This I Believe

Edoardo - Los Angeles, California
Entered on July 3, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50


It’s Friday afternoon, and I am walking down to the basement of the local library. My literacy student Hana is already there, clicking a brightly colored pencil and arranging her books in a row. She smiles, tells me it’s hot outside and I ask her about her week. Not too bad. She’s tired. Last Tuesday she had to go to City Hall for work.

For the next hour and a half, Hana and I work through the Byzantine rules of English grammar, we play vocabulary and spelling games with her dog-eared pocket dictionary and we laugh at the silly “Dick and Jane” style stories in our workbook. Somewhere, we have concluded, there is an America where people bake a lot of pies in their Aunt’s kitchens. But it is not here in East Los Angeles.

Our time together now done, we shut off the lights of the basement and walk to the parking lot. Hana thanks me for being a good man and helping her. She is looking at me with a mix of gratitude and shame. I tell her there is no need to thank me, that I enjoy it, even though that’s not always true. There are days when I cannot understand how a person isn’t able to distinguish the words “clothes” (the things we put on our bodies) and “close” (the thing we do to a door). Hana slides into her car and pulls her seatbelt across her shoulder. Before she starts the engine, she looks up at me and spells out C-L-O-S-E and taps at her door. I nod. Hana drives off, back to her job. She works at a battered women’s clinic. Later tonight, under cover of darkness, she will help a teenage girl re-locate to another state.

Hana and I will not save the world today. We are but two people each helping one other person at a time, but I believe we are the only hope. I believe that sweeping change may be prompted by the actions of a few, but they are meaningless without the small contributions of the many. The airwaves are ablaze with news of impending calamity amid a drowning sense of helplessness. The polar caps are melting. The wars are unending. And there is nothing we can do. I believe if seven billion people each took a few hours a week to help somebody else, things might just be okay.