Drowning to Swim | A Short Story
Here's a short story I wrote a couple of months ago about youth action in social movements. I don't often post short stories on here, but I really like this one. I used aspects of my life as well as ideas I have pondered for a while to build this story, but it is in no way a story of my life. In fact, I purposefully refrain from naming or assigning pronouns to any of the characters so anyone could imagine themselves as part of the story. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.
“I have to do something”
It has been too much for too long, and I can’t take it anymore. There are too many problems to not do something. I know I’m supposed to be some dumb kid that does dumb kid things, but growing up watching the world in flames makes it hard to stay dumb.
Drowning in chaos and information forces you to sink until you swim. And even when you learn to swim, tentacles of despair pull you down to show you your place.
I’ve thought about it for a while now. But with all of the world's problems, where do I start? How could I possibly decide what to do? How do I know where my time and effort will not be useless? How do I know? How do I know? How do I know? What do I do?
I couldn’t get my mind off of this. It had been days, and I was still just as clueless as before. I had decided thinking about it on my own wasn’t going to work, so I met up with a friend at the beach to get some advice.
“I’ve been thinking,” I proclaimed.
“I want to do something. I’ve felt so powerless over everything that has gone on around me my whole life. I want to try to do something.”
“You want to save the world? Come on, what are we supposed to do about it?”
“What do you mean?”
“We can’t even vote! And even if we could, so what? The same people have been in power for 100 years! How are you going to change that?”
After a bit of silence, I responded “I don’t know.”
This hit me hard. I wanted to help things get better, but it all seemed futile. This was why I had never tried to do something, but I had not fully realized it until today.
One day, I was feeling especially uptight, so I decided to ride my bike much further than usual. I rode further and further and further until I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it back home. Just then, I crested a hill and descended into a beautiful valley. Tall, golden grasses swayed in a cool breeze under a beautifully warm afternoon sun. A rim of tree-capped hills surrounded the valley, and their allowance for adventure beckoned me forward like sirens offshore. I sat in the valley for what must have been hours taking in all of the little details that couldn’t be observed when swiftly passing through; the stunning hawk circling above, the bright flowers on the side of the creek just starting to wither, the crackling of dried grasses snapping in the wind. I could not get over how amazing this place was. Just as I was about to turn away, a herd of deer tromped by, prompting me to stay longer. While sitting in the valley enjoying its multitudes of majesty, I pondered how it was a shame that it took so long to get here. It seemed like all of the amazing places were so far from where I lived.
You cannot imagine a world without access to such majesty. Yet you live it every day.
I thought about that biking experience for a few days. I kept asking myself, why are all of the cool places so far from where I live? Why is nature so far away? I began to realize it was because of how the area where I lived was built. Big house after big house after big house used up all of the land, meaning I had to travel far to escape the big, boring houses. After looking into it more, I realized this problem wasn’t unique to my neighborhood. In fact, it was the rule, rather than the exception. I learned that all across the continent both nature and fertile farmland were being eaten up for yet more big houses.
Another problem for me to despair.
Another problem for you to despair.
Maybe that's where I start. Maybe I can do something to stop the ever-persistent march of houses outward into beauty. But how do I start? And once I start, where do I go?
After further research, I learned the problem was commonly deemed “suburban sprawl.” It was terrible, and I wanted to do something about it, but it didn’t seem like there was anything I could do on a personal level, so I kept doing nothing.
Eventually, I’d had enough. I’d said I was going to do something about the world’s problems, I’d found a problem that was meaningful to me, and then I’d stopped when it wasn’t easy to solve. But of course it wasn’t easy to solve, or it would have been solved. I needed to do something.
You need to do something.
After looking up some local organizations online, I found a group of kids my age from various high schools near me that worked to tackle problems like the loss of nature, so I reached out to them. A few days later, I talked with one of the group’s members over the phone, and our conversation was marvelous, so I decided to get more involved. After attending one of the group’s biweekly meetings, I was overwhelmed with passion, purpose, courage, and most of all, hope. This was exactly what I had been looking for; I had found a group of my peers who were also concerned and wanted to tackle the same issues I did.
Our group became inseparable. We hung out all of the time in natural places just as brilliant as my meadow, we showed up to city council meetings about land use zoning, we protested newly planned developments in remaining untouched areas, and more. We were a good team and we worked hard to accomplish our goals. The group also exposed me to other environment-related issues, further expanding my passion for nature.
After a while, my parents became wary of this mysterious thing I spent so much time doing. They didn’t understand, or at least they said they didn’t understand, but they didn’t want to. They didn’t even try.
“What are you doing? Have you finished your homework?”
“No, I’m on the phone with my eco-group right now. I’ll do it later.”
“You spend so much time doing that. It’s crazy! You’re supposed to be a kid. You need to be doing your homework so you can go hang out with your friends or play sports or something when you’re done.”
“But these are my friends.”
“Do your homework. It’s more important.”
More important? This was something I could never understand. How was my homework more important than protecting what’s left of the world’s best places? It seemed like everyone’s priorities were backward.
Are your priorities backward?
I left that call to do my homework to appease my parents, but I was not happy with that decision. Fighting for what mattered brought me so much more joy and purpose than doing dull homework ever could.
Over time, I got much more involved in advocacy until it was the main part of my life besides attending school. It was a lot of work, but it was incredibly empowering. At times, if a decision didn’t go the way I’d hoped it would, it was extremely disappointing, but there was no beating the feeling of success that mattered. While my little group and I didn’t change the world, we occasionally made one part of it a little better, and that’s what mattered.
You have to start somewhere.