Rolling Down Summer’s HillsBy C. S. Dweck

We run through the August night with only fireflies lighting our way, feeling the freedom of time that only children of summer ever know. The echo of our laughter sails through darkness, while we chase each other in tag. Soon we become silent, hunting through the tall, damp grass punctuated only by the beating of our hearts. A hand pierces through the night, grabbing me. Our two bodies fall entwined into a huddled mass of legs and arms with her gaining the upper hand because I let her. She pins me down upon my back, her hands holding mine outstretched upon the moist grass. Straddling my chest with her knees, I sense her head slowly growing ever nearer. We’re so close that I can feel the ins and outs of her breath upon my lips. She covers my mouth with her own and I am lost in the newness of my first kiss. Before I can speak or think, she pulls away. Running off, she leaves me there dazed. That was how the night ended; this is how it began.It’s the summer of my thirteenth birthday, and I’m enjoying these majestic Pocono days. Our cabin overlooks the endless rolling hills carpeted by sweet-smelling grasses and black-eyed Susans. My younger brother Mikey and I climb to the highest point and then, lying down on our sides like two bowling pins, we close our eyes rolling wildly down to the bottom. It’s a dizzying sensation to feel the world spin around and around this way. Sometimes I lose control and go careening off into some unplanned foreign destination.And so it is when I first see Carly, hanging out among the other girls at Lake Wallenpaupack. I didn’t know then that I’d go careening off sideways and smack straight into her world.She hangs with this group of thirteen-year-old girls who’ve teamed up more out of convenience than common interest. Her long black hair falls in waves against her pale white skin, and she has this unique ability to smile at me with her eyes.My posse looks like an odd assortment left over in some thrift-shop clearance box. First off, there’s me. I had a major growth spurt this summer, and my limbs feel way too long. It’s weird to suddenly tower over your own mother, the person you’ve looked up to your whole life. Now a good three inches taller than she, I can easily pat her on the head. Yet no matter how much I eat, my pants hang low on my gangly, 105-pound frame. Everything is changing around me and inside me. I can’t even count on feeling comfortable in my own skin, which is now riddled with acne.Then there’s my ten-year-old brother, Mikey. He hasn’t found any other kids his age around, and appears to be going through severe Nintendo withdrawal. It’s my responsibility to watch out for all four fast-moving feet of him. We make an unlikely pair. Although only three years come between our ages, almost two feet separate our heights.Finally there’s Ron, who’s fourteen, a full year older than I and so much more wise in the ways of the world. He shoves his Mets cap low on his head to shield his eyes from the sun and any parent’s watchful gaze. In his left ear he sports a fake diamond stud, which denotes the coolness he envelops.Ron and I sit on the dock, dangling our feet in the water’s edge, while Mikey floats carelessly in his black inner tube. Once in a while we have the nerve to dart our eyes over to the girls who are taking turns diving into the water in their bright bikinis, giggling and trying to peek over at us as well.Ron shares his experiences with women and I wonder how much of it is really true, but I listen closely just in case it is. Some of his stories are funny, and others are just really gross, but I tuck all of what he tells me safely away in the annals of my mind for future reference.My only other experience hearing about sex was back in health class, and there it seemed like such a crude joke. There was this one jerk in the back of the room who’d laugh whenever the teacher mentioned anything sexual. He was the same guy who’d repeat over and over that there was going to be a “teste” on Monday and then die laughing at his own wit.At home, my parents speak in strictly medical terms. The way they tell it, the whole thing sounds more like a painful procedure for wisdom teeth removal than a pleasurable experience. Here, sitting on the dock with Ron, it seems a lot more real. I watch Carly in her red two-piece. Her shining black hair reflects the noonday sun, and I wonder what it would be like to kiss those peach-colored lips. So far it’s taken all the courage I can muster just to say hi as we pass each other every day at the lake.Soon, night falls and Dad calls us around the dinner table to have an informal family meeting. He says he wants to talk about our “future.” The cabin is hot and noticeably un-air-conditioned. The sweat on the back of my legs causes my skin to stick to the vinyl-covered dining chairs.My dad sits at the head of the table with his elbows resting on the yellow Formica. He hasn’t shaved since we arrived here, and the gray stubble on his cheeks and chin make him look old. My mother sits at the other end of the table still wearing the same swimsuit she wore earlier today down by the lake. She pulls the seat of her suit down over each thigh, fidgeting more than her usual calm demeanor allows. Mikey sits lazily dipping his Oreo cookies into a large glass of milk and then sucking them down over his wet lips.My dad tells us he’s been laid off from work – straight out with no beating around the bush. I can’t say I’m shocked; we all saw the writing on the wall. Dad’s a textile man, and the industry is dying. I know this because I’ve heard the hushed conversations between my mom and dad. With most labor now going overseas, there’s just not enough work to keep the U.S. sewing factories alive. It’s not as if Dad has a profession where he can just slip comfortably into a new opportunity. Finding another job at forty-six years old is rough.Mikey just keeps sucking down his cookies. He’s too young to understand that there is no magic that will make everything better, and that Dad doesn’t have all the answers.In between frantic thoughts, I hear Dad saying something about our home; using words like “scaling down” and “tightening belts.” All I keep wondering is, How is this going to affect me? Will I still be able to afford to go to the movies with my friends, or will I be left at home? And where will my home be? I hear Dad saying something about our horrendous taxes and the possibility of moving to a smaller apartment.I want to grab him and yell, “Stop! Don’t you know you’re ruining my life? I can’t move . . . this is where all my friends are . . . this is where I go to school. We had a deal, remember? You would take care of me, and I would never have to worry about these kinds of things, because I’m just a kid.”And then this feeling gives way to a sickening rush of guilt for being so selfish. I look over at my parents who seem small and vulnerable. Who are these pathetic imposters whose words change everything for all of us, and how should I react to these strangers that I love so much? Should I lie and tell them everything will be okay? And is that what they need to hear, or is that really what I need to hear? I suddenly feel like the parent.That night I run out to play tag with all those kids whose lives are still unchanged. I run through the night hoping to knock the wind out of myself – running to forget about my dad or maybe to stumble onto an answer that will save us. That’s when Carly’s arm reaches out to grab me. She kisses me, and I forget for one moment about all the uncertainty.Then she’s gone, and I lay there in the pitch-black darkness with my head spinning the same way it did when I rolled down those long summer hills. I feel that same dizzying disorientation lying there alone in the darkness, and I realize that sometimes there are no real answers, and life goes on.

License to Smile

A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition.~William Arthur Ward

Anyone who knows me well would almost certainly label me an optimist. I believe in embracing hope and finding something positive even in the most difficult circumstances. My own optimism stems from a strong, personal faith in a loving God who I believe is very interested in the personal details of our lives, not just the “big stuff.” I also believe that things happen for a reason and that if we keep our minds and spirits open, our invisible God often becomes visible, sometimes in ways that are quite humorous!With that being said, even optimists can temporarily lose hope. This was the case for me on a particularly cold and gloomy January day. I felt overwhelmed by the painful challenges I was dealing with in my personal life. Marital, health, and financial struggles had joined forces to create a tornado of emotion that threatened to crush my spirit. I felt angry, frustrated, burdened, and distanced from the presence of God. The weather seemed to reflect my mood—the gray sky blocked even a single ray of sunlight. As I drudged through my workday, I just couldn’t shake a sense of hopelessness and despair.About midway through the day, I left work to get some lunch. Still feeling pessimistic and negative, I noticed that the sun had come out for a brief moment. I began to think about my negative attitude and reminded myself that I was responsible for choosing my state of mind. While I could not ignore the pain I was going through, I could choose to dwell on the negative or I could choose to shift my thinking to a more positive focus. Even as I consciously reminded myself of this truth, I felt incapable of making the shift. So I gripped the steering wheel and prayed an honest, heartfelt prayer. “God,” I cried, my tears ready to spill out, “where are you? I don’t want to feel this way but I am miserable and hopeless today. Please lift me out of this dark, gloomy place!”As I stopped at a red light, I looked at the car directly in front of mine. The personalized license plate caught my eye—it read “SUNZOUT.” This brought an immediate smile to my face. It felt like a reminder from God that the sun was shining after all, and in the midst of the longest, darkest, coldest winter in years, this in itself was a blessing. But then my eyes moved to the car that was perfectly parallel to the SUNZOUT vehicle. The license plate on that car read “GROUCH.” So as I read these two license plates side by side, I said out loud “SUNZOUT, GROUCH.” This brought more than a smile to my face as I laughed out loud! Seeing the two very opposite license plates right next to each other at that exact moment in time also strengthened my previous recognition of my ability to choose my outlook despite my circumstances. I felt my spirits and mood lift as I made the conscious decision to choose a positive attitude.I returned to work and shared my story with several co-workers who responded with warm laughter at what I referred to as my “message from beyond.” I learned that day that when we are feeling too discouraged to bring ourselves out of a state of negativity, relief is only a prayer away!~Julie A. Havener