Searching for Sparks

Last night I had the opportunity to be a judge for the annual "Reflections" contest at a local elementary school. There were probably one hundred entries in the literature category, and I was asked to select five who would receive an award plaque and move on to a larger state-wide contest. The theme was, "I can make a difference by..."

It was fun. Elementary school kids write silly things like, 'I can make a difference by picking up trash in my neighbor's yard and not kicking my little sister." Some children had long lists of chores and duties they could do to make a difference. Many entries--at least fifty--were about picking up litter and recycling. Some even talked about saving the planet and eliminating pollution, but couldn't offer any specific ways to accomplish those lofty goals. (Do any of us really know how to save the planet and eliminate pollution?) As the other judge and I carefully read each entry, most were easily placed in a "no" pile. And then, suddenly, we'd find a spark--an entry with something unique, heartfelt, and special.

One child wrote about laying on her trampoline with her father, watching the stars. She compared finding litter on nature walks to "eating at a fancy restaurant and finding gum under the table." Wonderful images. A spark. Another wrote a piece of fiction about a boy who decides to help his neighbor with cancer by planning a neighborhood talent show. Unique. Different. And yet another child wrote a story of a woman who looks out her window each morning across the lake after waking from a recurring dream, determined to help her town. This was a fifth grader, with the ancient heart of a writer. While reading her entry, I had a strange flash of recognition where I remembered myself from the past, writing stories and articles and dreaming of the future. My soul connected with that little anonymous author.

In so many cases, I believe writers are born, not made.

Judging "reflections" is something I hope I'll be asked to do again.


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