Monday, August 30, 2010


I’ll be the first to admit to wanting to be a superhero when I was a kid. Superman was completely the coolest hero out there! The thing I liked the most about Superman was his super strength. In the eyes of elementary-school Abi, nothing was too difficult for Superman to knock out of his way, and no one was stronger than he was. But, as both my taste in superheroes and my perspective changed as I grew up, I began to realize strength is not defined by how much you can push or throw. As my Hidden Hero showed me, true strength is measured by how many people, especially yourself, you can uplift.


“Finally you pick up the phone!” I said. “Wow, honestly, it feels like I have to call a million times just to catch you for five minutes!”

I was talking to my Hidden Hero, a good friend who was not good at answering the phone. We had been able to talk for a few minutes here and there, but it had been a while since we were able to have a real chat.

HH replied, “I know, I’m really sorry. If only you knew how busy things were in my life right now, you would understand.”

I take NO excuses, I thought as I polished my black maroon-lined sunglasses. A few months without real conversations is way too long. “Business or not, we need to talk! I’ve got a lot to tell you, and I’m sure you have a lot to tell me too!”

“All right, well you will be happy to know we can talk for hours if you like ,” HH said.

With that invitation we proceeded to talk about everything that had been happening in life. New movies, clothes, and ice cream flavors were our main topics. Our lightweight chatting continued for a little while, but HH said one phrase that immediately anchored it to the ground: “Oh, and I’ve been looking at some colleges, too.”

I felt emptiness in my stomach as I said, “Colleges? Oh yes, college. An amazing experience achieved only by enduring the monstrous application process.” I said uneasily.

“Tell me about it! I have my heart set on only a few schools, but thinking about if my grades or a few essays are not impressive to admissions offices makes me crazy!” HH replied. “I just really hope the schools I am aiming for see how badly I want to go there.”

“I’m sure they will,” I said, “but I understand what you mean. But don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll both be happy wherever we end up.” I sure HOPE we will be. “Let’s change the subject. What has been new with you?

“Not much is new with me,” HH answered me.

“Really? What about your family, how are they doing?”

“Oh well, my grandparents aren’t doing too well. They are actually in the hospital right now both caught a really serious infection.”

Oh, that’s too bad, I thought, thinking about the numerous sweet treats and affection I received from those grandparents. “I’m sorry, I really hope they feel better. Well, how are your friends? Everything is drama-free, right?”

HH hesitated a bit before saying, “I’ve actually lost a few friends this year.”

Gossip strikes again, I thought. “Don’t worry, HH, if they aren’t trustworthy, they aren’t worth your time.”

“Not like that, I mean that some people I know have passed away. In fact, last month I attended a memorial service for one of my friends,” HH said quietly.

Oh my goodness. HH’s friends have died. Overcome with sadness for them, all I could say was, “I truly am sorry to hear about that. I can’t even imagine how you must feel. How are you dealing with this?”

HH replied, “It has been pretty difficult, but I’m learning to live with it. Their experiences have taught me to love and value my life, and I plan to live it to the fullest.”

Well said, I thought. “I’m sure that’s what they would have wanted. But are you sure you are ok? I mean, just a few minutes ago we were freaking out about college, but you seem to be handling this so well,” I said.

“I know I probably should be depressed or angry, but I know I have to push through these hard times and keep living my life,” HH responded.

Of all our conversations, this one taught me the most about my friend. I saw HH’s sensibility, courage, and strength. To be able to handle those hardships and deal with the growing pains of being a teenager demonstrated a real strength of will of which even Superman would be jealous.

Lesson Learned: Strength is internal. You may be able to move buildings like Superman can, but if you lack a strong character, you are truly weak. It may be difficult to face life’s problems with courage and strength, but in doing so, you will be securing yourself in who you are and what you are really made of. All issues, average or Superman-sized, can be handled with a bit of courage and internal strength. J

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


A young person in today’s world can afford the luxury of being ignorant of their environment. With our cellphones, televisions, and relatively comfortable lives at home and school, we are never really forced to look at anything except what is immediately around us. I too have indulged myself in being totally focused on my life, without any thought for how life may be for less fortunate people. But those thoughts began to invade my ignorance thanks to an Expert Exposer’s efforts.

Math homework, then I’ve got to practice piano, then eat dinner, then…. My thoughts were an unending stream cascading into the overflowing ocean that was my head. Wait, when am I going to clean my room?! Ok, I guess I have to move my club meeting to…

“ABI! Are you deaf?” my Expert Exposer asked angrily. “Why aren’t you listening to me?”

Dazed from the mental torrent, I looked up and said, “Sorry, I’ve just got a lot on my mind right now.”

EE took no excuses. “Well, forget about it right now, and hurry up. If we’re going to take a walk, we need to do it before it gets too dark outside.”

It was around six in the evening, so I figured we had at least an hour and a half more of sunlight, so I said, “Ok, let’s go,” and started to walk toward the door. That reminds me, I have to get my books from the car door, and then return them….

“Abi, aren’t you forgetting something?” EE asked, pointing at my feet.

I looked down and saw my feet, clad in a set of old flip flops. Slightly embarrassed, I said, “Oh, right, I’ll go get my tennis shoes.”

I need to clear my head, I thought while I laced my shoes and grabbed my white-rimmed black sunglasses. Otherwise, I might lose it somewhere.

We set out on our walk around the neighborhood but despite the beautiful scenery and fresh air, I could not see beyond the musty confines of my own mind. EE could tell I was still distracted. “All right, Abi, what’s up with you?” EE asked. “It better be something good to keep you from focusing on me!”

EE’s question was opened my mind like a faucet that allowed my thoughts to pour from my mind. My responsibilities, my fears, my worries, my life became the main topics of our walk that evening. I kept talking and EE kept listening while the sun slowly began to set.

As we rounded the corner of the last leg of our walk, EE interrupted me, saying, “Abi is this it?”

Confused by the question, I said, “What do you mean, ‘Is this it,’? This is what I am dealing with right now,” I don’t know what EE was expecting, but these are all the things I live with every day, I thought, becoming a little irritated.

After staring at me for so long I felt like I was being x-rayed, EE said, “Abi, you don’t know how good your life really is.”

“Oh really? Why don’t you tell me since you obviously know my life so well,” I responded.

And EE enlightened me about how good my life is. Not with personal issues, but with the issues EE’s community had dealt with. Poverty, discrimination, and ignorance were just some of the real-life difficulties EE had witnessed. EE continued to expose to me the adversity that both people in my community and those in less fortunate countries, like those in my home continent of Africa, face.

EE concluded by saying, “You really live a life of privilege. You have stability and support that most people can only dream about. Because of the lucky life you lead, you, as a privileged person, have a responsibility to care for those less privileged, Abi. Remember that the next time you become absorbed in your own life.”

Since that day, I have remembered to be aware of the world around me. EE’s frankness taught me to focus less about my own issues and to be aware of the problems other people. Over time, I realized that any problem I had would pale in comparison to those of people in my community, my country, or even my world.

Lesson Learned: Ignorance is NOT Bliss. Empower yourself and become aware of the lives of people around you. Whether it is new students in your school or a community of kids halfway around the world open your eyes to their hopes and dreams, their hardships and their difficulties. Although life is comfortable in your secure little bubble, take a risk and step our into the new environment of awareness and action J.

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.” James Thurber

Sunday, August 1, 2010


People are like cellphones: if you expose us to the smallest amount of stress, we can’t function. If we don’t stay home and recharge, we don’t last throughout the day. If you bend us against our will, we snap. If you drop us into orange soda…well, you get the point. While there are resilient ones among us, many more seem to forget the importance of staying strong when the when things get tough. I too had forgotten this important quality, until I was enlightened by my Steadfast Survivor.

“I don’t want to worry you” were the first words that came out of my Steadfast Survivor’s mouth.

Setting my yellow fold-up sunglasses on my head, I thought, Well, I know what this means. I’m about to be worried.

“I don’t want to worry you,” SS repeated, “but there is a possibility I may have cancer.”

My sinking despair anchored itself in both my belly and my heart. Cancer?

Submerged in the depths, I vaguely heard SS use medical terminology to describe ways to determine if the cancer was really there and talk about arrangements that could be made to make its removal as painless as possible.

“If it is cancer, I’m planning to go to the best hospital in our area. I’ll try to get the best doctors to do my pre-op procedures and my operation, and I’ll work with family so I’ll have a support system afterward.” SS explained.

Feeling absolute numbness, I said, “Ok.” And in my numbness, that would eventually transform into restrained fear, I realized there was a possibility SS could be gone from my life.

This sudden realization motivated me to ask, “How are you so level-headed about this? You speak about having cancer like it is business, like all you have to do is ask the doctor to take it out, and everyone’s happy after that!” Angry because SS showed no fear, I started to yell. “Why aren’t you emotional?”

When I looked at SS’s face, for an instant, those eyes betrayed worry. But they quickly recovered their stoic appearance, and SS said, “Being emotional isn’t going to make it go away. I have to be strong to face this thing.”


Time passed from that conversation. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Uncertainty turned into dreadful assuredness, and doctor’s appointments, medications, surgeries, and at-home nurses became commonplace.

SS, a few days after the surgery, looked like a soldier who had just walked off the battlefield. Exhausted and in pain, SS could barely walk, and could have only short conversations. Yet, even in these dark days, SS maintained strength.

How on earth is this person enduring this situation? I thought. Where is this strength coming from?

After a few weeks of recovery, I asked SS these very questions. SS replied, “I simply had to be strong to survive. I found my strength from God and from my family, and those two sources truly helped me endure. I knew that I had to be strong to beat it.”

It was then, months after our first conversation, that I realized the true importance of being durable in the face of danger. Medicine, advice, and therapy could only do so much; in the battle with cancer, my Steadfast Survivor’s will was the most powerful weapon that could be used.

Lesson Learned: Be resilient, and stay strong during life’s adversities. When faced with sadness or stress, try to find one source that can sustain you, and derive your strength from it. Whether it be God, your family, or even your dreams, use this source to make you durable in times of difficulty. Having internal strength can help you endure far more than you could ever imagine. J

"Fall seven times, stand up eight." -Japanese Proverb