People Used to Stand for Something

My son is brilliant, OK? We homeschooled him through middle school, and this is his first year in public school (in the fine arts magnet program majoring in theatre). Last month, he wrote his first actual essay, and I have to say, I was completely blown away. I actually cried, in fact. Let me know what you think. By the way, the last line (don’t look now) was given to him as the “prompt” for this essay, i.e., it had to be included. What would you have come up with?

People Used to Stand for Something
By Jordan Allen

Two men sat across from each other at a table. One of the men was dressed in all white, and appeared as an elderly figure.  They had no surroundings, there was nothing around them except for white.  They sat a while, and eventually, one of them spoke.

“I never thought about the possibility I might actually talk to you.  I always thought that I might make it here, but the idea didn’t occur to me that we would actually exchange words.” 

The other figure didn’t speak, or respond, he only nodded in response. 

“I’ve seen so much in my life, sometimes I feel it was too much, at least since the war started.  I used to be an innocent child.  I never knew much about — anything, really.  As much as I hate the people who started the war, and the fact that it ever happened, I will admit that I learned so much, and it’s sort of comforting to know I got something out of all this, even though I lost so much.” 

“I feel like — this war started off with a purpose.  The men who originally started the rebellion had some sort of purpose, some sort of cause.  I think that somewhere down the chain of command, something got messed up, and someone broke the chain.  Somewhere along the lines, I believe somebody overcame their own thoughts of morality, and gave into a driving force so much more able to drive someone’s will — power.” 

“People used to stand for something.  People used to be about something that was right, at least in their own minds, but these days, I guess it’s not about following your dream, but just doing whatever gives you the most money and power.  I don’t think anyone should have to lose their family, or live on the run for years with no one else.  All in solitude, going village to village, knowing that at that village people might try to kill you, because for all they know, you could be a soldier.  And all at the age of 15.” 

The elderly figure dress in white who had been sitting silently across from the Sierra Leonean started to frown, feeling empathetic for the man.  The man’s eyes became glossy, and reflective.  “Please continue,”  he said to the man, who seemed relatively calm in telling his story.

“The war started in 1991, so many people died.”  The two men sat, looking at each other, both of them almost completely dead faced. “We didn’t think it was that serious.  People never assume that something so terrible can happen to them until it does.  They came to my village in 1992.  Some people had already left, they had no idea where they would go, they only knew it would be better than here.  I heard loud explosions and gunfire when I was awoken in the middle of the night, I ran outside with my family into chaos, houses were on fire, people were running and screaming in every direction.  We just started running, we didn’t know where we were going, but neither did anyone else who was running.” 

“My family — they were killed in the attack.  I felt like I could not go on.  To lose everyone you love so closely, in such a quick moment, it’s just horrible.  When something like that happens, you almost lose the will to live.” 

The other person sat in silence, just listening, letting the man talk about what he knew he had been wanting to talk about for so long. 

The man continued.  “I managed to escape, I ran until I couldn’t anymore.  I was so shocked I didn’t know what to think about what had just happened until I had been running for hours.  When I stopped and looked back at it, I was horrified.  I became horrified at the monstrosity that humans, just like me were capable of.  I believe it would have been one thing if these men were doing this for something they truly believed in, some sort of cause, whether it had been bad or not.  But these men fought for something so much more simple, something so much more trivial, something that has driven humanity to do the most despicable things since the beginning of time — money.  These men were not part of a rebellion, they were part of something that just wanted power. They didn’t care about taking down the government, and fixing the corruption they had. They were no better. They were only scum, no better than the government they intended to overthrow.” 

“I spent months in the jungle, I learned to sit and be okay with being uncomfortable.  I became used to dealing with the uncomfortable heat, and humidity.  I learned how to sit with an itch, or in an uncomfortable position when a snake is staring at you.  I learned to sit, and enjoy the weird noises of the jungle at night.  It’s underrated, you know?  Being able to sit, and just be.  Not worrying about entertainment, or even worrying about your problems, to just sit and be is the most soothing feeling in the world.  I eventually found my way out of the jungle, but, I feel like I secretly didn’t want to leave.  I felt like it was the safest place I could be for the time being.” 

“I got out of the jungle, and on my path to escape, I came across many villages.  Some had already been attacked, some were alive and well, and completely unaware of what would come to them if they would not leave. 

You know — I forgive, all of the people who fought in this war.  The soldiers, they never knew what they were doing.  The commanders brainwashed them, and I believe it is sick that the only people you can trust to protect you, to feed you, to give you shelter, are the same people that would kill you if they sensed that you would betray them.” 

The other man nodded in concurrence.  “Forgiveness and release is the first step in inner peace.” 

The two men smiled at each other, and then the man continued.  “At the end of my journey, I arrived in Freetown.  The year was 1998.  I had been running for 6 years from the rebels.  The relief, knowing that I was sort of finally — free, was the second greatest feeling I had ever felt.  I knew that here, I could perhaps get a job, and maybe pay for escape from here, but the knowledge that my family was dead was very heavy on my heart, and it was still so hard to continue.” 

“I walked around Freetown, searching for a generous soul, who would let me stay in their home until I could get on my feet.  Eventually, I found someone who was kind enough to let a complete stranger stay in their home, I will never forget them, and I do truly appreciate them for providing me with that.  It was another refugee from the war, she had two sons who were 8, and 12.  She lost her husband in the journey.” 

“The very first night I slept in Freetown, the rebels attacked.  I was asleep when they lit the house on fire.  I awoke in the night and tried to escape, but the smoke was too thick, and fell unconscious.  Even in unconsciousness, I was still aware of what was happening around me, I could feel the heat, I could smell the smoke, and the burning flesh, I could hear the gunfire, and the cries of innocent people in the streets, but I didn’t feel the pain, in fact — I felt nothing, the only thing I could think, or feel was — It was a pleasure to burn.

Creative Commons License
People Used to Stand for Something by Jordan Allen is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


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  2. Ryan C. Meader

    That’s some very cool stuff. Reminds me a little bit of how I ended up becoming (ostensibly) primarily a writer through some of the things that I did to stand out in various school projects not so different than that.

    Whatever else he does, his clear talents in writing will serve him well and he should be very proud that his father took the time to show that talent off in his blog….even a “social” one 😉


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