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“Hey! Change your away message. It’s so OLD!” The chat window pops up onto the screen of my computer. Cool. One of my friends just messaged me. Wait. What is wrong with my away message? Its font and color are conspicuous enough to alert others when I am busy. It is a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “When you reach the end of your life, tie a knot in it and hang on.” As I read the quote, I think back to the evening five years ago when I first saw it.
It is midnight. The clock is ticking. Mrs. Ye who lives next door and takes pleasure in complaining about the noises that I make is turning off her lights. My parents’ eyes are in a constant battle with gravity while watching me conquer another math problem. My bed is secretly ordering me to surrender to the exotic alphabet on the paper. My eyes are watery and burning from reading all the definitions that do not seem to make sense in my mind. “Difference between (x+1)2 and 2x?” I flip though my dictionary and find the definition: “Difference: noun. The quality of being unlike.” If difference means not the same, why is this word used here? The gears in my head creak tiredly, threatening to stop working in the midst of my confusion. For the first time I feel the strangeness of the numbers which have always been my royal soldiers of genius. I cannot answer the problem without understanding what it is asking for. I am not consoled by the fact that there are dozens of other immigrant students at the school who cannot understand English. I don’t think I can ever forgive my parents for not bringing me to America sooner. Will I ever conquer the language known as English?
Tired, confused, and on the verge of tears, I turn off the lamp and get up. Even the planner that my parents gave me for my birthday is mocking me. Dreaded thoughts of the numerous things that still need to be done fill my frantic mind. I take a deep breath and open the planner. The quote on the top of page three awakens me. It is something Thomas Jefferson had once said: “When you reach the end of your life, tie a knot in it and hang on.” Strangely enough I somehow understand its English. End of life, tie and hang on Yes, yes, I know what it is saying. My heart is branded with those words in a flash. Inspiration fills my mind and rejuvenates my body. I feel a strange familiarity with the quote as if it had been written for me for that very moment.
As I read the quote over again, I see an adventurer who is about to fall off the edge of a cliff and ties himself to the only rock in sight; a deep sea diver who is running out of air and inches his way back up to the world above; and a marathon runner whose legs threaten to give out and continues to keep his eyes on that finish line. Thinking of all those scenarios, I realize that I am a coward. I am nowhere near the end of my life, yet I am acting as if the language barrier is the end of the world. From the moment I set foot onto the plane heading towards a new life in America, my mind was filled with new ambitions. Yet frustrations with the English language have often defeated my longing for progress. It is the quote by Thomas Jefferson that is shoving me towards the future with new hope. I know that eventually, Mrs. Ye will no longer tease me about my English pronunciation, my parents will no longer complain about their inability to help me, and the pile of books on my desk will no longer be a formidable nightmare. I am now holding tight onto my baton. The quote is teaching me how to hang on. “Go back to work, never fall.” I pick up my confidence and find myself eager to confront the math problems. So here I go, rolling up my sleeves, returning to the battleground, and plunging into the world of the unknown.
“Change your away message!” The chat window shatters my thoughts. So here I am, five years later, sitting on the cool black leather chair, contemplating the college admission essay. “No, I am NOT going to change it. It’s been driving me forward. You wouldn’t understand.” I send that instant message to my friend, taking pride in the secure feeling that no one else can feel.
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