Every year for homecoming BYU has an essay contest. I’ve never entered an essay contest before, so I decided to enter it this year. The theme was “Make your mark” and we had to incorporate teachings from Abraham O. Smoot, who helped found BYU. I didn’t win, but here’s the essay.
I was seventeen. I was in Grand Central Station, New York City, on a trip with my high school drama club. I was also very, very irritated.
Funnily enough, I don’t even remember why. I think someone was mean. I wanted to yell, but I would never do anything to offend a much larger person. Instead, I confided in one of the chaperones, Monte Swain.
Monte and I initially bonded through blisters. I had little foresight when it came to walking long miles through subway stations and skyscraper-studded streets. My feet did not agree. I ended up getting scorching blisters. Monte, seeing my pain, bought moleskin and athletic tape and wrapped up my feet. My feet looked like a mummy’s, but relief replaced what little fashion awareness I had.
“Monte, how do you handle being so nice to people?” I asked during lunch.
Monte chewed on his sandwich a little and swallowed. “It’s easier to be nice,” he said quietly.
“No, it’s not,” I said with a scowl, sulking into my gelato.
Monte nodded in agreement. “You’re right. But it’s easier in the long run. You realize later what’s going on with people and how much they need your kindness.”
That conversation was eight years ago. I have seen Monte only once since, but I have never forgotten Monte and his dedication to kindness.
Since then I’ve tried – and sometimes failed – to make my mark through kindness. Whenever I remember a time I was unkind to someone, I cringe. I can’t dwell on it, so I keep moving forward.
Abraham Smoot felt the same way about going forward, even after facing opposition in his goals. When Brigham Young Academy was dedicated, he said, “I ask not for your gold and silver but for your faith and assistance. I have spent many a sleepless night for the academy. I feel confident that the success of Brigham Young Academy is assured. It will never go backward but onward.”
Onward, not backward.
It’s easy to think the world is going backward. I get sick to my stomach seeing children dying from war and hateful comments adorn any subject online. I feel helpless, unable to do anything.
To cope, I follow a blog called “Humans of New York.” A photographer named Brandon Stanton takes a picture of someone every day, asks them about their lives and quotes them on the blog. It took him over a year to learn how to get people comfortable with him taking their picture. Now his blog features a wide variety of people from the homeless to teachers to executives.
Recently, Brandon took a trip to Pakistan. In Pakistan, brick-making is a large part of construction. Low-income families are tricked into taking small loans to work in brick kilns in order to support their families. Because of predatory terms of the contract, their debt grows and they are unable to repay it, making them slaves to the owners of the kiln. Despite this practice of bonded labor being illegal, the business-owners have plenty of wealth and influence that prevents any justice.
Enter Fatima, a woman who rescues the workers. They are rehabilitated and provided with legal advocacy. She is trying to build freedom centers all over Pakistan so escaped workers have refuge.
Rescuing slaves is no easy task. Fatima has been shot, beaten and electrocuted for her actions. Yet she continues to go back. Her charity is relentless, and as a result, more people have joined the cause.
I was moved by the comments. People expressed kindness and sympathy, wanting to help. “What can be done?” was the common question.
An online fund was set up. I donated $20, all I could afford. Others gave more. I watched the contribution pile grow steadily online. Over $2 million was raised. Now Fatima has the means to build freedom centers and continue her fight against slavery.
Fatima made her mark in a huge way. But what of Brandon Stanton, who told Fatima’s story, as well as thousands of other stories? What of the people who gave to Fatima’s cause? Even now, people are donating.
I am not Fatima. I may never do anything as big as Brandon Stanton. However, they have something in common with Abraham Smoot and Monte Swain: their dedication, kindness and value for something bigger than themselves. Being kind is something I can always do, because the marks that last for generations are perpetuated through the lives we touch.
Onward, not backward.