Sunday, April 17, 2011
The second half of “Eat, Pray, Love” shows a woman’s middle and ending journey to what is considered her spiritual therapy/quest to find happiness. Her vow from sex, meditation, and references to various Catholic icons show that she is in fact searching for some kind of religious truth even in her writing.
The meditation sections in Indonesia remind me of the Jesuit examen, and the Spiritual exercises that are done on retreats here at Loyola and at the other twenty eight Jesuit schools across the country. When Liz is instructed to “sit and smile” it struck a comment Dr. Miola made in Catholic Poetry when discussing the Catholic martyrs. He made a very funny comment how everyone on retreats now really needs to “SHUT UP”. While the way he said it was very comical, I realized in reading this book for a second time what he means. If we just all shut our traps and listened to what the Higher Power and saints are telling us internally we would have a much easier time than chatting about how we are going to change or follow the Jesuit teachings of Ignatius.
If we could all have one word to describe us, what would it be? That is the usual question you’re asked by a first-summer-job interviewer and nine out of ten of us use a cliché. The fact that Liz ‘finds’ her word in a foreign country, and the fact that it is foreign really struck me. She could have found it in Italy when she started her journey, when she got back home to New York. The fact that she finds it in the middle really shows how she grows emotionally/spiritually as a person. I saw this as sign that she (like most of us) is really waiting for things now. We are all impulsive by nature and we want [insert what you want] now. I can relate truly. When I was in the middle of a Vermont horse I wanted to move up right after the third day and jump higher. When I was in the Hamptons three months later I was still bugging my trainers to let me go up a level. We all want the MOST at that moment and don’t realize that when we get it, it’s never enough or we are disappointed about what it is. Liz thought she had EVERYTHING and realized at the beginning of the book (and journey) that this wasn’t what she wanted. That is the true self-discovery that we as human beings have all the time, and it is divine in nature because God is saying, “Wake up!” Just like she found her word in the middle of her journey, her realization that her life wasn’t the way she wanted happened to start her journey.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
The story of Jyoti/Jasmine/Jase/Jane serves as a very fitting novel for one of our last reads. It encompasses all of the answers to questions that we have come with. The biggest one, to me, being if you can take your homeland with you, and still be true to it while away from. Despite the fact that she left her homeland, she didn't seem to lose herself when she seemed to settle down in various places. When I first started reading it, I thought that by her changing her name, she was in fact, leaving her past behind. However, when I realized that half the time it wasn't her changing her name, it was other people changing it for her. So, technical that change was just on an external level, while the internal ws, yes, most likely influenced by the name change but not completely warped.
We are the only ones who can decide what is home for us. Along with that, we are the ones who have the power to shape it, take it with us, leave it, do whatever we see fit with it.
Reading the second half of Mukherjee’s novel I was struck by one of Jasmine’s first encounters with America. Jasmine explains, “Battered truck full of produce kept pulling out. More trucks, filled with laborers, turned in” (128). While reading this I couldn’t understand why the author would choose to show Jasmine this inferior side of America. She had come to America for opportunity and to escape her past yet one of her first experiences with ‘the promise land’ seems to be very disappointing. After reading the next line I understood what Mukherjee was trying to do. She wrote “It was as though I had never left India” (128). I felt that this quote was very significant in the novel because it seems that Mukherjee is trying to show us that our homelands can be very similar, even though they appear to be very different. I would never have thought to compare India to any part of the United States, yet after reading this description about the immigrant workforce I started to understand and recognize the similarities. While America is an affluent place filled with opportunity, we still share the same homeland crisis’s other countries do. Though this commonality is disappointing, it still shows us that our homelands are all connected through the issues we face every day.
What is interesting about this novel is that once Jasmine meets Lillian Gordon, she learns that she must leave these thoughts of her homeland in the past in order to move on with her life. Lillian advises, “Let the past make you wary, by all means. But do not let it deform you” (131). I feel that this quote resonates greatly with our discussion about Jasmine’s transformation. We talked about how if you truly wanted to change into a whole new person, would you have to erase your past from your life? I think in Jasmine’s case, she wants this transformation so bad that she does in fact try to erase her past. Repeatedly throughout the novel Jasmine explains that she wants to rid herself of thoughts about India or anything relating to India. And as a result to this we see her embracing the American lifestyle, wherein she begins to transform into “Jazzy”, her new American Identity. She describes her transformation as “I felt at times like a stone hurtling through diaphanous mist, unable to grab hold, unable to slow myself, yet unwilling to abandon the ride I’m on. Down and down I go, where I’ll stop, God only knows” (139). This feeling of falling is a great description of how Jasmine feels about America. The fact that she feels out of control in this new world, yet refuses to give up on it shows her perseverance as a character. Her determination portrays her in an almost heroic way, which is a big transformation for the meek woman she used to be back in India.
I am not sure by the end of the novel if Jasmine has found a new homeland. She leaves her family life with Bud in order to explore more of America, so it seems that she has not found one place to settle. I found that this ambition and need for change greatly connected to Liz’s need for change in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. Both these women travel in order to find some purpose and opportunity in their lives. They both feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness throughout their journey and I think that that is really important to recognize. Those emotions show how they do not have a set homeland in their lives to make them feel happy and content. Instead they constantly travel and transform as characters in order to find some peace in the madness that is their life’s journey. I think both Gilbert and Mukherjee bring up the interesting point that not all people are not born into their homelands, some have to search for them.
I think one of the most interesting and surprising things I learned this semester was how everyone is our class has different lifestyles, yet we all connected through this class. We have had countless discussions about homelands and changes, and many of us have had very different opinions and views on these subjects, yet I think through our discussions we found a connection to one another. I can honestly say that every time I have left this class I have had a slew of new thoughts and ideas to contemplate over until the next class. Everyone’s opinions and stories made me feel as though I was getting to know them better, which had me constantly changing my views on them. I have never connected with a class so strongly and I have never wanted to go to a class just so that I could hear what others had to say about my own thoughts and questions. I feel as though we created our own little community, our own homeland, if you will. And this has helped me to become a whole new person in the making.
The story of Jyoti (or Jasmine, Jase, or Jane depending on the juncture in her voyage) is a tumultuous one, and it only makes sense that Mukherjee decided to present her tale out of order. Just as Jyoti does, the reader must focus solely on the moment at hand in order to proceed. While we learn of Jyoti’s past, we are taught the invaluable lesson to always keep our heads facing forward in hope, “Let the past make you wary, by all means. But do not let it deform you” (131). The order (or lack thereof) also exposes just how rapidly our identities may change. It is important to note here that we are not all born with a moderate case of split personality disorder; there is a major difference between identity and personality. Your personality is the version of the self that others can plainly see, while the identity is the portion of self that demands some excavation. The identity is deeply personal, and is formed through relations with the fundamental and the familiar. Jyoti is successful in finding suitors who make her feel as if she belongs, yet she struggles herself to gauge whether she truly fits or not. Who is to say how one fits in anyway? Her surroundings, her duties, her loved ones…her sense of home is constantly shifting, and therefore so is her identity. She loved Prakash, Taylor, and Bud each in their own way, and played a respective role for each of her suitors. When Jane ran away to become Jase again I was furious, especially because she was pregnant with Bud’s baby. Yet after giving it some thought, however; I realized she was doing all she could do to keep her identity alive. She was living strictly for herself, and more importantly, she was living in the moment.
Unfortunately, our time together is quickly approaching its end, yet the time we have had thus far has been great. I’ve heard new stories, observed new personalities, and tried my hardest to understand a classroom of fresh identities. The most surprising thing I’ve taken out of this class pops up in Jasmine, yet is the most prominent in my second favorite book of the semester, Potiki (after Sons for the Return Home). I’ve realized that the ones with the most knowledge of home are the ones who don’t even realize it. Potiki, Du, Duff…it is the young that obliviously expose us to the deepest parts of our identity. They teach us without even attempting to do so, and remain unaware of their impact until they reach that age where their own terribly beautiful journey to understand life will begin. My nephew is almost four months old, and I’ve already gathered an encyclopedia of knowledge from being around him. I cannot wait to see what is in store for my identity as an uncle.
As said in class, a nickname can be both freeing and confining. A nickname given to you is not something you ever really asked for and in a way, seeks to identify one aspect and how you relate to society through that aspect. But at the same time, Jasmine can easily identify the many aspects of her self by recalling each nickname she was given. In a way, she is the culmination of the nicknames and places she visited. Each identifies change and an aspect that Jasmine learned about her self.
Although Jasmine had all these many nicknames, she still felt that each was not connected and each place was a “new life.” As she struggles to find a homeland externally, the problem is her inability to find a peace within her self. There is a homeland of the self that constitutes who we believe we are and where we would like to be. Jasmine struggles to find that comfort zone and thus, is unable to connect with and grow with each man and homeland. She did not know what she wanted from her self and therefore, could not live a life more fulfilling and ultimately, fulfills the prophesy.
This point brings me to the most surprising thing I’ve learned this semester. I believe the most surprising thing learned is everything I’ve learned. Coming into this class, I had no idea what to expect. Now, I am extremely glad I have taken this class. Learning about the importance of homelands to not only myself, but all these characters as been eye opening. As each new character struggles with the ideas of homeland, whether internal or external, the world becomes seemingly smaller and more universal. Everyone struggles to find comfort and peace within their lives. Everyone farts. Everyone feels the desire to be connected to people, places and things.
As I’ve grown, I have realized an increasing desire to explore and understand the world that I live in. I’ve studied abroad and continue to take Italian which I hope is a step that will bring me closer to connecting with more people on different cultural levels. This class has surprisingly allowed me to see into other cultures and their minds without the expensive flight tickets and hotel rooms. I have realized what my homeland is and how important it is to me. Ultimately, I have come to understand that this world (not to sound like a hippie) is one homeland. Each country is simply a nickname, like ones that Jasmine dealt with, that identify one aspect. One has to delve personally into the meaning behind and the overall character in order to better understand the people, place and culture that that one name fails to speak of.
Mike's observation that our past lives are like skeletons in our closets is both astute and identifiable to Mukherjee's philosophical contemplation. However, after extended reflection and additional reading on Mike's comment, I would contend that to Mukherjee past lives are more like ghosts than skeletons. Although it is not explicit in the text, Mukherjee certainly believes in the haunting power of the past. Mukherjee's construction of the novel as a series of flashbacks suggests that the past is not buried, dead, and laid to rest. There is no doubt that Jasmine is haunted by the women she once was and fears for the women she will become. At the end of the novel she mourns for the lives she has given birth to, and it seems in many ways she wishes she had the love, strength, and courage that her mother had at her birth.
I think Jasmine's belief in past lives is an interesting way to divide a life. In our own American lives we often discuss transformations and stages, but are never so bold as to divide our time into separate lives. One phrase often spoken is "I was a different person back then". In many ways this quote embodies Jasmine's beliefs in the novel. However, here in America that quote is meant to be taken figuratively, where Jasmine applies it in a much more literal sense.
Is application the only barrier between these apparently similar ideals? When Jasmine tells Wylie, Taylor's wife, that her mother loved her so much that she was willing to kill her, or herself, she reacts as if this is a foreign and fearful sentiment. When push comes to shove would she not do the same? Ask any loving mother if they would trade their life for their child's and almost all would say yes. Although much too extreme for the sheltered, at least by comparison to Jasmine, to comprehend, ultimately she would or will discover that Matiji's, Jasmine's mother, actions are less specific to Indian culture and much more universal to the human condition.
This class has been one of the most rewarding classroom experiences I have had at Loyola. The structure of the class encourages active participation and allows the individual to grow at their own pace, but also exposes them to the diverse influence of their peers. This creates a learning experience that is both deeply personal yet widely universal. Perhaps the biggest thing I have taken away from all of these novels is the universality of human nature. The works we have read have spanned the globe and given us in depth looks at a variety of cultures. Aside from educating us, these glimpses have allowed us to view our own American culture in a unique new light. What seems to be the strength of all of these writers is their ability to draw on the profoundly universal, but to do so in a specific way.
Hau'ofa lets us know that EVERYBODY thinks fart jokes are funny. Grace shows us that stories are both shared and personal, whether they are seen on TV or orated around campfires. Rushdie teaches us that the line between East and West is marked only by the thin edge on an outdated map. Achebe displays how tragedy and displacement occur all over the globe. Each writer gives us a unique look at the magnificently universal nature of all human beings.
The fact that homelands make us who we are and how we relate to where we came from. I did not know that they had such an impact, but as all the characters that we have encountered. There is a sense of traveling from one's homeland, and then going to another place that I had no idea could exist.
In Jasmine, the main character has to travel in order to get from one place to another, but she also travels internally as well. By hearing the prophecy she is able to make an internal decision and travel a galaxy. She is, in a way going to a better place than she know sexists. I know that ev en changing her name, which was controversial at times in class helped this occur. She was able to also physically go to a new city and her experiences there also help to make her change (travel from one kind of person to another. This is also done when she even hears the prophecy because she makes a choice to Harv that not be her fate. She makes a choice to change herself internally, and as a result travels that way.
The way that she goes on the journey physically and emotionally helps to make her more are of people and her surroundings. This si also dangerous because she realizes that the world is not what it seems. She learns, and gains knowledge but it is through negative experiences, like her husband getting paralyzed. This knowledge was ata price because he thought that she was physically out of a situation, only to be put into another bad situation again, she she is in a sense back where she started originally with taking care of someone else and being subservient.
I don’t know if I would say this is the most surprising thing I have learned during the semester. I think this is something we all know deep down inside but don’t believe or are too afraid to admit this to ourselves. For me, this is the most inspirational realization resulting from class discussions…in order to find a home outside of ourselves; we need to find a home inside of ourselves. We deserve the chance to be “selfish” and do what is best for us, so then we can take the knowledge and passion we gain from our internal reflections and spread our acceptance to the world around us.
There is a reason I have been thinking about my word since the summer. I’m still in the process of finding my internal home. I don’t like to think about myself, and I have learned that whether if it is through meditation or travel, I need to start thinking of myself—a sentence which would seem extremely selfish, if I wasn’t planning on bettering the world by bettering myself.
In order to be men and women for others, we need to be men and women for ourselves.
The path of self discovery relates directly to the experience of Jasmine in Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine. By the end of the novel, Jasmine can be seen as committing an extremely selfish act. Jasmine leaves behind her disabled husband Bud who is dependent on her care for survival. Jasmine leaves behind the family she created with her husband, taking her unborn child with her. Jasmine leaves behind Jane, one of her own identities. The question arises “Is it right for Jasmine to ‘re-position the stars’” (240)? According to Mukherjee, Jasmine’s decision to find a new identity is a “frontier” that is pushing indoors through uncaulked windows” (240). Jasmine’s choice is one that will allow for a development of the self, so that Jasmine is not confined to the role of care-taker and to “old-world dutifulness” (240).
At one point in the novel Jasmine states “truth is, we’re underfurnished, in a meager house” (226). Though Jasmine is referring to the physical home she and Bud live in, Jasmine herself is “underfurnished” (226) and confined to the four walls of a life others want her to lead. Jasmine is a search for identity and throughout the novel others define Jasmine, not allowing Jasmine to define herself. Each husband Jasmine has had called her a different name, changing her identity and controlling the women Jasemine was and the women Jsamine could become. Prakash called her Jyoti, Bud called her Jane, and Taylor called her Jase. Jasmine was never able to find her own name; she was never able to find a home within herself.
The only option for Jasmine is to leave the life she was living. Jasmine states “Taylor didn’t want to change me. He didn’t want to scour and sanitize the foreignness…I changed because I wanted to” (185). Jasmine wanted to free herself from the restrictions that her “foreignness” (185) placed on her. She wanted to find an identity that extended beyond cooking “gobi aloo” (19), she wanted to experience the “ordinariness” (131) of life that being viewed as an outsider robbed her of. The only way to experience life was for Jasmine to act in an apparently selfish fashion and abandon the selves her husbands forced onto her.
Jasmine states, “in America, nothing lasts. I can say that now and it doesn’t shock me, but I think it was the hardest lesson of all for me to learn. We arrive so eager to learn, to adjust, to participate, only to find the monuments are plastic, agreements are annulled. Nothing is forever, nothing is so terrible, or so wonderful, that it won’t disintegrate” (181), and the internal self cannot escape this decay, which is why individuals need to constantly reflect on the person they have become. People are constantly changing. In order to better the world, individuals need to first fix their disintegrating selves by reflecting internally.
I think that Jasmine’s name changes are one of the most significant parts of her that alters because a person’s name is the first thing that many people identify with. By continuously changing her name, her entire self transforms. Since names are so important for every person to have and be associated with, I think it is extremely noteworthy that Mukherjee chooses this as what changes for Jasmine. Mukherjee shows readers that it is possible to change if you have the urge to alter a predestined path, which is an important theme we see throughout the novel.
We also see Jasmine changing her home, going from one hemisphere to the other and traveling through many cities experiencing a multitude of things. We have not discussed characters living in the Western hemisphere in depth before, so it is interesting how Mukherjee depicts Jasmine’s life from India all the way to America. I found her movement extremely interesting because it was as if she tried to make a home in each of the cities she lives in, but she did not find a place that had that permanent stamp on her heart that she felt comfortable and herself in. Often times, people have a great affect on us, and they help shape our homelands and allow us discover something important within our lives. This happened for Jasmine as she moved and changed. I have found that in each of the novels we read, it is important to define your home in your own way. Jasmine had many things change in her life, which made her the person she was at the end of the novel. The people in her life, the places she lived, and her name changes all gave Jasmine the freedom to become the woman she wanted, which is a wonderful gift that all humans have.
The most important and interesting thing that I learned this semester is how you can find and create home wherever you choose as long as you feel comfortable and believe that you have the ability to be the best person you can be. The definition of home is not always clear and straightforward. It may not be where you were born or where you came from, but can become a place you travel or move to. Before this class, the only idea of home that I thought of was my birthplace, but after this semester, I realize how the concept of home can change in different situations. It is up to the individual to change their perspective or how they want to live their life. In each of the texts we read, we saw several different variations of home, and how the characters in each story take it upon themselves to create a home wherever they are. We saw some characters struggle at points, but overall, many lived their lives so that they made the most of it and could look back and remember the place they called home. Everything we read this semester was able to connect back to home and creating it wherever you may be, and I found that every text brought something new to the definition of home. I loved this class and learned a great deal about how different authors have the ability to portray the same word, home, in a multitude of ways.
So, my first version of this blog was just totally erased from life. The hardest part is going to be remembering how I even began, but I’ll do my best! I think it had something to do with drawing parallels between Jasmine and Eat, Pray, Love—how the leading ladies share many experiences and character traits, yet they tell their tales from very different perspectives. For one, Gilbert is an American woman leaving her home to explore foreign cultures. Jasmine, on the other hand, moves toward the United States, a widowed outcast. I found it interesting to see my country viewed from the outside looking in.
At the beginning of her story about her time in New York City with Taylor and Wylie, Jasmine tells us, “I became an American in an apartment on Claremont Avenue across the street from a Barnard College dormitory” (165). I was confused by this and wondered how someone could attribute the gaining of a national identity to one life experience (similar to my questioning of Gilbert’s method of assigning a person or place one word). As I read further, however, I began to recognize what Jasmine meant by becoming an American in her years there. Upon meeting Taylor and Wylie Jasmine says, “I fell in love with his world, its ease, its careless confidence and graceful self-absorption. I wanted to become the person they thought they saw: humorous, intelligent, refined, affectionate. Not illegal, not murderer, not widowed, raped, destitute, fearful” (171). Jasmine’s preconceived notions about the grandeur of America motivates her to change herself, and I suppose you can say that how Jasmine “became an American” is through fulfilling those stereotyped roles she laid out for herself when she first began a life in New York. She conforms to her mold when she sees exhibits and museums, learns about baseball and about the English language. I, however, like to think that her Americanization occurred when she realized the United States is not all it’s cracked up to be. When she learns that Wylie no longer loves Taylor she says that America “threw” her (181).
Eat, Pray, Love and Jasmine are the first two works we’ve discussed that have forced me to consider what it means to have an American identity. I know that I am definitely not “refined” or “carelessly confident.” As a young American adult, it is natural for me to recognize stereotypes about our culture when confronted with them. But what Jasmine seems unaware of until the revelation of Wylie’s infidelity is that there are countless murderers, rape victims, widows, and people plagued by fear and poverty. For her, I believe this moment sheds light on the fact that our society is not just the wealth or glamour or freshly mowed lawns of a comfortable middle class lifestyle. Much of it is the hobo sleeping on Guilford Avenue, inner-city crime, inadequate public education, skyrocketing divorce rates and war. We may not experience these misfortunes at the same magnitude as a Third World country, but they do exist, and they are part of being an American.
Among the most surprising things I’ve learned in this course is how important it is to discuss topics such as “home” and “homeland.” This is the first class in which literary analysis was only half the job, and that the other half was some deep, hard thought about universal questions many people fail to ask. Addressing these issues not only gave me a better understanding of foreign homelands but of my own. It’s amazing how something so collective can also be so individually intimate. It’s beautiful!
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The theme of fate is one that weighs heavily on Jasmine’s mind throughout the first half of the novel. She constantly refers to her fate, or assignment, and even cites it as the main reason she is traveling to America after her husband’s death. This idea of fate is often times one that doesn’t translate well into the ideals of American society. A fatalistic view of the world is very different from the idea of the American dream, where hard work and lots of effort can change a person’s path in life.
Another important theme has to do with Jasmine’s ever changing identity. Throughout the book, she discusses her body as a shell granted by God, and she seamlessly transitions between the identities of Jyoti, Jasmine, and eventually Jane. I thought that this was interesting given that she believed that her fate was, in a sense, sealed. Changing identities seems to be a way to change one’s being, and at the same time, leave behind one’s “assignment”.
The final theme I discussed is the role of women in both Indian and American society. Clearly they are very different worlds, but the treatment of women shows some similarities between East and West. For instance, in Hasnapur, she is likened to mindless cattle, after marriage to Prakash, she is nearly forced to completely abandon her past to find a “real life”, and on her first day in America she is brutally raped. These less than admirable happenings show a real parallel in the places and people she encounters throughout her journey.
Most important is the connection between East and West that each of these themes depict. While the two sides of the world seem diametrically opposed at first glance, Mukherjee is clearly trying to establish parallels in both societies. This becomes the most important theme in the novel and one that is sure to develop into cohesive ideal, which in turn will help Jasmine establish a clearer sense of her own homeland.
This Semester has been an extremely interesting study in different styles of writing and the overall themes that tie them together. While we have read books from all over the world and covering all sorts of topics, the most surprising thing i learned from each one was the many similarities that tie the East and the West together. While the societies discussed in each book are vastly different and unique in their own ways, the human element of each book shows that people from the other side of the world still struggle with the same questions and problems that beset people living in a place like America. It shows that no matter how different the culture, there can always be similarities found in humans, no matter what race nation or creed.
It’s almost impossible to believe that the “lasts” are starting. This is our last blog on our last full week of classes, today was my last day at the Caroline Center and tomorrow is my last day at Guilford Elementary. Three months ago I signed my Service-Learning contract and my contract with CCSJ with the ideal goal of coming out of my experiences having developed lasting relationships with members of the Baltimore community and inkling that these would be life-changing opportunities. Then I jumped right in, with no idea as to whether those statements would become reality.
In these last two weeks I have learned about “cry time” at Guilford and held hands in a circle of prayer, nearly in tears with the women of the Caroline Center, at the realization of the fact that today was our last day. These people that I have come to know in the past few months have let me in to their circles of trust, changed my outlook on both education and the Baltimore community as a whole and turned my ideal goals from the beginning in to a definite reality. If I had to choose one word for Guilford and the Caroline Center it would be patience and perseverance, respectively.
Guilford Elementary is patience because to be there, especially as a teacher or administrator, you have to put aside anything that might be going on in your life and put yourself in the shoes of the children in your classroom and in the halls and on the playground. When I enter the building I am greeted with an uproar of noise unlike anything I’ve heard before and it is constant, even after hours. As the last few weeks of my time at Guilford was mostly occupied with grading papers and entering scores I had the unique opportunity to overhear teacher-to-teacher after-school conversations about the day’s fights, suspensions and detentions. Also during this time, students come in and out of the classroom asking Mr. Smith, my supervisor, questions and playfully messing with him yet in their interactions you can see the genuine respect they have for one another. One day, after such an occasion, I looked up from my tests and said “It must take a lot of patience to do what you do” and Mr. Smith just laughed and said “You have noooo idea.” He told me that I wouldn’t believe how many students come in for their “cry time” regarding situations at home. The majority of the students come from broken families; to be specific, only 10% of the children in the area come from nuclear families. He said that 10-15 parents total out of the entire elementary-middle school (grades 1-8) come to PTA meetings. It was suddenly clear to me the reason for the wide spectrum of test scores: many scores were fails, far below just a 50% yet the few that were 80 and above—the ones that I silently celebrated and often awarded smiley faces—were the result of parental involvement. The curriculum is even set up, it seems, to include current events and facts that connect to the children personally and to make them aware of the importance of education. For example, on a 6th grade test on Egypt there was a question asking the students’ opinion on the Arizona senator who wanted to put parents in jail for not sending their children to school. Most of them said that they agreed—that parents needed to be involved. Which takes me to the Caroline Center…
Perseverance. The women at the Caroline Center are there not only for themselves but so that they can get a job that pays a living wage so that they can support their children and families. They come every day and do the lessons no matter how difficult it may be and they have improved remarkably from the first day I met them. I have developed a special attachment to one woman in particular. She says she is my “problem child.” That is far from the truth. She is just the quiet one, the one that lacks the confidence. She looks like she is no older than 35 but she has a daughter who is my age and a granddaughter. She is getting her GED so that her daughter can get an education and not have to go through what she did. The first time we started working on developing ideas for essays she could only think of two and could barely form them into a sentence. Today she filled a page. The first time we did reading comprehension she said she didn’t understand anything; on Monday she got all the answers right. That is perseverance. I gave her my phone number today so that she can call me when she passes. I will never forget her face and voice when she realized that today was my last day saying “I am truly going to miss you.”
What these experiences and this class have taught me is that you truly do have the power to define your own future and the future of the world. All you have to do is take the first step and keep taking steps until you find what it is that you want. The children at Guilford just have to keep coming to school, whether their parents are there to take them or not. The teachers like Mr. Smith have to keep believing in them. The women at the Caroline Center are proving that they will not end up like their friends or maybe family members. They found a way out and they are pushing through until the end. When I started out the semester as a volunteer I thought that would be it and I still had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated. I thought that I had to find a paying job no matter what it was doing in order to fit in with everyone else. Now I am applying to unpaid internships and to be an AmeriCorps volunteer at either the Caroline Center or Boys Hope Girls Hope. Not only am I taking the steps to define my future but all of the people I have met along the way have helped me to define it as well.