Bethesda Magazine | July-August 2017

The Voice From Arthès By Hannah Ashe

High School Essay Honorable Mention Winner, Winston Churchill High School

 Pourquoi? Pourquoi avez-vous fait?

“Why?” I asked the old man in my broken high school French. “Why did you do it?” 

I was in a small room, in a small house, in a small French village called Arthès. Moments earlier, I was standing in near darkness in a small alcove by the rear wall and attic stairs. Seventy years ago the alcove could not be seen from the room because of a false wall. Seventy years ago, the Dubecs hid my grandfather in this alcove whenever the Vichy police came to Arthès looking for Jews. 

In a shaky voice, almost impossible to understand, the elderly Monsieur Dubec gave me my answer. “Parce que c’était la bonne chose à faire.” Because it was the right thing to do. 

As we drove from Arthès to continue our summer vacation, Monsieur Dubec’s words tumbled over and over in my mind. I understood the dichotomy between right and wrong. It would have been wrong had the Dubecs handed my grandfather to the police. But would it have been wrong to have simply done nothing? Taken the easy way out? Perhaps instead of right versus wrong, the more prevalent but more difficult choice is between doing what is right and what is easy. 

Following that short, yet enlightening conversation, I resolved to take Monsieur Dubec’s words to heart and put those words into practice. I would endeavor to choose more often the right path as opposed to the easy one. I realized my first choice was to take more initiative doing what is right for both the world and myself. Instead of waiting for opportunities to present themselves, instead of waiting to be asked, I would be more active in seeking out those opportunities that would make a difference in my life and others. I needed to step outside my comfort zone. 

I started off small. And like the maxim “Physician, heal thyself,” I started off personal. Over the dire warnings of my friends of how it would ruin my GPA as well as my social life, I enrolled in double-period AP Chemistry. Although difficult, I not only rose to the challenge but I also enjoyed the experience. Further, between early morning study sessions and late-night meetings with my lab partners, I refined my confidence in my ability to thrive amid the rigors of college-level courses. Taking that confidence, I turned to others. In school, I began tutoring students. Now, instead of relaxing with my friends, I spent many lunch periods helping other students. In summer, instead of hanging out Sunday afternoons, I taught special needs kids how to swim. All the while, the voice from Arthès rang in my ears. 

Despite my goal to choose right over easy, I still struggle. There are times when I just want to sit in front of the TV by myself. But each day I remember my conversation in Arthès. Each day, I have to make a conscious choice. My only hope is that I choose correctly.