Sweeping Past the Stares

Winona - Byron Center, Michigan
Entered on January 25, 2009
Age Group: Under 18

I once spent a summer’s morning sweeping a year’s worth of dirt off of the sidewalks of a visitor’s center in Yellowstone National Park. The work was not strenuous but something else had become increasingly more troublesome. As I worked alongside other high school students, we would be obliged to move for passing visitors. This is where I found the problem.

Though I was a volunteer there, the reviews I received from the passing crowd were mixed. A few tromped by, purposely ignoring us, their eyes seemed to be hindered by imagined blinders. Others would sneer openly and some mothers even grasped their children. They, I assume, had mistaken us for a crowd of misdoers, serving their punishment and cluttering the park. Only a few had thanked us.

Despite the world seeming to stand against me, I had carried on with my offensive act. Aside from disrupting a few vacations, I gained the benefit of saying I helped, even if it went unrealized. Maybe later in the day, those unpleasant visitors appreciated restabilized switchbacks that someone just like me had took upon themselves to fix. I was not there to be appreciated. This I believe, to do for all and appreciate those who do.

If I had the chance, I would sweep that sidewalk every morning, even amid the ungracious stares. I would be a stagehand, always behind the curtain, a person who picks garbage off the street, I do not need appreciation to determine if what I am doing is right. I will go out of my way to thank the next volunteers I see, because though they are not looking for it, it generates respect all the same. And respect is the sincerest form of appreciation.

It did not matter that I was young, or what my financial situation was, or even the insignificance of the task that morning in Yellowstone; I did something. Something that needed doing, even without an incentive.But stepping back and looking at the improvement, I believe there was a reward.