Experiences gained and memories made

Sarah Novicoff

When I received my personal essay assignment three weeks ago in English III Honors, I was terrified. The idea of writing a five or six-page essay in which I must define myself seemed like walking into a minefield.

The guidelines were broad with instructions like “Your essay should have something to offer readers who don’t know you and don’t particularly care about your life.” Uh-oh was my first thought.

I have always struggled to write application essays for any programs. Even a question as simple as “what is your favorite color?” has always stumped me. I don’t like defining myself or committing myself to a set of ideas or behaviors.

Life is messy. A five-page paper could never capture the chocolate sauce that stains most of my sweatshirts, the discolored scar on my thigh from falling down a mountain, the story of the pet cocker spaniel I share, and all the other intimate details of my life.

I did, however, write a personal essay. It wasn’t about anything big or scary yet I am proud of it.

I wrote about my experiences with children as an assistant teacher at my religious school, as a children’s museum docent and as a camp counselor. Those experiences have made me the person I am today.

I learned a lot at Camp Harmony, the weeklong summer camp for underprivileged and homeless children where I worked. One of my most difficult campers was Ava, a girl who at the end of the camp I discovered had been beaten by her father. When Ava confided in me, I went to a therapy session with her and the camp social worker to go over what she had said.

It was very hard not to cry while sitting with Ava and the social worker; the idea that someone would beat this adorable 7-year-old and her even younger sister with a belt was horrifying to me. I didn’t cry, though; I kept my eyes dry as I held Ava’s hand and talked her through the incident. More significantly, Ava’s eyes were dry too. Her strength moved me, but even more than that, it scared me. A 7-year-old should not need that kind of strength, and I had to get past my own shock and fright in order to help her.

Those children taught me, and still teach me, with their generous hugs and contagious enthusiasm what it means to be happy and to appreciate the world around you. I used to view my life as merely a race towards an end goal; I was the kind of kid whom people told to smell the roses.

However, once I started teaching and spending more time with children, I began to place more importance on daily life and learned to be more patient with others. I discovered a talent for seeing things from other perspectives and came to be a better person for it.

In the end, I don’t know the meaning of life, I only know me.