..Jon Simonds..

Eat Your Vegetables

The 12-year-old girl bursting with energy, tosses out the rules of play. She stands straight up with a voice shouting, exploding, illustrating the patience lost. The rules are no longer hers to follow. She would not raise her hand, hoping, waiting to be called upon. Selected, as the case may be. Singled out.

"I have one lousy question," she says, stomping her foot in an effort to command attention and then hesitating, waiting for the sound of silence that follows, or, maybe wondering what brought her to this moment where all eyes fell in her direction. Where all thought yielded, like traffic on a busy street when a firetruck comes screaming up behind you. All thought pulls aside. All faces stare up at her.

"Has anyone said to them, we'll stop fighting you if you stop fighting us?"
No one says anything. No one has an answer. It wasn't a relevant question. The fight was on, dude. The lines were drawn. The battle would go on until the winner won, or, the loser lost and the loser wasn't assembled in this room asking these questions. This was the winner and the winner had the toughest gang in the hood. The winner had the best education money could buy. The winner was hip, cool and best of all, tech savvy. The winner had toys the loser only imagined, or knew absolutely nothing about. Besides, the winner had everything to lose.

Somebody finally asked, "Why should we stop the fighting? They started it."
"But why?" She yells, still standing. "Why? The Cable Company shut off our Internet, phone and TV yesterday. We haven't been able to pay the bill. Every week, my dad spends more on gas to get back and forth to work. He spends more on food at the grocer, but his paycheck stays the same. So we have less and less for the things we enjoy. That's something I understand, but this? Why doesn't somebody just tell them, if you stop fighting with us, we'll stop fighting with you."

She sits down, waiting for somebody to say something but nobody seems to say anything at all and the silence engulfs her, surrounds her, squeezes her until she snaps it in two, dropping both halves of the number two pencil on her desk. "Is it shameful for us to stop fighting? Is it a sign of weakness, lost resolve? Does it make of us a loser? Will they see it as victory? Will the loser be the winner with dancing in the streets and high five's and back pats? Will it sound like the Fourth of July, with all these explosions going off cos the winner quit and the loser won? Does it really matter? What's the shame in stopping!"

Her eyes were wide, hazel and moving madly across the room, bouncing from his eyes, to her eyes and her eyes to his eyes and everyone's eyes waiting for an answer. Silence. It returns. It is a blanket again. She doesn't care.

"You're pathetic," she says.
There is more silence and then somebody says, "You think our quitting is that important?"

"I'll tell you what's important. My family is important. My country is important. Improving America's standard of living, for everyone is something that is important. Is that so terrible? I mean, don't we cry the same tears, bleed the same blood? Can't we recognize that much in one another? I mean, I'm what. A fifth grader? I've spent five school years learning to think about things, learning to question things. I'm told to excel, exceed, graduate at the top of the class so I can what? Go out into the real world and stop thinking, stop questioning, just go along with the program?"

Laughter erupts through various parts of the classroom, but not all are amused. She is not amused. She was not trying to be funny. She is not angry. She is sorry. She wonders why she ever asked the question to begin with and then blames it on hormones.

"Just forget it," she says. "Just forget I ever asked the question. War is just a big school yard fight where nobody pulls anybody apart. They just join in, or watch from the sidelines. It just tears families apart, destroys the community and leads to more fighting. It's easier, that way. If everybody gets all caught up in the fighting, then nobody has any time for listening. Nobody has to think. It's like dinner with mom. It's just so stupid."

She surprises everyone, passes everyone, like the firetruck parting a sea of traffic.
"What's so stupid about dinner?" someone asks.
"My mother. Every night she has to tell me to eat all my vegetables. She tells me over and over and over again. They have all these natural igrediants to fight all these deseases. You want to live a good, long life? Eat all your vegetables."
The class erupts in laughter again, only this time she laughs with them. She is full of them. They have all heard the same thing. The laughter fades. Someone has to ask.
"So do you?"
"Do I what?"
"Eat all your vegetables."

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