Sparta Middle School Language Arts teacher, Ms. Leah Sajdak, challenged her students: “share your story”. Brave, bold, strong middle school voices did just that. Through ElevateEmpathy.com, we’re going to share three of them, but have a listen to all of the stories on SoundCloud by following this link. Learn from listening–and allow others to learn as well by forwarding these stories on to other students who might just connect to them.
“She Who Has the Information Has the Power” by, Gracie
If you have something to say, and you believe that it is truly just, speak up.
When I was little, I was always very naive. I believed that everybody was as nice as my closest friends and family, and that everybody shared the same positive beliefs. As I grew up, I began to slowly realize the cruel potential of people around me. It was no longer sunshine and rainbows, it was rain clouds and thunder now. There would always be people who would stray from the path of kindness, but I had never taken much mind to them. I knew that it was best to stay silent, and keep my views to myself. I always made sure to keep my beliefs to myself, because from experience, I know that if too much information gets out, I will see the blade of my own sword facing me in the next period of time. It wasn’t until one seemingly average day, when I realized that maybe my choice to stay quiet maybe wasn’t the best decision.
I was mindlessly walking to the bus. It was an average afternoon, with an average schedule, and average weather. I hiked up the few steps, and shimmied down the aisle way. I swung my backpack into the seat, and followed, planting myself down on the phthalo green leather. It was a pretty long ride to my father’s house, taking the transfer bus up, and then my normal bus to my home. I unzipped my bag, and pulled out my ear bud case. I removed my ear buds, and plugged them into my iPod. When I was about to press shuffle on the soundtrack for Hamilton: An American Musical, I overheard a conversation coming from behind me.
“There were these boys walking and one of them said, ‘Boys! Quiet down!’ so I was like, ‘But you’re a boy,’ and then he said ‘Well, I don’t identify as male,’ like, what is he, stupid?” A girl, seemingly in 6th grade, blathered.
“Yeah, what even? I bet he’s retarded!” Another 6th grader, a boy this time, sneered. Just hearing the incorrect usage of that word immediately made my blood boil. The usage of that word as an insult paired with the subject they were talking about made me so enraged, I wanted to jump out the window of the bus. I slammed my hand onto the seat and made a fist. I took a deep breath. They were just 6th graders. I don’t need to listen to them if I don’t want to. I slid back into my seat, and looked out the window, watching the world go by. Before long, I could overhear the children using more transphobic and homophobic insults, this time aimed at different people they had met. Inside, I roared in anger. I wanted to stand up, march to the back of the bus, and scream at the kids. The moment I took the first move to standing up, I stopped. I began to have an internal battle with myself. You can’t do that. Why? They will judge you. They will never forget this. I don’t know them. I won’t have to deal with them ever again. Yes you will. They know you. They are judging you already. Stay quiet. I took my anxiety-ridden mind’s advice, and sat back down. I slumped against my seat, and looked back out the window. I put my earbuds in, and let the music drown out my surroundings. When I hopped off of the bus, I still couldn’t get it out of my head. I should’ve said something, I told myself. I went through every possible outcome from my actions, as I normally did every second of the day.
Once I entered my house, the battle began once again. Why didn’t I say anything? That’s a good thing, this way, they won’t know about you. They can’t use anything against you if they don’t have any information. Remember, “She who has the information has the power.” I still should’ve said something. You did the right thing, let’s not dwell on this…
There is not a moment that passes each day where I am not lost in thought over situations like this. I’m always conflicted over speaking out loud, letting my anxiety grab hold of me. I’m always afraid of what will happen in the future. Whenever I want to do something, my anxiety seems to ruggedly grab me by the shoulders and keep me from going anywhere. There are times almost every day when I open my mouth to say something, but I feel like if I continue to speak, somebody out there will judge me, and use my own information against me.
You may not think much of it now, but every day is an opportunity for you to do something great, and establish yourself as a person who is willing to defend what they believe in. I never took the chance to fight for my beliefs. I chose to stay quiet, which was a big mistake on my part. Maybe if I had said something, I could have fixed something, or maybe stopped a bullying incident. In conclusion, If you think your opinion is right and just, then speak. If you have something you really need to say, speak up. Whether you’re struggling or excited, happy or sad, but you have something to say, find somebody who will listen to you. It’s never good to keep everything inside, even if you feel like asserting yourself will get in you in huge trouble. If there’s one point I want to get across, it’s to say something. Don’t let the things you’ve kept quiet about haunt you. Speak up.
*The topic for this essay was inspired by the award-winning novel, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
“Don’t Give Up” by, Scott
No matter how bad something is, don’t give up
Just over a month ago, life in my family was almost perfect. No one was sick. No one was hurt, everything was going well. Then something tragic happened; My grandma and grandpa had gotten in a car crash. After that, life was different. The week following there were daily visits to the hospital. Since that first scary week and a half, we go and see my grandpa in a rehab center a few times a week. All the while my dad saying, “We are lucky he’s alive.” Our life, and my grandpa’s, has changed a lot in this past month, and at times it’s not easy. I have come to realize that just because something may be difficult, don’t ever give up. My grandpa knew this and because of it, still has his same personality, same smile. He hasn’t changed mentally, and through perseverance and hard work, his injuries and handicaps have already, and will continue to change.
I didn’t learn what had happened until the day after the crash. I didn’t know that my grandpa had gotten in a car crash, I didn’t know he was in the hospital. The crash had happened on Friday, October 28, the day before my brother’s birthday. My brother and I were both at friend’s house that weekend, completely unaware of what had happened. When I had gotten home my parents told me the news, I was shocked. I just could just hardly believe that while I was having fun, my family had gone through a tragic and scary experience. I felt terrible that I could not be there to support my family and my grandpa. I could tell that my dad was having an extremely hard time with everything. They recounted the events from the past day and a half. My grandma had called saying they had been in an accident. She was okay, but my grandpa was being loaded into an ambulance. My grandma was going with them so the doctors could make sure she was okay. She also wanted to go to make sure my grandpa was okay. She wanted to do this out of love for her husband, my grandpa. My parents had gotten to the scene as the ambulance was leaving, and followed it to Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. They told me that he was injured badly, but it wasn’t life-threatening. After all the diagnostic scans and readings, the doctors said he had cracked his pelvis, broken a few ribs, and broken is left femur in two places. He was put in ICU because his heart was beating irregularly. My grandma spend the night there, my dad and uncle did as well. My dad was heartbroken most of the time, thinking that this was going to be the end. My grandma stayed at the hospital for the majority of the next week, but she had no injuries except for terrible bruising. She had stayed because she loved, and wanted to be there, for my grandpa. The Saturday when I got home, two days after the crash, I had gone to the hospital for three hours to visit my grandpa. When I had seen my grandpa, he was doing fairly well. The only thing that was physically off was that he was extremely pale and his tongue was nearly black from biting it. It was humbling to see someone like this, because you realize just how lucky you are to be in good health, and when you walk through the hospital, you realize it even more. The next day, we were at the hospital for another five hours, and my brother was home. He still had not seen my grandpa, but he knew what was going on.
Soon after, he was out of ICU, although he was still in Butterworth. After a day or so, his heart started acting up again, so they sent him back to ICU. He started having panic attacks, saying he couldn’t breathe. That was by far the scariest moments of this experience. That was the point where my whole family was thinking that that was it, this is the last day. Miraculously, they found out what the problem was. Later that day they took a CT scan, and saw that his lungs were full of liquid. A lot of the liquid from all of the IVs was pooling in his lungs. He had added 20 pounds just from that liquid. They had put my grandpa on a breathing apparatus and medicine. After a day or two he was back to normal. The liquid in his lungs was gone, but they were monitoring it very closely He was in the hospital for a few more days, then he was released. He then went to a rehab center in Fremont, where his house was. Since then he has been recovering nicely. He can put about a hundred pounds on his bad leg, but there is still a long road ahead of him. His injuries have changed him physically, but not mentally. He still has his same personality, same smile. Every time we visit I can see he’s getting better. He can now do many things independently now. The doctors say he will be home by Christmas, but anything could arise.
Every time you think how lucky you are, and how good your life is, remember this: it can change in an instant. Everything that seems familiar could be gone in an instant. Your world, your life, could be turned upside down. If that ever happens, just know that there will always be people to support you, motivate you. That may be in the form of family and friends, and maybe even strangers, but people will always be there. Your situation may not be good, but if you have a positive look on things, it won’t be terrible. My grandpa had his family for support, and we had each other. My grandpa won’t walk without a cane or anything for a long time, that could be months, years, or his entire life. That news didn’t stop him from fighting, and winning, the small battles. He has started therapy, and now is able to do much more than if he had just given up at the beginning. If he wins enough battles, he may be able to win the war, his war. I’m sure he remembers how life was before the crash, and that’s what motivates him. He tries everyday, striving for a glimpse of normal life. Whenever your in a tough situation, are you going to just give up, or persevere like my grandpa did? If you, or someone you know, ends up in a place like this, remember that you will always have people there for you, supporting and comforting you. The most important thing to remember is to never give up, never stop trying.
“The Night That Changed My Life” by Joseph
I grew up in a family that was nice and caring. Everyday being enjoyed like it was my last and final day with my family. My parents have taught me how to be a nice person with responsibilities. There were flaws in my family but it was just one day that the least expected happened. It changed my life forever.
It all happened one night when I was awoken in the middle of the night to some shuffling and some faint voices. All I remember is that two unknown voices were talking to my parents, they had a small conversation and then everything went silent. After a while I fell back asleep. I woke up again but this time it was morning. I did the usual, during that time my dad walked up to me and told me that my mom left for work in the middle of the night. That ended my suspicion at the time of what happened last night. Later in the day my dad called me for my attention and said that my mom didn’t leave for work last night, she was arrested.
I didn’t know what to say or how I should react. Ideas flew through my mind, what was going to happen, what did she do that could get her arrested? That was the only thing on my mind for the rest of the day, it stayed stuck like gum stuck in long hair. It was until later in the day my mom returned home but something was different, she was in a prison uniform and she was not alone. The view struck my spirit and made me ache. The police officers stared straight forward with no expression and no emotion, not even the slightest. All she did was remain silent while the police officers let her go get her belongings in her room. All I could do was watch. The officers told her it’s time for her to go, she left the house with the door with a loud thud leaving the house silent.
It wasn’t until four days later that I heard from my mom again. She said she was in an apartment for the last four days after being released from jail, and she was offered to live with my aunt since she has nowhere to go and she was going to file a divorce against my dad. My mom said that she loves me very much and she told me the reason why she got arrested. My dad had faked my mom hurting him and then called the police to get her arrested. I’ve finally learned the truth on what happened so after that I’ve had to go back and forth between my mom’s and dad’s home. After that all happened things started to cool down. The experience between the two places just seemed like a dead zone, no emotion and there was nothing but coldness and silence. It remained a mystery to me on why did this happen. My whole entire life was falling apart.
What I have learned after this is how some times that people can go through things you don’t even know about. You never know what story is behind your peers. There could be things that you never had a clue about.