Today I found out the origin of the sport basketball.
Surprisingly, unlike most sports whose origins are somewhat obscure, often being the combination of other sports and developed gradually through time, basketball has a very precise and fully known origin (the inventor himself wrote an account of it, published after his death; see the “Sources and Further Reading” below). Even the date of the very first game is known, December 21, 1891.
It was all started by Dr. James Naismith, the son of two Scottish immigrants to Canada. By 1891, Dr. Naismith was teaching physical education in Springfield, MA at the YMCA International Training School (which today is Springfield College). While there, he was asked by the director of physical education, Dr. Luther Gulick, to come up with a new game students could play indoors during the winter that would help keep track and field runners in shape and would be relatively safe to play (particularly that it would have a small amount of physical contact so that the players wouldn’t get injured in this game).
Dr. Naismith was given two weeks to come up with such a game. What he came up with was inspired by a game he had played as a child, “Duck on a Rock”, which is a game that has been played since medieval times. In “Duck on a Rock”, a large stone (“duck”) would be placed on top of an even larger rock or tree stump or the like. One unlucky player was then given the job of guarding the rock. All the other players would then have one rock to throw at the “duck” each, in order to knock it off the tree stump or rock it had been placed on. If the “duck” was knocked off before the throwers had all thrown their rocks, the defender will cease defending and pick up the “duck” and go on the offensive. Unfortunately, he does not get to chuck the duck back at the people who were just chucking rocks in his general direction. Rather, after the duck is knocked off, all the players throwing stones must go and retrieve one of the thrown stones and then make it safely back to the throwing line. After the defender picks up the fallen “duck” and places it back on the rock or tree stump, he/she is then allowed to run around and tag any of the players who have not yet made it back to the throwing line. If a player is tagged, they become the new guard.
Rather than using a rock, Dr. Naismith’s decided his game would be played with an association football, also known as a soccer ball (click here to read about the origin of the name “soccer”, which, by the way this name preceded the first known instance of the sport first being called by the singular term “football”). The goal of Dr. Naismith’s game would be to throw a soccer ball into a peach basket, which would be nailed up high on the wall. He chose the soccer ball as he deemed it to be fairly safe to be thrown around and not likely to cause injury. He decided to put the basket high on the wall because he observed most injuries seemed to happen in sports around the goal zone with both defenders and the offensive side becoming very aggressive in these regions. So he felt by putting it up high, it would prevent some of the potential for injury between offenses and defenses.
Interestingly, the original peach baskets did not have their bottoms knocked out, so whenever someone would get the soccer ball in the basket, the game would be temporarily paused while someone climbed a ladder to retrieve the ball. This obviously soon became annoying, so a hole was put in the bottom of the basket. Bizarrely, when they put this hole in the basket, they did not initially think to knock out the entire bottom and instead still had to use a long wooden dowel to poke the soccer ball out of the basket, which was at least less annoying than needing to climb a ladder.
Another major difference from modern day basketball is that there was no dribbling allowed, only passing and the person with the ball had to stay in place, excepting if they were running when they caught the ball, then they were allowed some leeway in which to continue moving while they slowed themselves quickly to a stop. This rule against running with the ball was because Dr. Naismith observed that in most sports, many injuries tended to happen when the player with the ball ran around, particularly with the other team more or less attacking that player. This way, the focus would be more on the ball, rather than the player.
As mentioned, the game was first played on December 21, 1891. This inaugural game was played with nine players on each team and after 30 minutes total of play (two fifteen minute halves) the final score was 1-0, fitting for a game played with a soccer ball. The lone point was scored by William R. Chase, from around 25 feet away from the basket. The thirteen rules used in this original version of basketball were as follows:
- The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands.
- The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.
- A player cannot run with the ball. The player must throw it from the spot on which he catches it, allowance to be made for a man running at good speed.
- The ball must be held in or between the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it.
- No shouldering, holding, pushing, striking or tripping in any way of an opponent. The first infringement of this rule by any person shall count as a foul; the second shall disqualify him until the next goal is made or, if there was evident intent to injure the person, for the whole of the game. No substitution shall be allowed.
- A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of Rules 3 and 4 and such as described in Rule 5.
- If either side make three consecutive fouls it shall count as a goal for the opponents (consecutive means without the opponents in the meantime making a foul).
- Goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the ground into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal. If the ball rests on the edge and the opponents move the basket, it shall count as a goal.
- When the ball goes out of bounds, it shall be thrown into the field and played by the first person touching it. In case of dispute the umpire shall throw it straight into the field. The thrower-in is allowed five seconds. If he holds it longer, it shall go to the opponent. If any side persists in delaying the game, the umpire shall call a foul on them.
- The umpire shall be judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have the power to disqualify men according to Rule 5.
- The referee shall be the judge of the ball and decide when it is in play in bounds, to which side it belongs, and shall keep the time. He shall decide when a goal has been made and keep account of the goals with any other duties that are usually performed by a referee.
- The time shall be two 15-minute halves with five minutes’ rest between.
- The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winners.
This first game was described thus:
When Mr. Stubbins brought up the peach baskets to the gym I secured them on the inside of the railing of the gallery. This was about 10 feet from the floor, one at each end of the gymnasium. I then put the 13 rules on the bulletin board just behind the instructor’s platform, secured a soccer ball and awaited the arrival of the class… The class did not show much enthusiasm but followed my lead… I then explained what they had to do to make goals, tossed the ball up between the two center men & tried to keep them somewhat near the rules. Most of the fouls were called for running with the ball, though tackling the man with the ball was not uncommon… It was the start of the first basketball game and the finish of trouble with that class.
Despite the somewhat underwhelming first game results, which was just one point away from ending in a meaningless tie, the game soon became extremely popular at the YMCA in Springfield and within a year was spreading to other YMCA’s. Within three years, basketball started being accepted as not just a fun game to play indoors, but a legitimate sport in its own right. The rules, of course, began being tweaked nearly from the beginning and the old peach basket was thrown out in favor of iron rims with netting as early as 1893 (though, interestingly, the first netted hoops had a closed bottom, so a long wooden dowel still had to be used to retrieve the ball for around a decade after the net was introduced until someone finally got the bright idea of just using an open ended net, so that the ball would just fall through, no stick required). In addition to that, specialized balls began being made, instead of just using a soccer ball. Fast-forward to today and basketball is considered one of the world’s most popular sports, being played by an estimated 300 million people.
No discussion of the origin of basketball would be complete without addressing the common alternate “conspiracy theory” origin. This theory popped up in the 1950s, claiming that a director of a YMCA in Herkimer, New York, Lambert G. Will, actually invented the game almost a year before Dr. Naismith claimed the first basketball game took place. The primary piece of evidence to support this claim is a photograph of what is apparently a basketball team in Herkimer dated in 1892. Obviously this is after the game illustrated above, but what makes this picture intriguing is that the ball in the picture has 91-92 written on it, implying the team had been formed in 1891, which doesn’t necessarily mean this was before Dr. Naismith’s first game, but possibly. There are a few problems with this, though. First, that Lambert G. Will himself never claimed to have invented the game and further, his grandson, Rick Will claims that his grandfather always implied that Dr. Naismith had invented the game, not himself. Thus even without the mountain of evidence that backs up Dr. Naismith’s claim, while the “91” on the ball seems curious, if Will himself claimed Dr. Naismith invented it, then one would tend to believe Dr. Naismith’s story of the origin of basketball and the first game.
Now, to be clear, while Will’s descendants don’t claim that Lambert G. Will invented the game, they do claim that he gave Dr. Naismith several suggestions on improving the game as Dr. Naismith had contact him about the new game, asking for suggestions. However, as another of his grandson’s, Lawrence Will, stated, “He came up with some ideas, but I suspect he wasn’t the only one.” What his exact suggestions might have been are unclear, some, like Lawrence Will, indicate that he only made a few suggestions, some of which were adopted, perhaps because of Lawrence Will’s suggestion or perhaps because of another who made the same suggestion (a lot of people in the early days of the sport helped tweak the game). Others go so far as to basically state that Lawrence Will came up with almost every key feature of the game including: passing by hand (these individuals claim Dr. Naismith’s game only included passing by foot with, oddly, a medicine ball, not a soccer ball being used, which obviously makes no sense in the “don’t get people injured” rule for developing the game); introducing a bounceable ball and dribbling; the metal rim; the net (knitted by his wife no less),;standardizing the basketball court; and giving the idea for an open bottom on the net so the ball could fall through. Obviously this seems highly unlikely as it flies in the face of a lot of direct evidence in the Dr. Naismith camp and Will’s descendants on the whole make no such significant claims based on what they know of Lawrence Will’s part in the development of basketball. In the end, it is likely that Will had a part through correspondents with Dr. Naismith in the development of the early game after it was introduced, but it seems pretty clear that he did not invent it, as some basketball conspiracy theorists claim.
- Dr. Naismith became the first coach of the University of Kansas’ basketball team, where he coached nine seasons. Interestingly, to date, he’s the only coach in University of Kansas history to retire with a losing record (55-60). He also held the positions of campus chaplain and physical education director.
- Another difference between the first game of basketball and the game we have today was that once the ball was retrieved from the basket following a successful shot, the ball was taken back to center court for a toss up.
- Dr. Naismith didn’t believe there was anything to coaching and that it was better just to let the players play. He even tried to instill this in one of his former players, famed coach Forrest “Phog” Allen. When Allen told Dr. Naismith he was going to coach, Dr. Naismith told him, “You can’t coach basketball; you just play it.” Forrest Allen went on to prove Dr. Naismith completely wrong, becoming one of the great coaches in basketball history and today is considered the “father of basketball coaching”.
- The Basketball Hall of Fame is named after Naismith: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. It is located in Springfield, MA, the city where basketball was first invented and played.
- Despite eventually becoming highly educated, Dr. Naismith actually dropped out of high school and became a lumberjack for a time. Apparently not finding the world of lumberjacking to be his long term career choice, he went back to school and graduated high school at the age of 21. He followed this by pursuing a degree at the McGill University in Montreal, where he first earned a degree in physical education and then a degree in theology at the Presbyterian College, which was affiliated with McGill University.
- While at McGill pursuing a degree in theology, Dr. Naismith became an instructor of physical education and the director of athletics, where he is often credited as being the one who invented the predecessor of the football helmet, though there are several others around this time who also independently chose to wear different types of headgear, such as “helmets” made of moleskin and the like, though it was rare. So whether he was actually the first to introduce this idea is still a matter up for debate.
- He eventually left McGill and went to the YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA where he began teaching and subsequently invented basketball there just one year after leaving Canada.
- As you might have guessed due to the fact that I keep referring to him as “Dr. Naismith” instead of “Mr. Naismith”, Dr. Naismith graduated from the Colorado Medical School in 1898. At the time, he was the physical education director at the YMCA in Denver and decided to pursue a degree in medicine on the side.
- Dr. Naismith was born in Ontario, Canada and was raised by his uncle Peter and grandmother as his parents had died of typhoid when he was nine years old.
- Funds were raised by the National Association of Basketball Coaches so that Dr. Naismith could fly to the Berlin Games in 1936, the first Olympics in which basketball was an official participating event (it had previously been a demonstration sport in the Olympics as early as 1904). While there, Dr. Naismith got to be the one to toss the ball up at the start of the first official Olympic basketball game. He also got to present the medals to the winners: U.S. (gold), Canada (silver), and Mexico (bronze). Dr. Naismith was at this point a citizen of two of the former two of those countries. He died just three years later of a brain hemorrhage.
- The first official college basketball game was played on January 18, 1896 between the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago. The final score was 15-12, with the visiting Chicago team the victors.
- The document Dr. Naismith wrote down the original thirteen rules of basketball on sold in 2010 for $4.3 million. In the year Dr. Naismith made this document, $4.3 million would have been roughly worth about $100 million today in buying power. Makes one wonder what his reaction would have been if someone had told him on the day he created the document that in 119 years, someone would buy that piece of paper for $4.3 million.
- The other players in the original basketball game besides William R. Chase, who scored the first basket in basketball history, were, The Winning Team: John J. Thompson, Eugene S. Libby, Edwin P. Ruggles, T. Duncan Patton, Frank Mahan, Finlay G. MacDonald, William H. Davis and Lyman Archibald; The Losing Team: George Weller, Wilbert Carey, Ernest Hildner, Raymond Kaighn, Genzabaro Ishikawa, Benjamin S. French, Franklin Barnes, George Day and Henry Gelan.
- Not only did the YMCA have a huge part in spreading basketball around the world, but WWI and the North American soldiers that fought in it are also frequently given credit for spreading the game throughout the world.
- The early basketballs were brown. This was later changed to orange to make it easier for spectators to see the ball.
Severna Park, Md.
Life from Seven Feet Up
Walking down a busy street, I see the quick glances and turned heads. The murmurs and giggles trickle toward me. I try to ignore the buzz, interspersed with, “Oh my God!” and the occasional, “Damn!” Then, a complete stranger asks for a picture, so I stand with people foreign to me and politely smile and laugh. After the click of the camera, they go on their way. Sometimes I wish I weren’t so tall. Maybe then I could take a friend to a movie and just blend into the crowd.
Attention from strangers is nothing new to me. Questions about my height dominate almost every public interaction. My friends say my height is just a physical quality and not a personality trait. However, when I reflect on my life, I realize that my height has shaped my character in many ways and has helped to define the person I am.
I learned how to be comfortable in my own skin. If I had the introverted personality my older brother had in high school, I’d probably be overwhelmed by the constant public attention. Even as a young child, parents at the sidelines of my baseball games, as well as the umpire, would, in front of all my teammates, demand by birth certificate to prove my age. I grew acquainted early on with the fact that I am abnormally tall and stick out about the crowd. It’s just the way it is. Being self-conscious about it would be paralyzing.
I learned how to be kind. When I was younger, some parents in my neighborhood deemed me a bully because I was so much larger than children my age. I had to be extra welcoming and gentle simply to play with other children. Of course, now my coaches wish I weren’t quite so kind on the basketball court.
I learned humility. At 7 feet tall, everyone expects me to be an amazing basketball player. They come expecting to see Dirk Nowitzki, and instead they might see a performance more like Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro. I have learned to be humble and to work even harder than my peers to meet their (and my) expectations.
I developed a sense of lightheartedness. When people playfully make fun of my height, I laugh at myself too. On my first day of high school, a girl dropped her books in a busy hallway. I crouched down to her level and gathered some of her notebooks. As we both stood up, her eyes widened as I kept rising over her. Dumbfounded, she dropped her books again. Embarrassed, we both laughed and picked up the books a second time.
All of these lessons have defined me. People unfamiliar to me have always wanted to engage me in lengthy conversations, so I have had to become comfortable interacting with all kinds of people. Looking back, I realize that through years of such encounters, I have become a confident, articulate person. Being a 7-footer is both a blessing and a curse, but in the end, accepting who you are is the first step to happiness.
I am here because my great-grandfather tied his shoelace. It was World War I, and he was a Montenegrin fighting in the American army in France. His fellow soldiers surged across the field, but he paused for the briefest of moments because his laces had come undone. Those ahead of him were blown to bits. Years later, as Montenegro was facing a civil war, the communists came to his home. His village was small, and he knew the men who knocked on his door. But this familiarity meant nothing, for when they saw him they thought of the word America, stamped across a land where the poor were stripped of their rights and where the fierce and volatile Balkan temper would not do.
As his neighbors ransacked his home, his wife had thrust his good pair of shoes at him.
“Take them,” she had urged. “Wear them.”
But he did not, for he knew that he could not run. I also cannot run, but I wear my new shoes with great ease and comfort. I wear the secret guilt, the belief in equality, the obsession with culture, and the worship of rational thinking and education that becomes the certain kind of American that I am. None of these things are costumes. I believe in and feel them all sincerely, but they are not who I am. They may be a part, but I can say with certainty that they are not all.
I was born in Belgrade and Serbian was my first language, but these things seem nearly inconsequential when compared to the number of years that I’ve spent in America and the fact that English is by far my superior tongue. We visit every two or three years or so. Everybody is there, my entire collection of cousins and aunts and grandparents neatly totted up in a scattering of villages and cities, arms open with the promise of a few sneaky sips of rakia and bites of kajmak. I love them, I truly do. I love the flat roof on my grandparents’ home, the familiar sounds of the cicadas, the cows that they had when I was 7, and even the goats that I have not met yet. But they are not me, those things. They are something else.
Take a few bounds away from my immediate family, and I do not know anyone’s names. Somebody is always falling ill, or drinking too much, or making trouble for themselves. We speak of them sometimes, or pity them, but we do not go to their weddings or funerals. And yet I feel worried, not for them, but for myself. The Serbs and Montenegrins are people of complicated histories, and as I watch the documentaries my father made during the civil war there, I am gripped with fear and fascination. Those strange people can be so hateful. They cry and beat their hearts at the thought of Serbian loss in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. This kind of nationalism makes me cringe. I do not want to be that way. But is there not something beautiful in that kind of passion and emotion? What does it say of me that I sometimes cannot help but romanticize something I know to be destructive and oppressive? This is why I worry.
They are not me, I tell myself, and I am right. But can they not be just a part? Can they not be a tiny sliver, or maybe even a sizeable chunk, comparable even to the American in me? Must I relegate them to nothing at all? For if those shoes, the ones my grandfather bent to tie in the middle of that blazing battlefield in France, are not mine, then why do I think of them so often?
Porter Corners, N.Y.
My head was spinning, my hands were bleeding, and my lungs desperately needed more air. The air was filled with the shouts of men dying and steel clashing with steel. To my left were two young men, no more than 18 years old, at each other’s throats. To my right an old man lay dead, missing an arm. My men were pouring out of the breach in full retreat. Death surrounded me as I summoned every ounce of my courage and shouted out that desperate ultimatum to my dying brethren, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead!”
Then reality came crashing down. “No, no you’re doing it all wrong.” I blinked, and instead of a bloody battlefield in front of me there was nothing more than a nearly empty auditorium. The sole occupant of the auditorium was a tall, bald, British man with a terrifyingly condescending demeanor. He was my Shakespeare coach. The most minuscule mistake never escaped his notice. “There’s no chance in hell I would ever fight for you,” he said. “Do it again.” I went offstage and tried to repaint the picture.
I emerged inflamed with the drive for victory. Every word I uttered was a strike against the French. Every heartfelt delivery of that carefully choreographed routine was ground gained at Harfluer. I fought passionately with that ancient text, but my coach cut me off again. “OK, better, maybe I would fight for you, but I wouldn’t die for you. C’mon pump me up, show me you care. Do it again.” I tried again. I put forth all my effort, but again he stopped me. I performed it countless times over, but with each rendition the quality exponentially worsened. Finally, he told me to stop. We had done all we could for today.
I stepped off stage and collapsed into a chair, angry and defeated. Reaching into my pocket, I found the small rectangular magnet that had been given to me by the head of the theatre department for “motivational purposes.” On the right side of the memento there was an ornate picture of The Bard in all his glory, and on the left there were six simple words: “To thine own self be true.” I knew why I was here. I was here to prove to myself that I could accomplish something momentous.
I was born with two speech impediments. I was a shy kid, with a crooked smile, who couldn’t pronounce any words correctly. Participating in theatre was the last thing anyone expected of me. Yet I wanted to sway crowds with my voice, make them cry, laugh and shout for joy. I was a terrified 10-year-old the first time I stepped on stage, and equally frightened moments before I finally performed at Lincoln Center. I walked slowly to my position full of fear, but when the spotlight hit my face, there was no trepidation, only a calmness and quiet determination. In that moment all the long hours of struggle fell into place. I had already accomplished what I had set out to do before my final performance. Just being there, having worked as hard as I had, made all the worry dissipate. It was just me and the light.
In that earlier moment of failure, I couldn’t see that light, or even imagine it. My brain was in a fog; I couldn’t think. As I sat there and the lights in the theatre clicked off one by one, the setting sun cast a beam of orange sunlight directly center stage. I pretended to watch myself perform in that light, pacing to and fro, shouting heroically to my men and charging headlong into battle, into victory. I looked back down at the memento. Then something clicked. Henry V never lost hope and neither would I. So I went once more to the stage.
Aliso Viejo, Calif.
Keeping my head down and avoiding eye contact, I tried not to attract attention. Drunken shrieks and moans reverberated through the darkening light of the bus stop, while silhouettes and shadows danced about. My heart pounding, I hoped I would survive the next 40 minutes. I had never seen the homeless at the stop act so deranged. But I had never been there so late.
It was well past sundown. A man passed out on the next bench awoke only to shout and drink. One screamed racial slurs and curses at another while they both staggered around. Another lacked an arm and had the most baleful gaze I had ever seen. As much as I tried to empathize and feel compassion, I couldn’t stymie a feeling of terror and revulsion.
After a few long minutes, a shadow detached itself from the opposite benches, came over and sat down next to me. Squinting, I took in her kind, wrinkled face. Ah, thank god, a kindred soul enduring the same thing.
“Missed the bus?” she asked.
“Y-yeah,” I mumbled.
“You certainly chose the wrong time to do that. Where’re you headed?” Her voice was scratchy, like a smoker’s, but she spoke well.
“Ah, homes. When I was a bit older than you, my home was a car. Can you believe that my car, an old Toyota, got 50 miles to the gallon? I could drive from here to San Francisco in one sitting.”
No, I couldn’t. The more we talked, the more I enjoyed her company and forgot about the craziness around me. She grew up in San Francisco and loved to travel. She loved helping people and went to church. Before I could learn more, a homeless man staggered up to me and asked me for money. I was so uncomfortable I relented.
My friend turned to me and advised, “Don’t ever give a homeless person money. Give them food. The stereotype is true — they buy drugs and alcohol. Look around you.”
Stunned and feeling naïve, I promised to do so. We talked more until my stomach rumbled and I remarked that I hadn’t eaten since lunch. Just then a bus arrived — apparently hers. She procured two hardboiled eggs from her pocket and offered them to me. I politely declined, and she went to get her stuff. But wait, why was she carrying eggs in her pocket? When the woman emerged from the other side of the stop, she boarded the bus with a sleeping bag and backpack. She was homeless! She smiled down at me, the bus left, and I sat there in quiet shock.
I explored the stop anew. Drugs, alcohol, missing limbs were no longer terrifying. Now, I saw the symptoms of sickness, a sad lifestyle that did no harm except to those who lived it.
The homeless lady probably has no idea what an effect she had on me. Because of her, I swore to look through the top layers of every situation. Now that I have a car, I never go to the bus stop, but I know its lesson, at least, will continue to take me places. I hope my expanded empathy and open-mindedness will allow me to feel at home in any foreign situation and connect with all people. Next time I might even accept a hardboiled egg straight out of a stranger’s coat pocket.
New York, N.Y.
Attempting to juke people like an NFL running back, I slithered my way through the tunnel to the A-Train on 42nd Street during rush hour. I often try to block out the hectic surroundings by isolating myself in music, but I can never seem to get out of the real life time-lapse. In photography, a time-lapse is a technique at which the frame rate is lower than that used to view the sequence, thus, when the sequence is played at normal speed, it gives the effect that time is moving faster, or lapsing. In a Manhattan subway tunnel, a real life time-lapse gives the illusion that thousands are moving around you in one single moment. Luckily, that afternoon, the frame rate was higher than the actual visual sequence.
The crowd shoved their way toward the platform as the screeching train echoed through the underpass. The doors opened and I pushed my way toward the already full train. After five seconds, I began to worry, fearing that the door would close and I would be stuck longer in the blistering, underground cave. The tall, brunette girl in front of me inched her way over the gap between the rusted train and the yellow platform, but one misstep turned my time-lapse upside down.
In slow motion, one vertebra at a time, she fell through the gap toward the tracks as the train doors closed. I slipped my hands out of my skinny jeans and reached under her arms as her head neared the platform. I hoisted her up and the sensor doors reopened as we entered the train. I threw my headphones around my shoulders, clumsily turned down my embarrassing music, and asked if she was okay. My pause had lasted for all of about two seconds. No one on the train noticed, not even her mom.
This isn’t a heroic tale or a love story, although I felt like it was at the moment. I felt like I had done something much bigger than me, and I also felt like this beautiful girl and I would naturally connect over what just happened. But this wasn’t the case. Instead, I checked on her, smiled, and around 10 seconds after my “lifesaving” moment, immediately isolated myself back into the music. I couldn’t bring out my inner-confidence. I simply stood there thinking of something to say, only to be left mute.
It’s easy to say what you want to do, but nearly impossible to bring yourself to do all those things. Life is about taking risks, not about conforming and hiding behind invisible walls. I tend not to struggle with personal adventure; I’ve jumped off 50-foot cliffs and rode the biggest roller coaster dozens of times; however, I do fear being judged and messing up when stepping toward the plate. Life’s too short to live with regret though. My life wasn’t dramatically transposed during this incident, but the things I didn’t do are a constant reminder to stomp on the shortlist of opportunities I’m given. For that girl, she was a vertebra away from not having another chance. When that moment comes for me, I don’t want to have any regrets. I look back at this brief moment with such rue because I feel that my time-lapse was flipped for a reason, yet I couldn’t grasp the opportunity.
The music was a place to buy myself more time, a place to quickly think about the next move. But the top-half of the sandglass was empty and the girl got off at the next stop, roughly 30 seconds later. My eyes were fixed on her as she left the train and headed for the stairs. The train began to move when she glanced through the window and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
An eerie silence draped over New Orleans on a humid morning as the insects scampered back into their burrows. It was Saturday morning and I was still lying in bed, playing with the mood ring that my best friend, Anna, had given me as a good luck charm going into fourth grade. It was turquoise, meaning “tranquility.” However, as I focused on the footsteps downstairs, I could tell that both of my parents were in a rush and that Mama was nervous, which was rare. Something was different.
I ran down to grab breakfast, but the voice of the news reporter and the hurricane alert noise coming from the kitchen television distracted me. The words on the bottom of the screen read, “mandatory evacuation.” Papa told me to pack some toys for myself and for Rafa, my little brother. I figured we wouldn’t need much since there were so many activities in Houston, where we’d evacuated to before. This time, though, the highways were too congested to get there safely. Instead, we headed to Charity Hospital since Papa, a neuroradiologist, was on call. With our previous experiences of nothing but strong winds and lights-out for a day or two, my parents decided it would be best for the four of us to stay together.
We were assigned to a small room on the 14th floor with two tiny twin beds. That night, the rain pounded on the old windows, like an angry crowd getting more and more agitated. At 1 a.m., a fierce air pressure in the room created a sharp pain in my ears, awakening us, only a mere second before the windows imploded. Shards of glass flew around the room, forcing us to hide in a stuffy hallway storage closet. We huddled around the handheld radio’s static for the next five hours.
After the hurricane passed, I could tell Mama was distressed, yet she still managed to smile and say, “Te quiero mucho mi amor, todo va a estar bien.” The next morning, one of the doctors urged us to look out the window. I simply stood there, holding Papa’s sweaty hand, listening to the muddy waters from the Mississippi rushing in.
No one expected what would come next. In the basement, the emergency generators flooded, and the smell of rotting corpses from the morgue grew, getting stronger with the heat. In the lobby, people broke into the vending machines, stealing and selling the food. We didn’t have any clean water either, so showers soon became Purell sanitation wipes, and toilets became buckets to throw out the window. During the day, my parents were busy, so Rafa and I painted “SOS” on bed sheets and hung them outside. At night, we played cards, and I silently sat next to a nurse who thought about the dog she had left at home. No one knew if our homes or friends were okay, nor when we’d be rescued, but I didn’t cry. I was in survival mode.
A week later, we were rescued on swamp boats. That year, I attended four different schools. When it was over, I wept uncontrollably. Hurricane Katrina has challenged me. It has humbled and motivated me. I want to be a doctor, like the ones at Charity. I saw them work together, tirelessly, caring for anyone that they could, even dropping a joke here and there. I will never forget the man who gave me his secret stash of candy, or the night that we celebrated a birthday with a tuna sandwich as the cake, a Q-tip for the candle, and how they sliced it for everyone to share. We never gave up. I learned to appreciate everything and everyone around me. I became stronger.