There was tension in the air of the tiny living room as I stood facing my parents, a messy table on one side and a green sofa on the other. I was frowning hard to hold my tears from running down my cheeks as I stared at my opponent – my mother. I could feel something stuck in my throat, and I was so angry that my mind felt disconnected from my body. I could hear myself yelling and I could see my mother frowning with sadness written on her face. It was a Friday night, and I had just gotten back from hanging out with my friends, which was my weekly chance to breathe. However, my parents always seemed to complain about it, as if they wanted to cage me at home. That night, I finally exploded. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH!” I heard myself shout, still holding back the tears.
From earning good grades to joining and taken on clubs to my job as a mentor with young children, I was a typical, overworked junior in high school. As the year went on, it all weighed quite heavily on my shoulders. I felt like a donkey carrying a huge load of luggage on my back, unable to see what was weighing me down as I walked down an endless path. It was the path of doing well in school, getting into college, finding a reliable job and living a stable life. Once in a while, however, I felt like I needed to jump off that road, get those bags off my back and lay down on the grass facing the boundless sky so that I could breathe.
Over my 2011 summer, I finally had a chance to break away. I joined a program to travel and volunteer abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. One cold July morning, my group was assigned to repaint the wall of a bathhouse at a facility for needy women and children. We huddled together in a circle waiting for our equipment to arrive. All of a sudden, a three year old boy wearing a bright orange jacket peeked out from the edge of the bathhouse, looking at us. Out of boredom, we decided to play with him.
Every morning for the next week, when we arrived at the facility, the little boy would come find us with a sweet smile that cured our exhaustion from the hard labor. Fortunately, a member of our group was a South African, so we were able to communicate with him through her. Shockingly, we learned that he had already lost his mother and his father was missing. I tried to put myself in his shoes, but I could not. I asked myself, “Could I even have a life without my parents?” My parents had always been there for me. They provided me with food, shelter, and most importantly, love. I realized that I had been taking them for granted and that they only wanted to spend time with me. Listening to the little boy’s story, I thought back to that night in the living room and asked myself, “What have I been doing?”
Since I got back from that trip, I have changed. I am no longer the silly donkey who thought that I had to carry all of the luggage by myself. I have learned that if I look around, I can see my parents walking beside me, helping to carry my luggage to lessen the weight. I am not alone. Instead of jumping off the road and disappearing from my parents, I know I should take one step at a time, at a comfortable pace, along with them.