(Part of the 2nd annual Student Voices Project)
Prompt: Has there been a time when you were involved in a conflict and there was a peaceful resolution? What about a time when there was no peaceful resolution? Tell the story of what happened in either situation.
All the Way Home
Amelia LaMotte, Grade 6, Sidwell Friends School
It was a chilly mid-January night in New York City the day I saw a man get mugged on the street. I was walking back from dinner with my mom and sister. Then I saw it. There were two men. I saw a blur, and heard a loud, long-lasting scream. Stunned, I stood there, falling behind from my mom and sister who, through the busy crowds, didn’t see it. Then, unable to help, I took a deep breath. I pulled my fur hood over my head, and walked on to catch up with my family.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. As I tossed and turned in the uncomfortable hotel cot, I thought about what had gone on that day. Thoughts swarmed through my head. Why does that man feel the need to give so much pain to a helpless person? Who were those two men? Did they have a connection, or did the thief just need the money? If so, then what for? What if he didn’t need anything but to give pain? Did the thief ever get caught? I wished that at that very moment, I had reached deep, deep down into my soul, and found that little bit of courage, and helped the man. Why didn’t I? Why do I always have to be so scared of everything at every time? Why do we need violence? Why does violence even exist? What would happen if there was world peace?
Now, two years later, I know not one single answer to any of those questions. I wish I did. All I know is that what the thief did was not right. This past September, I heard a poem called “Early Memory” by January Gill O’Neil about a similar story. In the third stanza, the last six lines go like this:
I saw a man pull a gold chain off the neck
of a woman as she crossed the street.
She cried out with a sound that bleached me.
I walked on, unable to help,
knowing that fire in childhood
clenched deep in my pockets all the way home.
When the words of those last lines reached my ears, I was in New York again. I felt the cool rush of air from the speeding taxis flying by me. I saw the bright lights from the tall skyscrapers. I felt the fear filling up my body and the pain for the other man, but as the poem ended, all these feelings turned into one. The only thing I felt was guilt. The thought that one punch and a grab of a wallet, that I could have stopped, could have changed the man’s life, swam through my body. Everywhere, in my ears, in my mouth, trickling down my throat, into my stomach: Guilt, for not helping the man. Guilt for letting such violence go, flowing away like the cool, clear water gushing down the stream in the woods, untouched.
Amelia LaMotte lives in Washington, D.C. Although she is not Quaker herself, she attends a Quaker school. Outside of school, she is a competitive gymnast.
Rachel Briden, Grade 11, Lincoln School
“A true Arab knows how to pick a juicy watermelon,”
my mother would say,
in the hot outdoor markets of Damascus.
Clutching the large juicy watermelon over her shoulder
and thumping it three times to make sure that it made a “touj”
or a drum-like sound which meant that it was fresh.
As my grandmother said,
it was true that Arabs believed that watermelon
could heal in many ways.
Florence Eid, my great‐grandmother, is 92 and lives in Damascus.
She can read Arabic “ahweh”—“coffee.”
When you finish your ahweh,
you spin the cup
and let the remaining ahweh stick to the sides of the “founjan”—“small cup”—
until it’s dry.
“Tété om Riad”—“Grandmother, mother of Riad”—
will then proceed to read your fortune.
Once, my Tété om Riad read my cousin’s founjan
and told her that she was going to have a baby.
A month later, she learned that she was expecting.
As my cousin’s son has turned three, this year, their world has turned around.
U.S. Reuters Edition wrote,
“Syrian Christians and Muslim clerics gather at a church in Damascus to hold mass for victims killed in bomb attacks.”
My cousin attended that mass on March 22
to commemorate the lives that were lost.
The chills that run up my spine,
when I watch that clip,
are because of my fond memories of walking down that street.
It doesn’t make sense to talk about the situation with others
because we can’t justify it.
The questions that no one can answer that run in my mind are as follows:
Who knows when the Arab Spring will end?
Who knows when the healing watermelon will come back to Syria, to my street?
Who knows what Tété om Riad’s coffee might say tomorrow morning?
(This poem is an approximation of “Blood” from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Arab American poet Naomi Shihab Nye.)
When I think about what is happening in the Middle East and how this has impacted people’s lives, the ideals of Quakerism, which include religious tolerance and peace, take on a very real and significant meaning. I have close relatives who live in Syria, and I speak Arabic. Through Facebook, I have been in daily contact with my family and have witnessed just how difficult their lives have been, living in a society where there is widespread suffering and war. The extraordinary hardship that has unfolded in their lives has made me understand the true value and significance of Quaker ideals in our global society.
Rachel Briden attends Lincoln School in Providence, R.I., the only Quaker all-girls school in North America. Her mother is from Syria, so she is fluent in Arabic and English. Rachel fundraises for Doctors Without Borders and volunteers at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island.
Claudia Labson, Grade 6, Sidwell Friends School
Don’t get me wrong. I love my siblings very much, but sometimes it feels like they are more of a burden than a gift. We are constantly arguing, even if it’s about the most ridiculous stuff. Our parents are always telling us to stop fighting, saying they don’t know anyone who fights as much as us.
One time, we were in Vermont for a month of summer break. I had just gotten back from sleep-away camp in the Poconos, from which my parents had picked me up and driven me straight up to Vermont. One would think my siblings and I would have been rejoicing, but we were arguing. My brother thought that it wasn’t fair that I had gotten to eat a ton of junk food at camp, while I argued that he could’ve come to camp if he’d wanted to, he just chose not to. My mom pulled me aside and asked me to try and not fight with my siblings, and I decided to give it a shot.
I mostly ignored him, but I also responded politely and not shouting to a few of his accusations. He quickly realized that I wasn’t looking to fight with him, and he backed down. We both just slowly stopped talking until we weren’t arguing. Instead, he started asking me about camp, which was the conversation we should have had in the first place. We had achieved peace.
Peace is better, but it is also hard to achieve. It is something that you have to work very hard for if you want it. I still fight with my siblings sometimes, but I try harder not to now. Once you have peace, it seems like all of the work was nothing compared to the reward, even if it took a great deal of effort.