I’m taking an English composition class right now, and I thought it might be a good idea to share an essay that I had just written for class. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to post essays from this class on here, but I feel as if this one is relevant to HSP. Here it is:
A Path Was Illuminated
“Simply because you can breathe doesn’t mean you’re alive,” once said a song writer of my generation. I believe that his observation was entirely astute, in that he brought to focus, again, the age old idea of “knowing one’s self.” Socrates issues this dictum, and said to his students, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” However, I think he expressed himself most clearly on his death bed by accepting the punishment of suicide over the punishment of exile. Not only is an unexamined life not worth living, but an unexpressed examination can be more deeply crushing.
As confronting life, one is faced with a few absolute certainties. Pleasure, pain, and death. As the essay “Chatterbox” dealt with a character coming to grips with time and mortality, my essay will, too. While the character Catherine from the essay dealt with her fears and her disability by volunteering at a nursing home, my story also starts with an elderly man; my great-grandfather, Joseph Abate. In dealing with his mortality, I had to deal with my own.
In order to give some background to the story, I’d like to say a bit about his life and how it related to my own. Joseph Abate was born close to a century ago, to a Sicilian family. They had moved to America to discover “the land of opportunity,” only to come face-to-face with the harsh realities of being a laborer in America, as well as the Great Depression. His pursuit of success, in many hundreds of ways, defined his character. He was the kind of man that kept tissues up his sleeve. He was the kind of man who took the jelly packets from a diner for his toast at home. Some people would have called him “cheap,” but I would call him “thrifty.” He was never cheap when it came to family.
Having eight children; six boys and two girls, he was constantly bustling about, trying to earn money, and teach the children a thing or two about life. His familial bonds were what kept his will from withering. He survived financial uncertainty of every kind, early 20th century factory conditions, and six heart attacks. Being the second great-grandchild in the family(my older brother, Kyle, being the first, at a year and a half older than myself), I had grown up with a very strong bond to him. While my mother was working two to three jobs at any given time in my early childhood, he and his wife watched my brother and I. He taught us countless things, from mathematics, to gardening, to songs about pepperoni.
At the time of his death, I was a few months from my eighteenth birthday. Having experienced the break-up of my first long term relationship a week earlier, I was a bit disheartened at the lack of permanence in things, to say the least. I remember, very clearly, the day of his funeral. As I watched the twenty-one gun salute, I became wholly aware of how easily life could be taken from us.
As the next few days went on, I tried to keep myself very busy, to keep from dwelling on things that hurt me. On the Saturday of that week, my best friend gave me a call, letting me know that there would be a small get-together at his house that evening. A few of my close friends would be there, and we would take a walk around the town of Beacon Falls.
During that walk, I saw the most startling thing in my life. This moment changed my perception of life as I knew it, and has stuck out as my most vivid memory since then. I saw the human form and fragility displayed as something not horrible, but beautiful. This was something that I had to learn to value. The method of transmission of this thought was as simple as it was sublime.
Seeing as how it was night time, we were carrying a flash light. We stopped at a playground to sit and talk about what we had all been up to in the past few days. My best friend pulled me aside and said he wanted to show me something amazing. Without hesitation, he grabbed my hand and put the flash light under the palm of it. With the top of my right hand facing me, and the flash light turning on, I instantly saw the pieces that made up my hand. My bones and blood vessels were very clear to me. The soft tissue was finally displayed for me to see. This was not only a thing that quickly brought my mind to focus on the present moment, but something that made me think about the consequences of my actions in a very profound sense. While I realized that I am not permanent, I instantly embraced the idea that I could have an impact.
Six years past that event, I find myself tracing back many of my ideas to it. I believe that this recognition of human fragility is what led me to want to be a doctor. I saw this fragility as a human condition to be embraced and to be learned from. It showed me that it is not all that difficult to rip the life from another person, and that I had to protect that life in myself, and others as well. My path was finally illuminated, by nothing more than a household flashlight.