Emyli Bassett-Humble, 17
Winner, 17-18 Age Group
Harlem High School
"New Versus Blue"
Life is both mesmerizing and terrifying, full of endless miracles that are both spectacular and abhorrent. Among those miracles is one that is almost never taken seriously until it is experienced. The ability to view the world from the perspective of another has opened my eyes countless times and given me insights about life that shape the very foundation of my being, and my appreciation for what I have. Even when I was a toddler, I was experiencing this miracle and digging into the depths of what empathy can show one’s self.
As a child, I didn’t understand quite properly what it meant to be a low income family. When other kids got new shoes and coats, I got my sister’s. When families sat down at Applebee’s together for dinner, I was sitting in front of a small TV with two slices of store-bought pizza sitting on a plate. At first, I thought it was normal. I’d never seen anything outside of my family, but when I went to school for the first time, all the kids had new clothes and new supplies. To a toddler, seeing everyone around you with shiny new things while you walked around in hand-me-downs from your older sister was definitely upsetting. So that night, I went home and begged my dad to buy me new shoes. As soon as I was in the door, my eyes were filled with tears and my tiny feet were racing into daddy’s room. My dad listened to my entire rant about wanting new shoes, how unfair it was that all the other kids got to have new stuff, and how much I hated my current possessions. After I’d finished complaining, my heart was crushed a second time- but not the last time that night. Despite all my efforts and how obvious my upset was, all my father would promise was to try.
Hearing the phrase, “I’ll try,” out of my father’s mouth was almost certain refusal, so I quickly exited and went to sulk in my room. After having dinner and laying down early, I was left to think about the fact that I wouldn’t be allowed to get new toys, or pencils, or tennis shoes, and it had actually aggravated me enough that I broke toddler law. I got out of bed after my parents had said lights out. Tip-toeing to my dad’s room, careful not to get caught by my mother or nana, I peeked in the door and what I saw changed my perspective on our finances completely. My father was crying. This incredible giant of a man, who had never once done anything but smile in my sight before, was crying bitterly and talking to my nana. At first I was confused, but after standing mutely behind the door for several minutes, it had become crystal clear why my dad was upset. He couldn’t afford to treat his children as well as he wanted to. Even at four to five years old, it registered that my dirty shoes and old pencils weren’t something that my father was happy about either, and the thought of not being able to do what you wanted for someone you love humbled me in a lot of ways.
Since that day, I’ve never gotten very upset about being unable to afford nice things in my household. Whether or not my dad knows that I caught him crying that night, I have no idea, but that night taught me that there were more valuable things that some shiny sneakers. We still don’t go out to eat much, we still distribute hand-me-downs freely between all members of the house, and I still don’t have shiny new sneakers, but that’s completely okay. Understanding that my dad does everything he can for us and how much he loves us is actually more valuable than anything material. In that instant, as a toddler, I really believe that I experienced a true miracle. To be capable of even attempting to understand the depth of the love a parent holds is something truly extraordinary, and I will forever be glad to hold and reflect on that particular memory.