A Shell of a Time 
Angela Lin, Division 2, 11th grade

A shell sits on the wooden desk in my bedroom. And every day I pass it, warmth overcomes my heart and memories flood my mind. When I see those perfectly fanned-out lines on that perfectly imperfect spiral, I don't see light blue ocean waves or hear crashing shores on the beach or smell the sea-salt mixture of sand. Instead, when the light catches that curved shell, I see my local domestic violence shelter.

Four years ago, a friend gave me a kit that allowed me to knit hats. I was fascinated—all I had was a circle with pegs sticking out and a hook, and after three quick hours, a bundle of yarn was transformed into a wearable accessory. I spent my entire summer making one hat after another. Money was spent on colorful yarn, soft yarn, patterned yarn, and my pile of colorful hats, soft hats, patterned hats slowly grew. 

Then one August afternoon I woke from my dazed hat-making frenzy. What was I going to do with all these hats? I don't even wear hats! Suddenly, my hobby and passion for the last two months seemed like a waste. What was the purpose in this suddenly meaningless creation? 

But then the answer struck me soon afterwards, and it was all too obvious. An organization I volunteer with go to the local domestic shelter annually to celebrate Mother's Day and Christmas with the residents. My mind began racing, and, as my parents were the head of our chapter, I ran upstairs and proposed my idea to my father. 
""Can I make those hats downstairs for the residents this Christmas?""
He warned me what a daunting task that would be because over one hundred residents were supposed to show up, but that only settled my determination further. With his official approval, I eagerly counted my mountain of hats.

A mere sixteen. At that moment, I realized what a mission this was going to be. And with the school year quickly approaching, I knew my free time would be limited. But ten minutes before, I already committed a silent promise to myself and all those residents that each and every single one of them would receive a hat to keep them warm this upcoming winter.

And so it began. Endless hours of knitting and pulling and weaving. My hands were sore, my fingers were calloused, and yet, I kept at it. Images of strangers I'd never met in the freezing, snowing night filled my head as I spent every free second I could manage playing with yarn between my palms.

When the first Wednesday of December arrived, I moved two boxes into the van. One hundred and twenty hats, all ready to be delivered. The fruition of one summer ambition lay before my very eyes, and I was ready to see my proud creations atop a sea of heads. 
We arrived at the shelter and set up for an evening of festivities and fun. My dad presented the opening remarks and wished everyone a safe, loving holiday season, the same speech I'd heard six times before. But then I heard him beckon me onstage. All eyes turned towards me, and this sudden, surprising turn of events left me frozen. I somehow wound up next to my father, and he told all the staff, residents, and volunteers in the room that this individual next to him hand-knitted two full boxes of hats to distribute to each and every one of them. The room erupted into applause, cheers, screams of gratitude. It was all too overwhelming, and seeing the effects of my one simple act on the strangers I could only now fully grasp in my sight but envisioned in my heart four months before brought me to tears. 

The night continued, and a line formed before my table to receive ""the hats crafted with love,"" as the residents called it. I talked to them, hugged them, handed them each their own gift from my hands. All these women and children endured horrific struggles and horrible experiences, but on that night of laughter and giving, those lines on their foreheads disappeared, those scars on their arms faded, those tainted souls learned that they were loved and cared for, despite what happened to them in the past.

As the clock ticked on and the evening came to a close and I started putting away my empty boxes, a young, pretty woman wearing a stunning blue hat came up to me and embraced me. She had sparkling tears in her bright eyes as she whispered a brief ""thank you"" into my ear. She pulled away and disappeared into the crowd. I looked down into my hand and found a perfect shell with a cracked corner that wasn't there before.

I never found out what happened to her. After that day, I never saw her again. Every May and December, when we go back there, year after year, I look for that familiar face, wishing for one more hug or smile from the stranger I had formed a bond with through that blue hat on her head and that simple, majestic shell that I cherish on my desk. 
It serves as a reminder of care in the dark, of hope in the world, of love in the air, of good in the soul. It inspires me every day to be the best person I can be because my time and attention does make a difference in a bleak society, and that shell from the lady I don't know but will never forget proves that my actions are important and appreciated. She affected my life as much as I did hers; she touched my soul and created that permanent mark that I will carry with me forever, and I thank her for it every day.

A shell sits on the wooden desk in my bedroom. And it reminds me of that wondrous night filled with love and kindness that fuels the passion within me.
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