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Playing on a swing set 2011

That Summer

By Charissa Qiu

That summer, I lay beside the shade of a tree, borrowing the blanket of warmth from the sun to dry off the evidence of the creek where I learned to skip my first rock. Next to me lay a little girl way beyond her years, who spoke empathy and acceptance with her eyes, compassion and love with her touch, and who taught me self-love, innocence and resilience with her laughter and her joy.

That summer, I became one with the earth as Mother Nature embraced me and cleansed me of the filth on my body, taking along my worries and my fears. Underwater, I ceased to hear the sounds and see the sights of the world, leaving me in awe of the earth.

That summer, I watched the red-breasted cardinals gather for their daily peckage of sunflower seeds lovingly put out, their treat-provider smiling silently in appreciation as they approached. I watched the hummingbirds busy themselves with the colorized sugar water, and I remember being struck by how very tiny they were, and how very quick they were.

That summer, I bathed in the rain. We embraced the rain with free spirits and with appreciation, and ran out to greet it with soap and half-naked bodies, seeing it not as a moment to fear the storm, but as a moment to be rejuvenated. We were drenched in joy.

That summer, I learned to listen. I learned to listen to the "grumpy old woman" who frowned more than she breathed. I learned to listen to the woman who screamed and yelled out obscenities; who cried out of loneliness. I learned to listen to the man who reprimanded us for not playing BINGO right. I learned to listen to the sweet woman who welcomed all with a smile and a prayer, and who owned the gift of hospitality like it was her kidney. I listened, and I heard their call to be loved, and their call to be seen for more than they appeared. As I got better at listening, I saw their smiles of being heard, and being loved.

That summer, I learned to be dirty. I learned that the best way to play was to get down on the dirt and not be bothered by it. I learned to run even when I was out of breath, to hold a child even when my arms and shoulders were sore, and to love the feeling of sweat and dirt caked under my fingernails and plastered to my body, if it meant the chance for one more small little hand to hold, the weight of one more child on my shoulders, one more cheek to kiss, and one more person to embrace.

That summer, I fell asleep to laughter, music, and chatter, smiling as widely as I ever could. That was the sound of love. I woke up tired, but wouldn't have it any other way. I was dirty, but my heart was clean.

That summer did not end - it has only gotten better since then. Thank you, Salyersville; thank you, UDSAP.

Charissa Qiu   UDSAP '11

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