Sumaiyah Mustaphalli, a student of Blakeney Miller at Orlando Science Middle School in Orlando, Florida, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "What Can Change When We Learn to See Each Other," by Akaya Windwood, a story about what it might feel like to live in a world where people don't acknowledge your existence. She is our middle school winner for the Winter 2013 writing competition.
Writing prompt: “Imagine you accept Akaya Windwood's invitation to intentionally notice people you would normally ignore. Who would you notice? What would change for you and for that person?"
The Smile That Brought Hope
It was that time of the week again, grocery day. As my mom, my brother, and I stood in line, I tried to strategize a way to get Mom to buy me Mentos, Tic-Tacs, or even a Snickers bar. Before I knew it, our grocery bags were full and neatly packed in our cart. As we made our way towards the Red Box by the door, I pleaded with Mom to rent us a movie, but she rejected my request as she hurried toward the parking lot. Mom said that she needed to talk with our family about something the perinatologist said.
“Perinatologist?” I asked.
“A specialist for high-risk pregnancy.” she explained. Her gaze began to drift off in the conversation. She fidgeted nervously with the clasp on her purse.
As my brother and I shuffled into the house, we saw the expression on my mom’s face. We slowly started to pack away the groceries. We began to worry. When we finished, my parents were waiting for us in the living room. We could tell Mom was fighting the urge to cry because tears welled up in her eyes. Finally, she began to explain what was worrying her. The doctor said that her test results showed an unusually high possibility of the baby having Down syndrome. I was confused. The words seemed foreign to me.
“What is Down syndrome?” I asked, quietly.
I had a vague memory of hearing the term. My parents sat down and explained some of the details of Down syndrome and how it could affect the baby. I scanned the room and saw my father’s face. He looked so sad. Suddenly, he cleared his throat and began to speak. He reassured us that whatever happened to the baby, we would always love and raise him or her. Dad told us to pray that the baby would turn out healthy, and to accept the baby no matter what.
“Have we ever met anyone with Down syndrome?” I wondered aloud.
“Yes, a relative of your father has Down syndrome and quite a few people in our community, too,” said Mom.
“Really? In our community? ” I asked, somewhat surprised.
“Of course, like the young man at Publix who bags our groceries.” Mom replied.
Up until that point, I never thought about how the groceries got into the bags because I was always on a mission to get my parents to buy me candy from the bins by the cash register. Like Akaya Windwood’s experience in her YES! Magazine article, “What Can Change When We Learn To See Each Other,” I suddenly realized how many people, like the young man at Publix, I never really thought to acknowledge.
I found myself in the grocery line at Publix a few days later, but I wasn’t concerned about the candy anymore. I was focused on the grocery bagger this time. How could I have missed the big bright smiles and cheerful hellos that he always gives to everyone?
When he finished packing the last bag, I said, “Thank you for always doing such a good job bagging the groceries.”
I smiled the biggest, brightest smile I could manage. My smile came right from my heart since his smiles were always so genuine. Looking at him and how he tries to brighten everyone’s day, I began to feel much more hopeful about the baby who was soon to arrive.