Students Speak: Slowing Down

Dec 12, 2023

This essay was written by Hannah Goodwin, a senior at Bellaire Senior High School in Bellaire, Texas, and was selected as a finalist for the World Is A Classroom Essay Contest.

Restless. Something about me is perpetually restless.

As cruel as it sounds, I’ve learned to distance myself from loved ones, for I viewed them as obstacles to my eventual escape from monotony. But because I ran so fast – through two new schools and houses in one year – I ran right into self-isolation-induced depression. Still, I kept my pace. Like a magician, serendipity never reveals its secrets. Amidst my mental health crisis, I discovered that my new school was hosting a study opportunity in Greece. I was immediately infatuated with the prospect.

Greece was an opportunity to “fix” my life by doing the very thing that got me into that very mess: running. But I couldn’t go if I couldn’t pay for the trip, so I worked. This is where I learned how coercive desire can be, causing one to tolerate exhausting battles and ignore appalling treatment. Customers regarded me with the respect one might give a brick wall. My hands formed blisters that metamorphosed into calluses.

However, the most humiliating moment was when I was forced to clean smeared feces off the bathroom wall. I remember one hand clamping my shirt over my nose while the other gripped the end of a mop directing the head haphazardly. Yet I endured, for if I could only go to Greece, life would be better. After many strenuous months of taxing work, I finally had enough money.

Greece exceeded my expectations. My eyes swell when I remember how the Athenian baristas giggled when I mispronounced efharisto, or “thank you”. How I gripped my friend’s hand, running through the rainy, nocturnal streets of Nafplio. How my tour guide whispered her farewell: “Goodbye, my dear.” But especially how, upon entering a bookshop in Olympia, the owner saw right through me – what he saw, I don’t know.

He led me to a poetry book, flipped to a poem, and slid the spine between my palms. “The City” by Constantine Cavafy. I read it and I saw myself. The man took the book back and flipped to a new poem. “Ithaka”, also by Cavafy. I read it. He retrieved the book and turned to another. I read it; we went on like this. “How long can I let my mind molder in this place?” “The City” evokes the desire to leave one’s hometown, the apparent source of all problems.

Cavafy frankly retorts that discontent cannot be run from; to find happiness, one must change their damning mindset. Meanwhile, “Ithaka” alludes to the homecoming of Odysseus: “As you set out for Ithaka/ hope that the voyage is a long one…” Cavafy advises the hero not to think fondly of Ithaka, for the journey homeward will award him priceless physical treasures and moral growth.

Enamored by the contrasting sentiments, I made them my own. I will no longer run; I will adventure. I will continue to embark on odysseys, to grow the characteristics required to comfortably face my travels: independence, worldliness, confidence.

And if traveling elicits the instinct that will eventually lead me home, so be it. “Keep Ithaka always on your mind… But do not hurry the journey at all.”