left hand, and just a knob for a thumb. While we Were playing, Paul brought his hand out from under his sleeve, where he usually kept it. Paul did not say anYthing. Neither did I. When he knew that his hand was visible, he also knew that I saw it. Because I did not say anything,I think that Paul felt like this was the beginning of our friendship.
Back in Switzerland, Paul would hide his arm in his sleeve because if people saw it, they would ask him what happened to his hand. This always made him feel less than human. Here, people accepted him and he made many friends quickly. When he first came here, he barely spoke any English. As he hung out with me more, it helped him learn the language and he gained comfort by speaking with me. Still, I think Paul was a courageous person. Even if he hid his hand, he still had to put up with it while also being in a new country.
One day when we were having lunch at school, a kid came over and said, “Your hand looks weird.” I looked at the kid and looked at Paul, who was confused. He did not understand what the kid was saying. The kid continued to make fun of Paul’s hand. I could feel my own hands getting sweaty and my ears getting hot. I was mad at the kid for making fun of Paul’s hand but I was furious when he started taking advantage of Paul’s poor language skills. Suddenly, I yelled, “Stop!” The kid looked at me. Before he could say anything, I cut him off, “If you had any deformity at all, you wouldn’t make fun of someone else! And the worst part is he doesn’t even know what you’re saying.” The kid backed off and left.
This argument surprised me because I am not usually the person who would fight or stand up for someone. But I knew that it was very hard for Paul and somehow I understood what it was like. Being a close friend, you get a feeling for what your friend feels.
From this I learned that courage is not only the bravery that it takes to ride that rollercoaster but it is also the actions you take, the things you say, and the thoughts you think. Paul taught me whatever your condition, whatever you have to hide under your sleeve, a courageous friend is always someone good to have around – and that I can be that kind of friend.