2011 Essay Winner: Anne Wu

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Anne Wu, Age 19
Winner, Age Category 19-21
Sophomore, Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

At time, on lazy, brisk weekend morning, when the sun hasn’t yet disturbed the quiet of the house, I would slink into the kitchen, my eyes still groggy from sleep, and flip on the faucet, filling a pot with water for rice.  I would turn the stove dial, waiting for the click-click-click of the flames.  I would rinse the rise until the once milky consistency becomes a clear bath, barely covering the puddle of grains.  When the pot is set on the stovetop, I pull some vegetables out of the refrigerator – maybe a head of Chinese cabbage, or perhaps a misshapen sweet potato.  I chop up the vegetables, carefully separating them into piles.  As the water begins to boil, I run over to open the window letting a mosaic of light scatter across the kitchen tiles.  I unlock the screen and a bracing, crisp breeze wafts inward, mixing the scent of morning air and wet leaves with the smell of streaming rice and uncooked vegetables.

As the kitchen clamors with sounds of gargling water bubbles, the muted honks of cars on the streets, and the whishing of the light spring wind,  I begin to think of my mother.  I think of the stories she used to tell me as I watched her in the kitchen as a little girl.  These stories were from her own childhood when she lived in a rural seaside village in southern China.  She would tell me about dark, cold mornings when she would wake up before everyone else to cook rice, a chore assigned to the eldest child.  I would ask her if she hated those lonely mornings, but she always shook her head.  She cherished these quiet hours, a time for hushed contemplation and deep meditation. 

It wasn’t until I made my first meal that I realized what my mother was trying to tell me. As I washed the rice, constantly checking the transparency of the water, I began to forget about the worries and uncertainties that would normally plague my mind.  Instead, I put all my energy into feeding myself, the most basic human need.  Churning the rice slowly with a wooden spoon.  I felt an intrinsic connection to my mother and to the world around me that I never experienced before.  My hands became her hands and soon, both hands merged into the hands of everyone who has ever prepared a meal.  With this newfound sense of community, I no longer saw the world as divided by complexities.  Feelings of loneliness and weakness ceased to exist because there was no longer a social hierarchy separating the rich from the poor, the powerful from the helpless.  Everyone reacts to the same hunger and everyone is someone’s child.  Living a simpler life is all about perspective.  Each person is on a journey that is guided by his or her own set of universal laws, but those long, quiet mornings are embedded in everyone’s lives. They are just waiting to be discovered and treasured.