Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Welcome to Catholic School! Let the only sign of your anxiety be the desire to run the hem of your plaid skirt through your fingers. Stand in the girl’s line and do not question why everyone is categorized by gender. Don’t think about how you used to line up together with the Olympic mountains just visible behind your elementary school. Follow the sign labeled “6th” and then stay put. Don’t talk to anyone; you will have a chance for that later. Instead, note the anchor-shaped earrings on the girl in front of you, notice how her loose curls flare like a lion’s mane, and the ironed pants that match her scratchy sweater— the same sweater you will wear for the next three years.
Where there is hatred let me sow love
When your teacher walks toward you, don’t duck your head. Instead, say your name with confidence. When she looks at you as if your name is not on her roster, don’t worry, you are in the right place. Remind yourself that this is an opportunity to start clean. People know nothing about you, so use that to your advantage. Soon, the anger toward your parents for moving you down the West Coast will diminish. When the bell rings and the students straighten their backs, follow them. They’ll recite the Prayer of Saint Francis as they do every day and you’ll pretend to know each verse until they replace the pop songs inside your head.
Where there is injury, pardon
As you walk into the classroom, look around. You’ll do a lot of observing. Look at the planets on the walls with letters reading “Sixth Grade is Out of this World!” Go ahead, laugh. Smile at the turtle hiding under the rock bridge, wave even, but don’t envy this turtle, you’ve already done your time hiding. Watch as your teacher quickly creates a nametag for you. It will be white, unlike the blue and purple ones already set on the desks. “S-W-A-N” she writes, but don’t worry, they’ll know you soon. When your teacher apologizes for confusing you with your younger brother, laugh. When she walks you over to a purple index card that reads “Samuel,” quietly sit and replace the tag. Touch your cold fingers to your cheeks, it will help cool the flush. Stand when everybody else does. Watch their lips form words to another prayer you do not yet know. Listen to students’ special intentions: “For everyone to have a good first day,” “for my dad because he is going to LA,” “for my grandmother because she is in the hospital.” Make some of your own, but don’t say them aloud. Then sit and listen some more.
Where there is doubt, faith
When recess begins, don’t waste your time trying to look like you know what you’re doing, or where you are going. Try talking to the girl on your right. Remember what your mom said about a potential friend for you, whom she introduced herself to on Garden Day, and inch closer to the girl. Do not try to imagine your mother handing pictures of you to your classmates saying, “This is my daughter, you should talk to her!” Soon Garden Day Girl will be your best friend, and you’ll laugh about this day, but right now, don’t scare her off.
Where there is despair, hope
Your teacher will explain a group project to the class. This project will become one of the reasons that you enjoyed middle school so thoroughly. In high school, you’ll hear middle school horror stories and think back to Planet Crazyland. Your teacher tells you that you and your tablemates are to create a planet and a travel brochure describing places to visit. You will use up the bottle of pink glitter for your flag and all over it paste the face of boy who will become another one of your best friends. You will create Crazyland with one of the top students in your class. She will view you as competition, but will always be kind to you. You will create a small group with her and another Crazyland friend and name yourselves the Crazy Maniacs, but later drift apart. Still, you will vote for her for Student Council President, knowing that others voted for you over her, and you will congratulate her on being named Valedictorian, as if you hadn’t tied.
Where there is darkness, light
You’ll play volleyball with the girls one grade above you. Don’t listen to them when they say that their classmate, the one with glasses and remnants of bad bowl cut, has taken an interest in you. You’ll continue the drills that turn your skin red like ripe Gala apples. Eventually, you’ll give up trying to ignore the girls and your intrigue will get the best of you. This will be a near fatal decision. You’ll be known as the girl who was unofficially “with” the older boy and you won’t be able to do anything about it. The next two years of pretending to enjoy his presence will teach you the importance of speaking up, though you will not put the lesson into practice until much later.
Where there is sadness, joy
You were instructed to sit or lie in silence for a few minutes to reflect upon the year thus far. Glance at the people around you listening to the same hum of Christmas music, each one with different a thought. These people will become like family. You will spend three years full of anger-inducing math classes and language arts act-it-outs with them. In years to come, you will spend recesses playing knockout, all thirty of you. Before then, your class will grow and shrink, then it will become the perfect number, split evenly between girls and boys.
O divine master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console
When your teacher leaves for three months, know that she will be back. The memories you shared with her on your class trip to the Marin Headlands will not be drained by the IV. She will be back, but while she is gone, you will often refer to the Headlands, when “A Whole New World” became the girls’ theme song. You will build gingerbread houses with Garden Day Girl and Anchor Earrings Girl and another classmate who will become one of your closest friends. You will sit on the green benches on the school’s blacktop and play Mafia. You will play tag and your friend will trip and remain flat on the concrete until an ambulance comes. She was the other Crazy Maniac.
To be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love
You will look up popular Do-It-Yourself crafts and decide to customize a mug to deliver to your friend. You will have spent hours on this mug. You will use your new Sharpies to outline the letters “CMS” with colorful dots for “Crazy Maniacs.” On the handle, write “olleh,” a word your friend had texted which left everyone confused. At this moment, you will realize that it is simply “hello” backwards and you will laugh until your voice becomes hoarse. In class, you will find something amusing and look up to find an empty seat. Let your tears be wiped away by your ocean blue sweater. You will soon forget your friend’s incident had ever occurred.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it's in dying that we are born to eternal life
One day, when people ask you whether or not you miss your hometown, you will shrug and say, “I love my friends here.” One day, you won’t wonder what it would have been like to attend Jane Addams Middle School in Seattle. You will only think about what it was like to attend St. Finn Barr Catholic School. One day, you will wonder who you would have been if you had insisted that your parents place you in public school. When you talk about St. Finn Barr, one day, your face will glow like lilies against the divine golden light. You will laugh at your brothers’ Christmas Concert performances, remembering the weeks of choreography. You will be excited for events you get to attend, like the annual festival and school Walk-a-Thon. One day, you might even miss your plaid skirt and you will have felt as if you were born again.
Xuan Ly is an aspiring writer who attends Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco.