[This piece won Honorable Mention in The Diversity Story Cultural Writing Competition - High School]
BY KATE WEXELL
All I could hear were the voices of others. They were nonsensical, quivering vibrations on the air, like ripples in a pond hose source I couldn’t detect. They were speaking languages I didn’t know. But I saw the light, the darkness, the laughter, the rainbows refracting from their sound. When in remembrance, their voices went up. In contemplation, their voices went down. Though German and French and Arabic and Italian rang over the eardrums of a unilingual girl, they were absorbed as if I were reading from a book. They needed no translation.
We were standing in a cathedral with ceilings as high as the sky we all lived beneath. In the center of the rumble, a telephone stood with twenty country codes listed on it. It was stark red in a room of varying color. I was drawn to it. It was like a string connecting this gathering place to the rest of the world. This harbor of diversity entranced people from every race, every language, every nationality.
I saw people stop and point in awe at the stained glass windows. They prayed in the pews. They left requests on the prayer wall in every character imaginable. They were written in ink and pencil, the same as anybody else. “Meine Mutter ist krank.” They needed health. “Permettimi di sentirmi bene con me stesso.” They needed happiness. “S'il vous plaît, aidez mon âme.” They needed God. And whether these visitors were religious or not, they’d come to admire the fact that humanity had so much faith in the unknown that they’d created impossible masterpieces of art.
I wandered outside of the cathedral, finding a man creating images out of chalk. There were 195 circles with 195 flags drawn within them. People threw coins in the circle for the country where they were from. They each belonged somewhere different, but the flags lay on the same common ground. Around the perimeter of the church, I watched multi-colored children blowing bubbles across the wind. The shine around the outer rims of the bubbles glistened in a thousand colors as the light hit them. I imagined who these children would become. There was a hidden story locked inside them that I’d never uncover.
Then I noticed an odd sight. A middle-aged man was sitting on a park bench next to the cathedral wearing only a baby diaper and holding a balloon and an oversized yellow lollipop. I approached him out of curiosity. “Hallo,” I said. “Wie heissen Sie?” What are you named?
“Arnold,” he replied. Hearing my abominable attempt at a German accent, he calmly asked, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” Do you speak English?
Bashfully, I nodded. “Yes, I am an American. I apologize for our lackluster foreign language programs.” He said it was alright. At that moment, I watched a little boy point at the man and laugh. I paused for a moment.
“It is ok,” he spoke for me. “I know what you’re going to ask me about. People laugh all the time because they don’t understand.”
“May I be allowed to understand?” I asked him.
He nodded and smiled. “It’s rather simple. For me, childhood was a simpler time. I want to embody that through the rest of my life. It’s my decision, to live the way I want to. Sometimes I sit here, where all of these travellers come through. They mock me, but they don’t realize that I could just as easily mock them for something about them that is different. Instead, we must choose to see everybody as human, despite our differences.”
I listened to him intently. “Thank you for explaining that to me. You are right,” I smiled. Though he was dressed strangely, he had behaved like a man. Looking around the city, it was a world full of color and noise. None of the colors and noises matched, but they all had something in common: they were seated beneath the same blue sky.