To See, To Feel, To Give, and Not To Be Still
Pei-Lin Yang, Division 3, College senior #ws18e-s1d3

"What is life?” is a seemingly simple yet actually complicated question. Many people have thought about it and interpreted life in different ways. “Life is a maze” in the song The Show by Lenka; “life is but a walking shadow” in the drama Macbeth by William Shakespeare; “life is like riding a bicycle” to the physicist, Albert Einstein. Life can be wonderful, colorful, or abundant to some people, while tough, bitter, or frustrating to others by contrast. Laura Sheridan, a young girl in the story The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield, had a good grasp of the reality of life due to an incident occurring in a different world pushing her to step outside of her ivory tower. If I could be a fictional character, I would like to be Laura, whose distinctive personality inspires me, epiphany of life profoundly impresses me, and significant experience resembles mine.

The Garden Party elaborates how the main character Laura, a girl from a wealthy family, realized the truth of life. One day, her family held a luxurious garden party. Before the guests arrived, the family members were busy setting up for everything: asking the workers to put up the marquee, setting the table, getting dressed up, ushering in the performing band, preparing a variety of delicacies, and decorating the venue with trucks of lilies, roses, and lavenders. In the atmosphere of joy and excitement, a piece of astonishing news pierced: a carter living in the little cottages below Laura’s estate had just died from falling off his horse on his head, survived by wife and five little kids. Laura, shocked, depressed, and sympathetic, asked her siblings and mother to stop the party. However, unlike Laura, who stood in the poor family's shoes and tried to avoid having great fun while the neighboring family was in terrible pain, her family insisted on continuing their party and blamed Laura for her absurdity. After the party was over, Laura’s mother proposed sending the remaining food and some arum lilies to the “poor creature.” Laura didn’t think it a good idea, yet she had no choice but to compromise afterwards. Then, in her hat trimmed with gold daisies and a long black velvet ribbon, she walked down the dark and smoky lane into the poor cottages with the big basket filled with food and lilies. She saw the dead man lying in the shabby room so peacefully with all the family members surrounding him in great sorrow. With tears in her eyes, Laura apologized for her odd and disrespectful hat, and put the basket on the ground, leaving. Outside of the house she met Laurie, her brother. “Isn’t life…” she wept, not knowing how to explain herself, but Laurie understood pretty well. “Isn’t it, darling?” he replies.

Because of her inspiring personality and epiphany of life, Laura easily becomes the fictional character I most want to be. When the workers were putting up the marquee, she was willing to give them a hand and have an easy talk with them. She could get along well with people from a different social class, from which we can see her tact and true naivety. Furthermore, when the news of the neighbor’s death reached Laura’s family, she was the only one who heeded the message and cared about the family of the deceased. Her compassion, kindness, and empathy drove her to stop the party—even though she was rejected—and visit the poor family. Her sensitivity and thoughtfulness were also obviously seen through her visit to the cottage when she found herself ashamed of wearing her best clothes and the eye-catching hat amid such improper conditions. Instead of staying in her own garden, she was spontaneously concerned with the world around her, especially the predicament of the lower class. In addition to her admirable characteristics, I wish to have understanding of life as profound as Laura’s. The incident forced her to realize the darkness of social class, social prejudice, and face the fact of life. She had always lived in her ivory tower until the accident happened, which pushed her to break out of her comfort zone, and reach out to the impoverished community seemingly near, but in fact faraway owing to the hidden high wall between her and her neighbors. After visiting the poor family in such a different world, she awakened from the fairytale-like dream and psychologically became a grown-up all of a sudden. In comparison with Laura’s family members, she must be the one that best understood the true color and the taste of life: colorful but dark, sweet yet bitter.

Last summer when I was a short-term exchange student in a foreign country, I encountered a situation similar to the one Laura got into in the story. In one leisurely afternoon, my friends and I went to see a movie. Before the movie started, we went food hunting in a next-door shopping mall. With all kinds of delicious food and beverage in our hands, we entered the theater, enjoying the relaxing and pleasant time. After the movie, full, satisfied and refreshed, we went to the nearby bus stop to catch a bus back to school. On our way there, a slightly hunchbacked man in a shabby clothe around 60, who seemed to be homeless, approached me. With eagerness yet despair in his eyes, he looked at me and uttered a long string of words hurriedly in a strong local accent. As an outsider, I could barely understand what he was trying to tell me, but I still got a few keywords: “3 Dollars,” “go to some place,” and “take the bus.” It happened so suddenly that I was shocked and in panic, not knowing what to do. Getting trapped in a dilemma, I wondered if I should help him out. However, it occurred to me that I didn’t have any extra change to spare him except the few coins held in my hand—and they were just borrowed from my friends for the bus fare. Besides, what if he were a liar? Then I shook my head, and he soon left me alone.

It is mostly uncomfortable for me to reject people, especially those who are in need. When I got to the bus stop, I kept turning my head to see if he was still there seeking help. He walked back and forth at the same place and asked the passers-by for help, but was refused again and again. At that moment, a sense of sadness surged up into my heart. I worried if he was going back home, heading for somewhere to look for a job, or anxiously on his way to meet somebody waiting for him. In such a big modern city, how could someone get to his destination without transportation? More importantly, in such an affluent city, why can some people lead luxurious lives, dwell in skyscrapers, and drive celebrity cars, some others live an abundant life by being engaged in leisure activities or enjoying delicious food, just like what my friends and I had done, while still others don’t even have a penny to take a bus? My friends were happily discussing about the movie we had just watched around me, but my mind was still occupied with the man’s helpless figure and voice. When I was shrouded in puzzle and disappointment over the unfairness of life, Laura and Laurie’s conversation suddenly came to my mind: “Isn’t life…” “Isn’t it?” At that very moment, a stream of comfort flew into my heart and released me. I knew that my sorrow and disheartenment had been understood; my feelings, thoughts, and doubt had been voiced in the literature long, long ago. The simple yet significant story soothed me, pulling me out of the ebb, and I knew that I wasn’t alone. This is just the way the reality of life is: cruel, unfair, and eternally perplexing.

Without a doubt, Laura is the fictional character that I would most like to be. Her characteristics—caring, thoughtful, full of sense of justice, not only imprint themselves in my mind, but also inspire me to be a blessing to people around me. The experience I had in the foreign city was similar to Laura’s, which provided me with a chance to see the true color of life, though my feeling and enlightenment would not be as strong as Laura’s. With Laura as my role model, I expect myself to have the eyes to see people’s need, the heart to sympathize those who are suffering, as well as the action to help them out and fight for social justice.
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