Just An Essay

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Janet Hendersen’s life was hectic between, home, school, and work. Only her love of reading and writing offered some respite—but not much. She had no social life to speak of as not much had changed since elementary school. High school was pretty much a disaster when it came to social activity despite her high academic standing. She wasn’t unattractive by any means, but her drab, worn-out clothes purchased by her mother from the thrift shop marked her as poor—as if there were a flashing light mounted above her. Being poor wasn’t a crime, but having parents that were alcoholic, or borderline antisocial hadn’t helped a bit. Her life had changed starting with the dropping of an armload of textbooks as she made her way to the bus stop at college. Ken Thompson, the man that stopped to help her pick them up was a stranger—but a nice one. From that chance encounter a relationship developed over the next several months that propelled her into another world she had only read, and fantasied about. Her life was changing at a dazzling rate, the ride at times confusing, frightening even, but exciting all at the same time. Janet Hendersen was falling in love for the first time with life, and with Ken Thompson.

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Mrs. Ford stood before her English Composition class and smiled. Then she started to hand back the graded essays. When she finished she held a single sheet of paper in her hand.

“Last week I asked all of you to write an essay of any length dealing with what makes you special. I have been teaching this class for twenty-one years and have asked my students to write on this same topic each year. There have always been some excellent essays. Most of you wrote extended explanations over several pages or more. But the very best essay this time was the shortest. I seldom read an essay a student has written to the entire class, but I’m making an exception this time as it is but five short paragraphs in length. It’s entitled- ’On Being Special’.”

Being special is not the same as being different. We are all that. We have different parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. We come from families that are well to do, not so well to do, and poor. We are different from each other in the way we view the world, in what we are interested in and experience, and what we value. Sometimes being different is hard, sometimes not. You can often make yourself different to the degree you choose to be. But, being special is not something you can do for yourself. You can’t truly make yourself special.

Being special is something others see in you. Someone who thinks you are special most often will not tell you to your face you are. Your parents may think you’re special for a particular trait or ability. Your friends for other reasons, and acquaintances, or strangers yet for other reasons. Others, whom you will never meet may consider you special too based upon what they have read.

Many teachers made me feel special. They appreciated me in ways others didn’t. They watched me through eyes that saw my potential. My future worth. They gave me the strength to accept the fact I am different from all others, and that being different is not in, and of itself a bad thing. Indeed, it can be very good. That made each of them special to me.

I have a girlfriend that says I’m like the younger sister she has always wanted. We share things that only girls would divulge to one another, and know it will be safe. She is my window into the larger feminine world. She is the keeper of my secrets and I of hers. To her I am special.

I am special to three different men for different reasons. I know this as one is not of my own race. He protects me and makes sure I am well fed when I am at work. The other thinks I’m special as I show up to work without fail. He knows I put my best effort in on his behalf each day. I know I’m special to him as he rewards me through my paycheck. Finally, I’m special to another man for reasons I don’t fully understand. He makes me laugh, makes me cry, he makes the world a better place for me. He tells me I'm pretty and intelligent. He makes me feel good about myself.

So how do you know you’re special? What do all of these people who make me feel special have in common? It’s simple really. They treat me with respect and dignity. It’s not something I can give to myself. It is only in that way I am special at all.

Mrs. Ford lowered the paper from in front of her. The class was silent. They all knew who had written the essay. Janet felt small and large at the same time. It was a very strange place to be, even for her. Mrs. Ford released the class and several of her classmates gave her quiet praise as they walked past. Just a few words from each of them. But it loomed large in her mind. Janet picked up her books and looked up. Mrs. Ford was smiling.

“Janet Hendersen, someday I will see your name in print. I’m sure many times, and each time I do I’ll know I’m special. Thank you.”

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