Always in Our Hearts…Jackie
2006 Award Winner
Anna Quindlen once stated, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect an beginning the work of becoming myself.” As I contemplate these words, I think of my special mentor, my music teacher Mr. Hyman, who has taught me the true meaning of life. When I took back over the years I have spent with Mr. Hyman, I feel that my transformation of values and attitude has been wondrous.
My parents have always wanted me to be the absolute best. Instead of wanting me to do the best that I could, they wanted me to be “Number one”. Being “number one” was not as important to me because I knew I was not perfect, but it seemed that the only way I could please my parents was to get hundreds on every test. I become a perfectionist at everything I did; when things did not go the way that I had planned, I would become upset and my whole day would be ruined. Pleasing my parents became my sole goal.
Ironically, growing up, I hardly saw my parents. When I left to go to school, my parents would be sleeping; when I returned from school, they were at work until after I went to bed. Communication was difficult because my parents did not know how to speak English and my Wenzhounese dialect was limited, thus I rarely spoke to my mother and father. Nonetheless, I wanted to make my parents proud of me and would push myself to receive high marks, even at the expense of my own happiness. I had believed that his was the best strategy to success until Mr. Hyman showed me a different perspective that changed my life forever.
The turning point occurred one day when Mr. Hyman noticed my intense frustration at the test grades I received from other classes. When the class left, he pulled me aside to talk about what had been bothering me. I told him about all the things my parents expected from me and how much I wanted to please them. Concerned, he explained to me that there is no perfect student. He encouraged me to be happy with the person I was and not worry so much about test scores, because life is not all about numbers. All the time, I had been worrying my life away, not even appreciating the little joys of life. As a result of our continuing friendship, I have become a better and happier person with a new outlook on life.
The pursuit of perfection is not a reward itself, but more of a burden, I would never have realized the great importance of life without the knowledge Mr. Hyman has passed onto me. I have surpassed that moment in life when I believed that life had to be perfect. Instead, I am no longer fearful of admitting my mistakes and learning from them. In fact, my new change of attitude has created a stronger and closer relationship with my parents because I am able to tell them how I truly feel without fear that they will disapprove. Living life to its fullest means more than vainly striving for perfection; it is about confronting reality and realizing that faults are inevitable.
2006 Award Winner
I anxiously locked my apartment door, grabbed my books, and started down the hall. When I reached my destination, the apartment in the corner, my fingers nervously tapped the bell. Nat answered the door and asked me to enter and sit down. My feet felt frozen as I stumbled into the living room where I silently waited. About five minutes later, Rose came in and offered me a diet root beer. We entered the bright, narrow kitchen that would become a place of comfort within weeks. She beckoned me to sit down on one of her cushioned chairs and said, “Let us begin and see what the trouble is.”
As an eighth grader, I was in the accelerated class. This meant that I was required to take the Mathematics A Regents one year in advance of my peers. The material was challenging and we had limited time in which to cover it. When I asked my teacher questions, he would always tell me that they would be answered at a later date. It was then that I decided to buy the review book and learn the math myself.
I sat at my desk each night, dedicating time and energy to master the problems. However, nothing made sense and I was overwhelmed. I felt like a failure – doomed to struggle with math for all eternity. It just so happened that one day, when all hope was lost, my mother came across a friendly neighbor in the laundry room of our apartment building. Rose Friedman’s husband, Nat, a retired principal, was waiting for his towels to dry when my mother told him about my troubles. He kindly suggested that his wife, a retired high school math teacher, could help me once of twice a week. My mother said that we could not afford to pay for her services and thanked him, but he said that she would be glad to help me for free.
Later that night my tutoring sessions with Rose Friedman began. She was always patient, making me feel right at home as we analyzed each topic. She assigned problems in my workbook for practice, and answered questions when I called her at night regardless of how tired she was. The day before the exam I asked her what she thought my chances of passing were. She said to me, “You need to believe in yourself and stay focused…I have no doubt you will be just fine.” I took the exam the next day with renewed hope and a strong sense of determination.
When I got my exam results, I ran to Rose and told her I passed. We began to talk frequently, and when I entered high school, I continued to go to her apartment and discuss math problems. We became really close because I saw something in her that I had never seen in any other teacher.
As of March 2005, it was three years since my family had moved away from our apartment. I had been keeping in contact with Rose for all of that time to let her know my plans for the future and to get advice about math classes. She seemed pleased that I was taking pre-calculus and advanced placement statistics. It was clear to both of us that my love for math really developed in her kitchen, and I no longer felt like a failure.
At the beginning of this past school year, I phoned Rose, hoping to meet her to discuss my plans for college. Nat answered the phone. He told me that Rose was dying of an irreversible brain tumor. When I realized that I may never spend time with this teacher who had become like a family member and changed my life so drastically, all I could do was cry. We spoke about school and I did not discuss her illness, as I thought it best not to inquire. She just said that she wanted to see me again soon.
I learned yesterday, February 21st, that Rose passed away in a hospice. She was the one person who made me realize that I am capable of accomplishing anything. Rose guided me to a future where I plan on specializing in mathematics. I will never forget what she has done for me, and I can honestly say that Rose Friedman will remain an inspirational force in my life for as long as I live.
When my family and I fist arrived in Japan, we first stayed at my grandmother’s house. She greeted us openly, although I treated her as a complete stranger. My grandmother and I don’t have the typical grandmother-granddaughter relationship because of the great distance between us. We didn’t keep in touch while I grew up. During my stay at her house though, I got to experience that relationship with her, as she cooked for us and gave us goodies. She would also sing traditional Japanese songs to my siblings and I before we went to bed. I learned what a hardworking and devoted mother and grandmother she is. She works hard for her tofu making business and takes care of my grandfather. I knew that my large family of 7 members was a burden to her financially and physically, but she still put up with us. I grew a respect for her and an appreciation for my ancestry and background. I also got to experience the country life because my grandmother’s house was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields of rice. Finally we left to find our own place to rent for a while.
We arrived in Nagoya after staying at my grandmother’s house for a month. The apartment we rented was extremely small. It was a one bedroom house for 7 people! Also there wasn’t a bathtub, so every week my family and I would go to a public sauna. In Nagoya, I learned to appreciate the little things in life such as the orange juice my dad bought for us after a relaxing bath at night, or the homemade strawberry shortcake my mom made anytime it was a holiday or birthday. We didn’t even have a refrigerator so we had a huge cooler in the backyard. We didn’t have much so life was simple. I started school there as well. I felt so different because I hardly spoke the language and was extremely shy. The customs of the school were so strange to me. Students needed to have two pairs of shoes, one for the inside of the school and another for the outside. Everyday the students had to run 5 laps around the school for their physical fitness. Everyone at the school, even the principal knew us, which made me feel extremely special. I made so many friends, most of them always asking about life in America and how to day certain words in English. They had such a great yearning to go somewhere else (like America) and know more about a new culture. It made me really proud to know that I could aid them in bettering their understanding of a new culture. I really got into school and participated in the school activities such as the field days and music performances. I loved school, every minute of it. My teacher was so understanding of my lack of speaking and writing Japanese and I was excused from all tests. After a while, I began to improve my Japanese speaking and writing skills. My friends and I went to the mall and I began to actually consider myself as a real Japanese kid. I got excited when the newest episode of Pokemon aired or when the newest Tamagochi came out. In Nagoya, I got to rediscover my culture and what Japan was really about. I grew a great attachment and love for the country.
Ever since my visit back to Japan, I knew I had to go back. My goal now is to become a English teacher in Japan and become a bridge between America and Japan. I have a deep devotion for both countries and both these cultures make me who I am. I can’t wait until I step into a Japanese classroom and begin my dream career. I want my students to feel exactly what I felt after my trip to Japan after the school year is over. The best is yet to come.
2005 Award Winner
Last Saturday, on the 6th floor of the New York Hospital of Queens, I stood outside room 617, holding a tray of food. My task for that afternoon was to give Ms. Melton her lunch. Sounded easy enough when the nurse told me, I tought, until the nurse instructed to give and feed Ms. Melton. At that moment, my heart jumped with excitement of the prospects of real patient contact, but also with anxiety for the task at hand.
I knocked and walked into her room. Her eyes were already fixed on me even before I could focus my eyes on the emaciated and frail body, lying sunken and deflated on the bed. I tried best to hide my disgusted reactions toward the skeleton frame of her body. It was not hard to hide my initial reaction; the look of desperation and suffering quietly melted away and transformed my initial disgust into depp sorrow. I spoke: “Ms. Melton, I’ve brought your food.” She stared blankly straight at me and shook her head. She did not say anything, I was sure if she was able to speak, but her message was clear that she would not eat.
Not knowing what to say next, I sat down and scooped a spoonful of mashed potatoes, and aimed for her mouth. She stubbornly resisted with her lips firmly pressed closed. I managed to get some food in her mouth, but she quickly spat it back out. Knowing the difficulty of the task, the nurse had given me a large syringe-like tube filled with liquid food. Ms. Melton’s refusal to eat was an adamant stance, and made me realize that she did not want to live anymore. I could not blame her, for her body and soul must have been very tired from her disease. However, I could not let myself be part of allowing her to die in this manner.
Last week, my grandmother had passed away. The look of despair and exhaustion of Ms. Melton brought back memories of my grandmother’s face. During her illness, I would have only felt better if I had lost one of my limbs. My grandmother had been my guardian all my life. Her love for me was her gift to me; her words were my lessons in life; and her presence was a pillar of strength during my hardships. I was unaware of the disease that had been slowly taking her away from me. She hid it well with her benign smile. Now I understand why my grandmother would tell me, “Douguk, when you become a doctor, examine and treat the patients with your head as well as your heart.” My grandmother imprinted the principle of helping people without the hesitation of the hand or the reservation of the spirit. Her legacy were the words from her heart, that made me understand the power in the simple act of caring; and the beauty of acting wholly from that spirit. My grandmother’s love had been endless and abundant. Her sudden death did not afford me the time to repay her. Thus, I have set my heart to reimburse my grandmother by living my life based on her principle. The perfect solution to do so is to become a doctor. This solution has become my passion.
Thus, sitting next to Ms. Melton, I could not give up on her. I picked up the syringe and slowly put the food into her mouth. This time, I soothed her reluctance by reminding her that as soon as she eats the food that her body needs, she will be able to show and give her love to those that care for her at home. Little by little, she ate almost half of the food, a larger portion than usual. When I turned back before leaving the room, I caught a glimpse of her smiling at me. Insignificant as it may sound, it was far greater to me than finding a hundred dollars on the floor.
This experience gave me the opportunity to understand the intricacies of the duties of a doctor, and fulfill the words of my grandmother. The smile on Ms. Melton’s face told me that I had made a difference in that moment in time in Ms. Melton’s life. My mother always tells me, “A healthy body is the guest chamber of the soul; a sick body is prison.” If you sketch an image, you can clearly see the magnitude of the agony that the sickness creates. I would like to be that guardian of the “guest chamber of the soul” for those in need. Although I may not cure their disease, I hope to offer my services to alleviating their sorrows and tending to their hearts.
Mother’s Mark: The Big Bowl
The second Monday had been my hair cut day until fifth grade. I am sitting before her with a tablecloth wrapped around my shoulder. She places a big bowl faced down on top of my head and cuts my bangs along its perimeter. Ten minutes, and the job is done. This happened every two months. I had always cringed my face in distaste, seeing a tomboy through the mirror. Neighborhood kids often teased me and called me “bowl head”, but she never showed sympathy to the poor girl who wanted to look like anything, but a little boy with a mushroom haircut.
In all of the six trips I had in elementary school, I had always hated lunchtime. As anyone would be, I was starved of the foods that other kids brought; the variety of side-food and every delectable dessert one could possibly think of. My lunch consisted of two containers; rice in one and Vienna sausage in the other. It’s always ruined the convivial atmosphere. I heavily bore a grudge against her who couldn’t even prepare a decent looking meal only.
Three years ago, my family arrived in New York with five hundred dollars. Each of us, my brother and I had colossal Adidas bags on our backs, filled with clothes. We took the taxi and then walked. There we stood, facing our one-bedroom apartment exhausted from the fourteen-hour flight and walk. While my father, brother, and I unpacked, she went out, bought a newspaper and scrupulously went through the classified section. The next morning, she was gone: she had begun the toil and sacrifice, finding herself a job at a nail salon.
As I reflect on my past, I can only feel a sharp pang of remorse. While I was so concerned about my image, she left to work for thirteen hours, couldn’t afford to put on make-up, bought cheap clothes, and let her hair bob. How selfish and senseless I was to not know of her struggles: the fact that her father had left her no inheritance, but bankruptcy, the fact that she suffered, caring for her husband who was injured in a car accident, and the fact that she hadn’t closed her eyes a single minute, packing the lunch I had only grumbled at.
She gave me a wool muffler that she had made with her cracked hands because of the nail-powder allergy in my sweet sixteenth birthday and I could not put it down from my neck even though it was August, reproaching myself not buying a single ointment for her and noticing her pain.
The views of others have never thwarted her in her actions, nor were they of any concern to her. Rather, she was and still is strong-willed with a loving heart. She never hesitates, even in the midst of her broken English whenever she speaks of my family. Whenever I had fallen, she always picked me up and stood by me. The bowl used to be a stigma and myself a walking figure of shame. To think of things now, the bowl was everything, but a stigma. It was the mark of my mother: the symbol of her love and efforts made for me.
And I, stand as the product of this bowl, founded with her confidence and encouragement.
Dry Ice Turned Warm
2004 award winner
Some people share a close and loving relationship with their siblings, while other constantly bicker with their brothers and/or sisters. However, I do not fall into either category. I was never really close with my older sister. Although we lived in the same house, we barely communicated or saw each other. We were like dry ice and that defined or relationship, cold and dry. I went on with my business an she went on with hers. To be honest, I didn’t think I cared for her at all. Until I was seventeen, my mind solely consisted of insignificant things such as, parties, boys, and “hanging out”. I was an immature and selfish girl who didn’t take the time to understand her own family. Surprisingly, an experience involving my sister served as an inspirational force that left a profound change in me. After seventeen years, I finally grew up and learned the importance of family love.
I had come home from eating lunch and partying with my boyfriend on a cod, dreary afternoon. Little did I know of the shocking and horrifying sight that waited for me in the bathroom. When I opened the bathroom door, the first thing I noticed was a pool of blood. A staggering, thin figure met my eyes and realization hit me that it was the body of my sister lying face down on the floor. The terrifying sight would leave a permanent mark in my mind. My sister’s face appeared ghastly white and she seemed to be extremely enervated. I noticed that she had a deep slit in her wrist and immediately called 911.
My family and I waited sadly and anxiously outside the emergency room for results. I was almost sure that my sister would not make it. She had cut her wrist and had taken in an overdose of pills. I was incredibly heartbroken, feeling as if a bullet was tearing through my heart. I had always thought that I didn’t care for my sister and hated her even. My one wish at that moment was for her to live so that I could have another chance at being a better sister. After a few hours, God heard my wish and granted it. My sister survived amazingly and we were all so grateful to God and to the doctors.
We found out that my sister suffered from a mental condition called manic depression aka bipolar disorder. Because I had never made an effort to understand my sister, I didn’t know why my sister became this way. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t realize my sister’s condition until then when she was nothing but skin and bones. She rarely spoke and when she did, nothing made sense. It had already been three years since she’s been a manic depressor and by this time, her condition had exacerbated and gotten critical. My sister was put into a psychological hospital and I looked for the opportunity to redeem myself.
I visited her everyday with my parents and brought her food until she gained some weight again. My sister improved a little and she was released from the hospital. I spent more time talking with her to understand her better. I sacrificed some time from school, volunteering, and friends to be with her. Sometimes she would pour her heart out to me and cry and sometimes she would just sit there and yell at me to take out her frustration. In the past, I would have probably yelled back, but I just sat there and listened. As much as I hate to admit, I love my sister a lot. The negative experience with my sister left a positive impact on me. My sister actually inspired me to be a better person and to grow up. I turned into a more mature, considerate, and selfless girl who learned to care for the most important people in my life. No longer did I care for the insignificant things like being popular or meeting boys. I was more responsible and concentrated more on school and my family. The cost of my sister’s medical bills was unbelievably high and I became more responsible by taking on a tutoring job to help my family out. I learned to truly cherish my life, my family, and the meaning of unconditional love. In addition, my sister’s senseless act inspired me to enjoy life even more, to never disparage, and to work even harder in school to achieve my goal of being a dentist so that my family can live more comfortably. Her loss of hope gave me the strength to look life in the face. I will never lose hope and have a negative prospective of life like my sister did. A happy, promising future awaits me and more importantly, the dry ice has turned warm between me and my sister.
2004 award winner
Sitting on an ottoman, my father is waiting for me to show him his coin collection. Every set of coins is delicately engraved, gathered from all over the world by my father. He feels the foreign markings through his finger tip, telling me which one is from which country; but he can’t see them, he’s blind…
My father has diabetes. In China, the disease was seen as inconsequential, so he didn’t receive any treatments in time. 6 years ago, my parents came to America, leaving me under the supervision of my aunt. As new immigrants, my dad had to give up his old profession as a teacher to work in a Chinese restaurant in order to earn a living. Severe working condition and frustrations in the new environment had stressed him both mentally and physically. In no more than three years, diabetes struck him down, and caused a disorder in many parts of his body. When two years ago I came to America, his eyes were already affected that he couldn’t even see his own son clearly. An operation was performed to save his eyesight on May 19, 2002. But as the signal went off, the frustration on the surgeon’s face told me, my father is permanently blind.
I was shocked; I couldn’t cry or even move my feet. Father is the most important person in my life; he was the one who’s been to 11 countries, and introduced the outside world to me by telling me all those foreign anecdotes; he was the one who decided our immigration to America; and he was the one who I want to be the most. Now what has he become? A handicap! I couldn’t accept it. During my first year in America, facing a language barrier and a new culture, I worked as diligently as I could to catch up with schoolwork while assimilating into the new society. The hardships were overcome by one motive: that someday I will be like my father, traveling around the world. Now everything I worked for seemed meaningless, I had lost my motive.
My father detected the sense of dispiritedness in me. He didn’t say anything except let my mom give me a slip of paper that said: “A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He is finished when he quits.” The veritas it contains is unexplainably persuasive; and it soon guided me out of the affliction. I finally realized that what motivates me is not the thrill of being someone great, but the spirit of not quitting and unyielding to difficulties. This has become my motto ever since, and it inspires me all the time.
Because my family had been very optimistic, my father has recovered well, although he is still unable to see. There are many mishaps in life that seems hopeless, but the lesson I learnt from my personal experience tells me this: whatever you do, don’t give up.
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