How A Simple Conversation Can Stave Off the Finals-Crunch

By Grace Carpenter on December 9, 2013

I just talked with Talicia, my favorite barista at Greenberry’s, about her life and her dreams. She is such a beautiful girl—and with such palpable spirit and hope! Her face is round and always half-obscured by the tan visor that constitutes her uniform, but the portion showing just underneath is so unmistakable and radiant that you hardly notice the visor at all. Her skin is pleasantly dark, smooth, and youthful, always stretching back to allow her full, rounded lips passage to expand into her contagious smiles and laughs. Her eyes, though hidden behind rectangular glasses, are the sort of warm, reaching-yet-receptive brown that cannot possibly be tucked away as simply the most common eye-color; they are too open and vivid to ever be mistaken as flat or ordinary. Her limbs move with energy—she still fights for her dignity and her dreams, and yet she is still so open, free, and spirited!

We have been friends for about a year, and today she told me her story—just the bare skeleton—for the first time. Her arms were sprawled across a heavy-looking binder that was spitting out papers and numbers at random, a position in which she looked quite familiar and undeniably exhausted, with her fingers wrapped around a pen that didn’t have a cap. Her eyes were bright and cheerful, but her back slumped into the table and there were inkstains spreading in dark patches along her forearm.

She told me that she has always lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has always dreamed of going elsewhere. She graduated from Piedmont Community College with her Associate’s in Business Management, planning on going to George Mason for her Bachelor’s, but was interrupted by  the arrival of Nini, her unexpected daughter and the light of her life. Unable to pursue her dreams, she now works at Greenberry’s and one of her local charity organizations. She’s been recently promoted at both, but still dreams of starting a business to help people launch their careers. She claims that she has always had an active business imagination and a yearning to create opportunities for people just like herself. She said that she still wants to go to George Mason, but confessed that sometimes she isn’t sure why.

“Am I looking for something monetary?” she asked. “I know that’s not it. Is it just fulfillment? I don’t know—but I still want to.” She paused, and I mentioned that I had faith in her ability to march forward undaunted. She visibly brightened and seemed to solidify as she responded.

“I have faith in myself,” she said. “I believe in myself, and I know I can do it, so I will.”

And I believe that she will.

As I walked away, her well-wishes and compliments about my dress still wandering in my wake, I found tears in my eyes and a small nugget of something new lodged in my chest—inspiration, I wonder? compassion? even guilt?—I don’t know, but I suppose that’s not relevant.

How is it, that we masses of privileged individuals can crumble amidst our infinite resources and opportunities, collapse into heaps of discouraged despair every night—and yet still fail to notice and absorb the unmistakable spirit of hope that rages so radiantly in the smile of an everyday face? Why do we balk and cower and abandon our opportunities, when others must fight for them?

Most of all, how do we help her? When the world spins so quickly and our lives flick by like individual frames of an endless movie, how do we stop for a minute—catch our breath, quell our loneliness and our anxiety—and reach out our hands to those who carry so much? Can we help? Can our shoulders, heavy with the weight of our own worlds, shift and squeeze a little extra on top, though we may grunt under the added pressure? I think, naive though I may be, that not only is it possible—it is worthwhile and right, and perhaps all we can do. When our lives are strained and we feel as if we might break, we cannot forgo ourselves and our humanity, because another’s life is what should matter, when asking a question to which it seems there is no right answer.

"Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts." -Dickens, Our Mutual Friend

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