Essay Sample


Guidance from a Queen


She looked like a queen.  Resting on the new hospital bed in the family room, swathed in blankets, she looked so weak and fragile, with her sunken cheeks, their bones jutting out, and the skin clinging to her temples.  Her eyes, shut as they so often were these past few days, had deep-colored stains under the sensitive skin. Her skin.  It was now so delicate as it clung to the bones of her petite stature, that it resembled the translucent, glistening wings of a newly formed butterfly as it clings to its torn cocoon, waiting for its new means of flight to dry and become strong.  All of this scared me.  Scared me not only for the fact that she was dying, and dying quickly now, but that she was so weak.  Nana had never been weak.  Not ever. 

Though we had grown taller than her years ago, my brother, sister, and I tended to forget that insignificant detail and always felt a sense of awe while around her.  Yes, she was intimidating; fun, intelligent, interesting, caring--and intimidating.  Whenever she caught the three of us bickering, or complaining, or using the unfortunate word "like" too many times incorrectly, she would fix us with a stern gaze, give us a short talking to, and immediately we would be cowed or touched with a sense of shame.  In a way that no other punishment or parental lecture could accomplish, Nana's slightest gaze of disapproval or a few words would make us want to act in the best way that we could.

So it was shocking to see the way that her cancer had made her so small and fragile, propped up with pillows, lying in bed with her eyes closed.  And even in that condition, it struck me how remarkably regal she looked, with her high forehead, defined bones, and small, slightly hooked nose--somehow, she still had a sense of pride and strong presence, like a queen.  It was in this state that she softly whispered into my ear three valuable things have helped shape me into the considerate, accepting, strong person that I try so hard to be today.

"I'm glad you're not bratty."  This was rather amusing considering the circumstances, but I knew exactly what she meant and why she said it--it was very important to her that her grandchildren would grow up to be well-mannered, considerate, educated individuals.  She had used many moments to teach me to how to be courteous: how to dress appropriately, the many different forms of etiquette, and how to behave in certain social situations.  Nana disliked ignorance, and she took every opportunity to educate us, whether by teaching us how to be polite, telling us interesting pieces of history, showing us how to play games from other countries, giving us interesting books to read, and taking us on trips to caves, countryside, cities, museums, and our last trip--to Spain. 

Nana was a high school teacher of Spanish for years, and she waited for a long time for the opportunity to take us to Spain and immerse us in the culture that she loved so much.  My grandparents, siblings, and I had an amazing time together traveling the city and the country around Madrid; there, like everywhere else she took us, Nana taught us about the culture of the locals, and about their history, famous citizens, and language.  I learned about the royal family, visited El Greco's house, and eagerly consumed local dishes, such as paella, that I ordered by myself in Spanish, thanks to Nana's patient guidance.  I strolled through cathedrals with high, gilded ceilings, aged wooden pews, and the smells of courtyard roses and the sounds of foreign chanting floating through the warm Mediterranean air.  Nana took us through open-air markets and through shops selling the newest fashions of Madrid.  Sipping iced lemon granizado, we relaxed in the Plaza Mayor while watching the locals and tourists amble by, like the music of the Plaza's lone cello player drifting on the breeze.  We walked through the ancient streets of Toledo, visited vast, centuries-old cathedrals, and learned about the influence of the Jews, Moors, and Christians as we visited an old church that had also acted as a synagogue and mosque in the past.   Our trip was unforgettable, and opened me up to a world I would never otherwise have known.  To be an educated, intelligent, polite individual is very important, and sadly, is not common enough, but thanks to Nana, it is very important to me.  And yet, Nana had further guidance for me.

"No, I'm not afraid to die."  Most people are afraid of dying.  That last time I saw Nana, other than in memories and dreams, she was lying on her bed, weak...and strong--she looked so poised, resigned, regal.  Somehow, she still retained her sense of dignity; but that seemed so like Nana.  I didn't know what, if anything, she believed would happen after she died, but she seemed to be waiting, calmly and tiredly.  She had prepared to meet Death in the same way that she met every other obstacle or new event in life--face-to-face, and with a sense of great self-possession and understanding of her actions.  Nana's dignified, calm acceptance of death contrasts greatly with the reactions of most people that I know--death is many people's greatest fear.  I also fear death, but I am more afraid of the deaths of people I most love, than of my own.  My Nana was strong enough to face death, and I realized that had to be strong enough to let her, to accept it.  I learned then that some things in life, such as death, I cannot change, no matter how much I try to fight the inevitable.  At these times, all I can do is prepare myself and accept what is to come, the way that Nana always prepared herself, even as she lay dying.

"Trust your instincts...they're good."  She was right.  I was always being told to trust myself.  I didn't know if my instincts were good, but I did have trouble trusting them.  It gave me something to think about.  And I've been constantly thinking about it since, and getting better at trusting my instincts.  Before that sunny afternoon in my grandparents' family room, I had been more introverted in social settings, keeping my opinions and feelings to myself--which was completely contrary to how my family knew me.  In class, I rarely raised my hand to contribute the opinions and thoughts that were always churning inside my head.  I was often hesitant on the soccer field, and frequently felt self-conscious when talking with peers I didn't know.  As I began to have more trust in myself, I began voicing my opinions everywhere I went, I played soccer with drive and energy, and I made many new, close friends--many of whom talk with me about their difficulties and ask for advice.  Having faith in my instincts, whether in the classroom, on the soccer field, about the personalities of people I meet, how to help friends, or decisions about my future, has made me a happier, stronger person.  I trust more in myself and my actions; taking heed of Nana's advice has made me a more complete individual because I am now surer of myself and of my decisions.

Thinking back to that moment, while kneeling by her bed and sharing time with her, Nana was using the last moment that she would speak to me as an opportunity to convey an important message and teach me even further.  Nana may have told me these three things as three plain pieces of advice to remember, but they were the last things that she chose to tell me with the time that she had.  I knew that what she was telling me must be very important.  So I obediently took her words to heart, and they have come to help shape who I am.  I'm still just beginning to understand and appreciate the wealth of good that she has done me.  Her guidance and her teachings have made me a better, more educated, open-minded, and whole person, and for that, I have never stopped feeling grateful.


*           *         *

                                          Reflection on my Essay

Out of my essays from which to choose from, I decided to use my introductory essay.  Even though this composition required the most revising, I wanted to refine it and display it in my ePortfolio because I think it is the best example of my writing potential, and because it means the most to me out of all of my essays.  My essay envisages my Nana, an important person who greatly affected the person I am today.

The feedback for this essay mainly centered on employing better transitions, improving sentences that were too vague, and condensing my introduction.  Many of my paragraphs skipped too abruptly to the next ones, so I revised or composed beneficial transitions to help my paper flow better.  Also, I had phrases that were list-like or too vague and bordering on cliché; as a result, these sentences did not do much to support the deep meaning of my main ideas.  To mend this difficulty, I took out the list-like features, made formerly vague sentences more specific, and added more detail where it mattered, for example to the passage about our trip to Spain and the wealth of knowledge that our Nana taught us there.  And lastly, my introduction, which may have been a bit too long--I read through it multiple times and finally decided that I liked how it read and flowed together.  Even though this visual passage is somewhat lengthy, it means a lot to me, and I believe it supports what I want to say.  I did not want to cut it shorter.  However, by adding another few paragraphs in the body of the essay, the introduction became shorter in relation to the rest of the paper.

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