LFP Rotary "What Peace Means to Me" contest Special Category Award for "Knowing"

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Lily's grandmother with Thomas the cat
The Rotary Club of Lake Forest Park is proud to announce the winners of the 2022 “What Peace Means To Me” Contest.

A panel of Rotarians judged all of the entries in each of five categories of awards (Kindergarten to 2nd Grade, 3rd to 4th Grade, 5th to 8th Grade, 9th to 12th Grade, Adult, and for this year only, a Special award based on topicality).

You can see the winners in this article: 

The Special Category award went to Lily Fredricks for her story Knowing.


     I never met my mom’s relatives before.
     Growing up, we would frequent our local library to print copies of the photos they emailed us. My mom would press a cool quarter in my palm, and I’d pinch it between my fingertips to slide it in a coin slot alongside the color printer. When I did, the gray box came whirring and wheezing to life, wearily roused from its slumber.
     As the contraption set to work, my younger self imagined miniature hands painting the vivid scenes stroke by stroke and sliding them through the opening perched at the top when completed. I’d stand on the tips of my toes and peer curiously into this opening as the deftly copied masterpieces slid out one by one. When the last landed on top of the stack, my mom fished them up and gently placed the fresh sheets in my hands.
     Side by side, we looked through them together.
     Each photograph was a glimpse of another world: in them my relatives immersed themselves in exotic blooms from real life fairy tales, and swam beneath billowing blue skies in water rippling like satin. Even pixelated, I could see the sun kissed glow turn their cheeks petal pink and set their wispy fair hair ablaze.
     Warmth emanated from the pages in my grasp, and part of me yearned to believe that it was this very warmth from the sun that shone upon them. That this very warmth had traveled thousands of miles across terrain and sea just to reach me.
     My relatives were strangers: from a foreign land, with a foreign tongue.
     And yet, even residing across the globe, they always treated me as family. They remembered every birthday and filled them with well wishes; they saved every photo we mailed, even the ones we lost ourselves. They gave so much and asked for nothing.
     Even when their lives were stolen from them.
     My relatives live in Ukraine. Where the beautiful scenes my mother and I printed are burning down in real time. Where the warmth in each moment has long since dissipated, and given way to miserable cold.
     They send us new photos now. Of disheveled gray buildings vacant like carcasses. Of the orange lick of flames smoldering in brown heaps of rubble. Of the places they vacationed obliterated by detonated bombs. Of all the lively colors they used to know disintegrating into ash and coating their homeland in despair.
     But through it all their virtue rises above, a precious monument preceding all.
     It’s in the compassion they bestow those seeking refuge in their city of Berdyansk. Those whose cities have been ravaged irreconcilably, whose homes have been rendered debris. My relatives aid them, willingly sharing their food and supplies even as they struggle to obtain more.
     It’s in the bravery of my cousin's arduous journey to Poland, her life left behind for a future unknown. She lives amongst strangers in a crowded apartment she can hardly afford, bombarded by a language she doesn’t speak. Every day she is searching for a way to get her family to safety. Every day she endures immeasurable fear for the livelihood of loved ones beyond her reach.
     It’s in a photograph of my grandma, swathed in wool, standing dignified. In her arms she cradles a large gray cat with a lustrous coat. His name is Thomas, a former stray she welcomed into her humble home. Together they stand fierce and striking, a pinpoint of vibrance struck against the dire vignette of what has become of their world.
     Beneath this strength runs a current of fatigue. I feel this in her weary gaze, and knitted brow, her lips a firm line of resilient acceptance.
     I find myself returning to this single photo, wondering how much hardship it took to weave the intrinsic webs rooted in her skin, how much exertion is embedded in every crease.
     But I also wonder, how much love?
     With this hardship lies my mom and her sister, the feat of raising her daughters on her own; the tenderness and sweetness in every peach sown by her two hands; the oasis she has transformed her humble house into, selflessly aiding all those she comes across in need.
     An oasis she vows never to leave.
     Her wrinkles are a rainbow of feelings. Of every gleeful laugh exchanged in a moment’s passing, of the somber sorrow withheld for loved ones come to pass. She has the face of someone who has truly lost, truly felt. Truly lived.
     Every time I stare at this photo I realize just how precious it is to grow old, to have every emotion caress and sculpt one’s skin. I yearn for this for myself, for my family. For all the youth I’ve never met. Because not all of us get to age. Not all of us live long enough to know who we become, the futures we create. To regret, or rejoice. To find love…or even lose it.
     When I reminisce of the days I spent with my mother printing in the library, I realize how misguided my awe was. I thought the land brought out the beauty within the people, that my relatives were loving because they came from a loving place. I always saw the land in them―a part of them.
     I never saw the people in the land until they were gone, and with them, their sentience. Gone is the warmth that washed their world in hue and painted the sun golden with its supple touch; gone are plentiful futures and yearnful dreams, crushed beneath the tracks of tanks and incinerated in crackling, ravenous pyres. Their home became desolate and ruthless, plagued by vermin with ill intentions festering like weeds.
     But my relatives remain, and I see them in this land. The celebration for every triumph as their people fight back to defend it. The scars they bore brazenly, the wounds they bear now.
     The land bears wounds of its own, and they too tell this story: of purpose crossed with tragedy, of hope thwarting pain. Of the altruistic souls like my grandma who stand valiantly upon it, the sorrow and sagacity that gleams in their weary eyes, a testament to the lives they have chosen to live.
     When I hold their photos in my hands and close my eyes,
     some of their warmth still lingers with me.
     I never met my mother’s relatives, but I Know them.
     And I find peace in this Knowing.


Anonymous,  May 20, 2022 at 10:01 PM  

So touching, well written, and i know this student. She is so humble - didn't tell me - yet greets me with a smile and my proper title. She is our future!

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