Write for the Future

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My nine hours in the editing room felt like nine minutes. I relished the challenge. I felt like I was boxing with Mike Tyson and dodging every punch he threw sometimes even sending him through the roof with an upper cut.

I carried my passion for film back to school my junior year when I noticed a problem: a clear divide between white students, who are mostly residents of Brookline and students of color, most of whom are bussed to our school. I thought film was the best way to address this issue.

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Rather than write a paper for my Race and Identity class, I produced a film on the conflict by interviewing students from all races. As one of the few African American students who live in Brookline, it was easy for me to gain the confidence of both residents and bussed-in students. When I finished the film, I was proud, yet underwhelmed and sobered by its limitations in solving the problem. I had a similar feeling after completing the Christmas Day heist. Both the film and the heist were driven by excitement but ended with my confrontation with harsh realities.

I could only expose a problem—not fix it. But exposure is a big part of progress and the first step to finding any solution. Six years ago, I learned that lesson through a Christmas miracle.

If that seems too brutal for someone who murdered twelve people, why is the massacre of an innocent bull worthy of a cheering crowd? I could not escape this question in Portugal. I am a Portuguese-American — or, as some call me, the only Portuguese Jew that they have ever met. I was in for a shock when my cousin invited me to a bullfight while I was working in Lisbon for the summer on my own.

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I met my cousin at the front of Campo Pequeno, the bullfighting arena, with my 10 euro ticket in hand. The plain-looking door belied what was behind it: a huge stadium lined with food vendors and excited spectators roaming the endless halls in search of their seats. The excitement was infectious; I could not resist it. I tried to imagine my mom at my age.

She grew up in Lisbon and went to bullfights most Thursdays. Both sides have inspired my perpetual thirst to understand different cultural customs. So naturally, I sat in the stadium consumed with a question: How can people watch the maiming of an animal as casually as Americans watch Eli Manning throw a football?

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I came close to finding an answer to my question during the intermission. A young man no older than 25 approached and hugged my cousin. I immediately recognized him as one of the cavaleiros who had been fighting in the arena just minutes before. My cousin then spoke with an older man who looked strong and proud as the young man ran back to prepare for his second round of the fight.

Their families had an endless line of cavaleiros tracing back for centuries and it was a deep-rooted family tradition and a considerable honor in both their family and in their town to be brave enough to fight what was considered such a wild animal. I looked at this alien young man in his gold embroidered costume and thought about how different we were. Then, with a wave of surprise, I realized that maybe we were not so different after all.

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I expressed this same respect for the other side of my family with my decision to have a Bat Mitzvah in honor of my grandfather. A Holocaust survivor, his Jewish lineage was of great importance to him and therefore to me, even though my mother is not Jewish. A few months before the big celebration, my grandfather passed away. I chose to continue to study for my Bat Mitzvah — I knew it was what he would have wanted. In both scenarios of the bullfight and the decision to continue studying for my Bat Mitzvah, I gained a newfound understanding and appreciation for the cultures that make up who I am.

While I am not going to be the next cavaleiro or a devout Jew, my appetite to probe and understand both cultures and society beyond normal expectations will continue to shape my identity. She looked at me as if she saw a monster. Who could blame her? My face was covered in white hives the size of marbles. All of a sudden, my heart stopped. Everything was blurry and she screamed in the hallway for help. She snatched a green oxygen tank, placed the mask over my face and grabbed the phone. I cried as I heard sirens in the distance growing closer. The next thing I knew, the uniformed emergency medical technicians stood over me with stethoscopes draped around their necks.

Everyone seemed to know what was happening except me. EMT strangers carried me into an ambulance. Inside, one EMT swabbed my leg while another jabbed a long needle into my thigh. I asked questions but it seemed as though I spoke a different language.

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No one answered. They ignored me, yet they were all focused on me as the sirens wailed all the way to the hospital. Everyone laughs at the story of my allergic reaction to the Granny Smith apple I ate at lunch in the fifth grade. After hours of training, every EMT knows the purpose of an epipen. I put on my stethoscope to prepare for my first call ever as a certified emergency medical technician. Within a few seconds, the sirens blare and the rig rolls down the street to Mount Pleasant Avenue. I sit in the back looking at the traffic we are free to pass. We slow to a stop. Kids from the nearby park gather around the fence to see what was happening.

Police and firefighters surround the middle-aged man who suffered a seizure. My hands tremble. My face and my purple gloves are now filled with sweat. My mind goes blank.

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I am frozen. I feel sorry and helpless and the rigorous training fails me in this moment. I rely solely on the other EMTs to assess and transport the patient. My first call turns out to be disappointing. The next day is miserable. My mind replays the call and I want to lie in bed all day. But I get up as I realize a new found respect for experience. A good EMT not only has the classroom training but practical and on-the job experience as well. Experience is powerful enough to overwhelm the nervousness that comes with inexperience.

I aspire to be a doctor but as an EMT, I volunteer with electricians, retired military men, teachers, and carpenters.

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They know how to comfort people in times of distress. They analyze situations quickly. Only experience not self-pity can make me a better EMT now. I return to the Squad more humble and more confident with each call. The journey continues two nights a week. As an EMT volunteer, I meet strangers who become memorable implants in my mind. There is the year-old woman who stopped talking in the middle of a dinner with her son after a stroke. There is the kid trying to jump out of his bathroom window because his mother forbade him to see his grandparents. We convinced him not to kill himself.

There is the year-old man who lived by himself and fell down the stairs. He refused to go to the hospital, so we helped him to his bed and made sure he did not suffer major injuries, while he gave us good advice on how to be the best looking year-old on the planet. Yet, the big moment arrives two months after the first call.

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I gathered the equipment and debriefed the other crew members on exactly what to do when we arrived on the scene of two cars destroyed after a head-on collision. I secured the scene, which means making sure my crew and I are safe to provide medical care to an elderly woman trapped in her car. She screamed for help and I helped her onto a backboard to avoid spinal damage. I assigned an EMT to examine her for head injuries and supervised as we carried her to the nearest hospital.

She would not stop asking questions and yelling almost as loud as the sirens. Her cries were even louder than my cries had been in the ambulance after my allergic reaction to the Granny Smith apple, but they did not distract me from caring for her. How does it feel to be on the care providing side of the calls? Thanks to me, we begin the same step over again. This is my fifth screw up. I reach my tipping point when the captain mocks me in front of everyone:. But I do not make it out of the building without reconsidering my decision. I am not a quitter.

In fact, two years later, the girl that messed up the steps that day— me —becomes captain of the Academy of Mount Saint Ursula Step Team.