“Summer was our best season: it was sitting on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.”
– Harper Lee “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Summer vacation always goes by too quickly, don’t you think? This past one certainly did for me, but as we approach the dying days of summer and our tans begin to fade, the memories we made this summer won’t; they will be eternally etched into our hearts, our minds, and the deepest recesses of our souls. Cliché? Perhaps, but many of us know that this oft-repeated phrase rings with truth. Even today, I can still remember the wide, rolling plains of southern Alberta as my family took a road trip down to the looming mountains of Montana, the scorching deserts of Nevada, and the towering palm trees of sunny California.
Having been trapped in Canada for the past five years, leaving the true north for a change of scenery rekindled my dream of seeing the world, just as Walt Whitman’s poem “Salut au Monde” gave expression to my dreams a few years before. In his poem, he describes the sounds, sights, and people encountered in his travels, employing the use of the senses to stimulate my imagination and take me with him, figuratively speaking, on a magic carpet ride around the world. With him, I hear “the Spanish dance, with castanets, in the chestnut shade, to the rebeck and guitar,” I listen to “the Virginia plantation chorus of negroes, of a harvest night, in the glare of pine-knots,” and I hear “the Arab muezzin, calling from the top of the mosque.” With him, I see “Christ once more eating the bread of his last supper, in the midst of youths and old persons,” I see “the Turk smoking opium in Aleppo,” and I see “Memphis mummy-pits, containing mummies, embalmed, swathed in linen cloth, lying there many centuries.” With his words, Whitman stirred within me a deep passion to travel, a longing born of the thirst for adventure and the need to connect to others. I was entranced with the beauty of his words, and the beauty of the world was revealed to me. More importantly, his words revealed the beauty of humanity to me; not long afterwards, I began to observe people around me as they rushed past and I couldn’t help but wonder about their lives. Who was I, a person no more than a background actor in the movie of their lives, that fate would decide to cross our paths, if only for just a moment? It was then that I realized how much value I placed in the people around me. Just as the young Scout defined the beauty of summer by Dill’s very being, I decided that the beauty of life came from the people I have met, and will meet, in the journey of my own life. It is through them that I catch a glimpse of my own soul.
Few books have stirred my heart as much as Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief did in the summer before I entered eighth grade. Through Liesel’s love of books, I began to have a passionate affair with language and I bought not only Zusak’s novel, but a book for learning German as well. Though my attempts at speaking die deutsche Sprache turned out to be nothing more than a summer romance, it nevertheless sealed my interest in learning languages for the purpose of not only communicating, but also of touching the hearts of the people with whom I share the world.
One quote of Zusak’s that made me wonder about the marvels of the human individual goes like this: “Sometimes, people are beautiful. Not in looks. Not in what they say. Just in what they are.” When reading the novel, I was astounded by this idea! Society’s expectations of what it meant to be beautiful paled in comparison to the idea that all people, despite their histories or backgrounds, are alike in one thing: they are beautiful simply because they are. However, this idea unveiled my own insecurities. I began to see the beauty in everyone, in everybody, in every person…except myself. In observing other people, I forgot to find the beauty within me. I forgot to reflect on my own life, in who I am and who I’m meant to be. To this day, I have absolutely no idea as to who I truly am, but I find some comfort in knowing that thanks to our shared humanity, I can find a little of myself in everybody else. In times of deep soul-searching, I constantly contemplate upon the lives of those around me. What are their dreams? Their hopes? Their fears? Do they, like me, suffer from the heartbreak of unrequited love or the pain of rejection? Do they, like me, hopelessly endure thousands of sleepless nights or the agonies of embarrassment? It is this pursuit of empathy that drives my soul. My dreams, hopes, and aspirations all revolve around it. I am driven to madness by it.
Sometimes, I wonder if the aforementioned thoughts are the musings of a lonely heart. After all, like many people, my heart is a dark abyss of secrets, enwrapped in my own selfishness and brimming with the hopeless, dirty, beautiful frailties that make me human. Despite whatever you see in my façade, my soul is a sea of contradictions: it is both light and dark, young and old, strong and weak, beautiful and ugly. Like the personification of Death in The Book Thief, I can see both the beauty and the ugliness in humanity, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Is it truly possible to be both a member of the Hitler Youth and the secret friend of a hidden Jew? Likewise, is it possible that I, a selfish, sinful, imperfect hypocrite, can be beautiful?
In the end, however, I am not a cynical person. It takes a person hopeful in the strengths of humankind to see the beauty in each individual. After all, every human being moves on with their lives despite their faults and shortcomings. On some nights, I find myself thinking about the people who came into my life this summer. I do not look at their faults, but I see them living every happy moment, every brief memory that makes us, as humans, stronger because we move on regardless of our iniquities:
I think about the African-American man selling CDs on the brilliantly-lit streets of Las Vegas,
I think about the family from New Jersey laughing while telling stories around their dinner table,
I think about the olive-skinned girls walking barefoot along the white beaches of Castaway Cay.
I think about the loud Bahamian vendors selling their wares as the rain begins to fall,
I think about the boys wading in the blue waves as the glorious Californian sun sets behind them,
I think about the Indonesian waiters pacing back and forth amidst the clinking of dinner plates on a cruise ship bound for paradise.
I think about the group of missionaries walking the streets of Salt Lake City,
I think about the Jamaican family labouring day and night in their Floridian farm,
I think about the children in Orlando having what might become the happiest moments of their lives.
Beautiful strangers. All destined to become beautiful, distant memories. In them, I see a reflection of myself: a small boy rushing through life, an insignificant drop of water in a sea, barely a speck of dust in the eyes of God. Yet, somehow, the world will never see the likes of each and every individual again once they “shuffle off this mortal coil.” Each human person is unique in design and personality, each a movie star in their own right. Through the words of authors like Whitman and Zusak, I find the words to express my thirst to know more about the importance of every individual. Through literature, I read about the lives of others when, in fact, I truly read about my own life. In the books I read, I find both beauty and ugliness, as well as the human impulses that bind us together in pursuit of a better world. In looking at others, I look at myself: I see my hopes, my fears, my ambitions, and my insecurities. In them, I see my soul. Though people enter and leave my life every single day, I find comfort in the fact that we are all connected through our humanness, both thorns and roses, splinters and all.
Anyway, I think this is where I should stop talking about my experiences; otherwise, I start missing everybody!
5 thoughts on “Simply Beautiful”
* Oh Jieo love, what a beautiful way to start your AP blog!
Being in your family group, I’m not lying when I say that you have blown me away since day one! You’re silent insightfulness brings such a lovely air of knowledge to our little band of misfits, and I find that the gentle calming presence that you and Judy bring contrasts Ibukun and I’s craziness perfectly to create a healthy balance.
I loved this piece so much! It was so nice to see you open up on such a personal level on your FIRST blog of the class. It makes me think that this is the absolutely perfect place for you to be, and I see that every day you are in class. You belong here, and I’m so happy that you decided to join us. I’m going to do everything in my power to prove to you to you that you do deserve to be here as your grade 12 leader as well. Thank you for taking the knowledge you have learned in this class already and weaving it into a work of your own. This piece was both empathetic and intelligent, and I greatly look forward to reading your posts in the future!
* Dear Yas,
Please believe me when I say that it is I who have the honour of being in your family group this year. There is no group I’d rather be in than in our little band of misfits, and I enjoy every moment when I am with you guys (ladies?). But joking aside, I just want to thank you for your kind words and your support. Thanks to you and the others in the class, I am starting to become more comfortable in sharing myself (which I hope to show in future compositions) to others, knowing that this class is a safe space to fail and that I am among friends. Once again, thank you and I know that this year is going to be a blast with you as my Grade 12 leader, mentor, and friend!
I’m blown away – what a wonderful way to start off! I am so glad that you decided to join this class; your blog has just provided more proof of what we knew all along – you definitely belong here. Thank you for becoming a part of our little AP family, and for allowing us to be a part of your journey.
If your humble nature prevents you from believing whole-heartedly in what I am about to say, please humour me just this once and accept the compliments without protest. You deserve them for writing something so brilliant (on your first blog, no less!).
I think, after reading this, I have gained quite a bit of insight into your soul – I can really see the passion for travelling, the love of language, and the search for beauty. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this blog is how human it is; there were many times, while reading this, that I truly felt the emotion and the inspiration behind this post. The line about everyone’s connection through our shared humanness really resonated with me, and I think it worked perfectly as a sort of overarching theme to the blog. The elements of yourself that you expressed within this blog played well into this theme, because you gave readers the opportunity to explore the depth of your character and soul. I am so honoured to be someone who has gotten to see this part of you.
The greatest strength of this blog was undoubtedly your handling of the language; the way you wove in the quotes was very natural, and contributed significantly to the overall impression that this blog came from the heart. I also really adore how you expanded on the base ideas of the quotes to bring out aspects of your soul as it relates to the human condition. Your use of rhetorical questions and parallel structure (“I think about the…”) enhanced this, making this post a fantastic read. I especially enjoyed this line: “enwrapped in my own selfishness and brimming with the hopeless, dirty, beautiful frailties” for how it embodies humankind’s existence.
The only small suggestion I have is more of a selfish request; I found the imagery you introduced in the last paragraph to be absolutely stunning. It made me feel insignificant, but it spoke to such a deep truth that I did not feel uncomfortable in how small it made me feel. I think maybe trying to weave some of that figurative language throughout the entire piece may help improve your blog.
I really hope to get to know you better as a writer throughout the course of the semester – I can’t wait to see how you will amaze and inspire us all next!
I was underprepared to read this post, in the most serious of terms. Had I known that you were so artistic in your method of utilizing descriptions that were skillfully woven with precise diction, I’d have known to prepare my senses for the colourful sensations that your most joyful summer comprised of. Had I known that you had so tactfully manipulated the structure and style of your sentences, I’d have known to be aware of the deadly short sentences that would momentarily pause my reading of the piece. In all honesty, I was not prepared.
I personally found great enjoyment in the fact that you had placed two quotations at the beginning of your presentation; during my first reading of your piece, I mistakenly gave much more attention to the quote you chose from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. By the time I had finished your piece, I realized that I should have focused on analyzing Markus Zusak’s quote, as that quote would have given me a larger window to look into where I was heading. Regardless, the proficiency that was present in your use of description was able to draw my focus. And from there, not only did I discover what a wonderfully humble human being you are; I discovered an opportunity to improve myself by trying to understand that very same humble human being.
While your use of rhetorical devices gave me an understanding of the intellectual aspect of your character, I found the actual content that was emphasized through those rhetorical devices to be what pierced through the critical lenses with which I was analyzing your marvellous blog post. Never had I ever explored the idea that I could find bits of my own soul in my interactions with other people, yet here you are, having already experienced it all! How envious I am of you! As you spoke of this phenomenon, I couldn’t help but think back to my own obsession with trying to analyze other people by looking into them. Perhaps I am just looking for myself inside of those individuals? I’ve been plunged into an identity crisis through your insight, at this point; however, your insight only helps me understand myself and thereby improve by trying to understand your character.
The voice that I heard while reading your piece was very poetic, which I felt succeeded in relaying the vulnerability which you were so graciously showing as you recounted your adventurous experiences of the summer. The importance of this vulnerability lies in the fact that it allowed me to connect with your words. I was able to see truth in your words. These words later allowed me to look at what I consider to be the larger picture: the entirety of your blog post, in all of its magnificence. Your blog post described your summer, all the while introducing yourself as an individual to me, your reader. In your writing piece, you were able to describe yourself to me through your interactions with other people, indubitably proving to me the truth that lies in the essence of your words. Your humility is represented through your acknowledgement that you had forgotten to find the beauty that was hidden within yourself. It is for that reason I am truly happy that you were able to find bits of yourself within other individuals, and it is my greatest hope that you are able to one day fully accumulate all the pieces, for you have allowed me to discover a large piece of myself through the inspiration that lies in your character.
As I immersed myself in this piece, I came to the realization that you did not fully describe a direct interaction that you had with an individual over the summer. I was anticipating a first-hand recounting of you being able to find a part of your soul within another person, all so that I may selfishly learn from you and experience it myself. If I were to offer any feedback, it would be to add a personal narration where you are speaking of the general experience of finding your soul within others, so as to expand on the idea; if that is too personal (which I completely understand if it is), I would ask you to add a portion where you might give a more detailed narration of how you came to the conclusion of the existence of your soul within the bodies of others.
Overall, Jieo, it’s quite obvious to me that you are not only a person of great intellect, but of wisdom, humility, gratitude, and understanding as well. If you still have any doubts about being/belonging in AP LA, you may as well do away with those doubts now. This class needs you. It needs your insight. From the beginning, you not only managed to effortlessly draw in my empathy; you managed to also use your entire blog post as evidence to your insight. You gave me the gift of learning more about myself by making yourself vulnerable.
You are brilliant, Jieo.
P.S. I’m very sorry that this is late. There’s no excuse that I have, and I owe you a sincere apology. On another note: I am awed by how you were able to conclude your blog post with a reference to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Dear Tarannum and Rehman,
I would first like to express my gratitude for taking the time to read my blog, as it truly means a lot to me! As I begin my adventure through the (sometimes treacherous) waters of AP LA(ND), I must say that I am glad to have friends like you by my side. Thank you for your support and your kind words; I will certainly keep them in my heart!
Tarannum, I’m really glad to hear that you weren’t made uncomfortable by this post, as that would be the last thing I would want happening to anybody! Thank you for your kindly-worded suggestion, and I will try to weave some of the figurative language throughout my post (for your reading pleasure)! Joking aside, I sincerely appreciate the constructive feedback, as they will surely help me become a better writer and a better thinker!
Rehman, having seen your presentation earlier, I must say that I am greatly honoured to have an individual as inspiring as you read my first blog! It truly means the world to me! It is also refreshing to see a kindred soul who understands how I feel about analyzing other people; perhaps it’s because the quiet ones are the most contemplative, no? Anyway, thank you for taking the time to share a few suggestions that will help me improve as a writer. Thank you for pointing out the lack of a personal narration; that’s a very good point. As you said, it would help make the post more personal, and therefore, relatable to more people. I will certainly try to incorporate more anecdotes in my future compositions!
Once again, I thank you both!
P.S. Rehman, please don’t worry about a thing. I was awake at the time you sent me your comment, but I didn’t check my e-mail until the next day. If it’s anybody’s fault that I posted my gratitude reply late, it would be mine. Also, thank you for noticing the reference to The Catcher in the Rye; it’s very observant of you! 🙂