I am ten years old. I am riding a banana seat bike through the alleys. I am allowed to go as far as 31st Street, and then I have to turn back. Words cannot describe how much I love this bike. It is turquoise with sparkly flower decals and I ride back and forth through blocks of alleys singing the entire “Mary Poppins” soundtrack at the top of my lungs. My knees are scratched. My hair needs a comb. I probably haven’t brushed my teeth.
A man in a car pulls up. He opens the window. He asks my name. I have been well-trained. I have learned about good touches and bad touches in school. I know that good people don’t drive up to children on bikes. My teachers have been very clear. I take a good look at his face. I notice his red hair. I take…
It was October 2012 and I’d finally endured that eight hour journey across the Atlantic ocean; the big apple looked like a city for ants, from the window of the plane. I can remember the breath-hitching, face-eating excitement which coursed through my veins as I waited in that mammoth, two hour line. We reached the hotel and dossed around until the next morning when we attended a stage-combat workshop on Broadway, with the cast of ‘The Lion King’. We spent the next couple of days doing all sorts of fabulous things—dining at the famous ‘Hard Rock Cafe’, enduring eighty stories in a lift to admire the view from the top of the empire state building and crying, endlessly, when at Ground Zero. After crying over the astounding pools of grief, our rather large group of year ten and eleven school pupils congregated on a patch of grass and were silenced by the ramblings of the teacher. At the moment all I heard was “We’ve had some news; there’s going to be a hurricane so we won’t be going home for quite some time.” I don’t remember much else after that (apart from my sudden sob on the subway home—caused by the emotional shock of the sheer number of names of actual human beings, which lay upon the ‘pools of grief’). Like I said, I didn’t remember much after that. That was until we were called down to the lobby, later that evening.
Everything up to this moment in time seemed like a blur of events, merged into a single moment. The moment my music teacher announced the unfortunate news was the moment my entire body went into shock. It was like my eyes spontaneously became waterfalls; I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like I was in a vacuum—no matter how much I gasped for breath, the oxygen refused to enter my lungs. My heartbeat pulsed through my torso and rippled through my limbs; I couldn’t stop shaking. Nausea gathered in the pit of my stomach and the number of bodies, perched on the floor of the lobby, sent my increasing heartbeat through the roof. “Pull yourself together Ellie!” my music teacher reprimanded, sternly. This only increased the currently leaking taps (otherwise known as my eyes). As the rest of our tourist group dispersed themselves to prepare for Sandy’s arrival, I remained, curled up, in the lobby. My skin no longer acted as protection for my insides but because the culprit of a terrifying case of claustrophobia; I felt trapped in my own skin. My mind turned into a black cloud of fog and I no longer felt like a human being. The mere thought of having to support my own body weight, at that moment in time, was enough to tip me over the edge as I tumbled into a seemingly endless continuum of terror.
After several evenings, filled with broken-cabled flashes and debris banging against the window of our tenth-story hotel room, we exited the safety of ‘The Comfort Inn’ and ventured into the broken streets of Manhattan. The collateral damage was certainly a sight to remember; cranes, alongside twenty-story buildings, snapped like autumn twigs and trees had bent themselves over backwards. Despite the colossal damage, the one thing which remains with me—even today—is the sight of that deceitful key-ring, glimmering in the lights of the souvenir shop. I shuffled closer, glancing down at the ‘I heart NY’ t-shirt I’d been wearing whilst locked within the confines of a fusty hotel room with no means of washing anything ( we had no power or water and were lucky to have store a few cookies and crisps in the fridge). I chuckled to myself as I stared back at the smug key-ring which read: ‘Sandy’ in pretty pink letters. “I heart Sandy, I said to myself.
We live today in a world in which nobody believes choices should have consequences. But may I tell you the great secret that our culture seeks to deny? You cannot escape the consequences of your choices. Time runs in only one direction.
Stephen L. Carte
Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your relationships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.