A Study in Grit

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  • A personal response essay by Lisa Brock

Some peoples’ lives are a plush office chair rolling down a dimly-lit office hallway, and others are a soul-forging labor up the sheer face of a hostile mountain. What people want and get out of their lives is determined by their circumstances, experiences, and reactions to the obstacles they encounter during their excursion. The characters in the novel October Sky by Homer Hickam are in an un-ending battle against their circumstances that try to thwart their success. They only get stronger as they bash through every hurdle in their way, adjusting their lives to find a way around, over, or through.

October Sky is a formidable study of the force of will and determination, the rewards that come from pushing through hard times. Sonny Hickam shows that life is a conflict of the individual versus everything around him, from other people to the environment, and even beliefs and expectations. All pose challenges to the way people go about trying to get where they are going, and what they are willing to do to get there. Sonny Hickam overcame the skepticism of his town and his family in order to embark on the path he decided he wanted to follow. Even as he pursued his dream there was always a proceeding fork in the road, or a fallen tree. The path even disappeared sometimes, but then he made a new path. Most importantly, he always got back up even if he tripped and fell. No matter how long he was prone for, he eventually hauled himself to his feet and pushed on. Neither sabotage, nor ridicule, nor alienation and resentment had the final say in where he went. However, no prize is hunted alone. Because of their successes, the advice and alternate expression of others is potentially invaluable. There is no way one person can learn all there is to know or complete every necessary task. As surely as there are situational and intentional forces working against Sonny’s rocket dream, there are people stationed along the way to give him a hand, and even to walk with him and help him with the cross he chooses to bear. Both conflict and companionship strengthen people and empower them to fulfill their goals.

As a favorite science teacher of mine always preached to our class: “Grit.” Yep, just that one word. October Sky is a symbol of perseverance and resourcefulness that casts light in the shadows of my life. It takes its rightful place among the inspirational works—songs, movies, poems, novels and short stories—in my spiritual library that inspire me to live every day, even if I only take one step when yesterday I walked a mile. No matter if I don’t get exactly where I want to go, day-by-day or at the end of my life, I have proof that I must keep moving forward. By making progress every hour, every day, I have the guarantee that I will get stronger. I will go somewhere. Individuals always get better simply by trying, even if they don’t succeed, because improvement and effort in themselves are success. I can relate to Sonny’s father’s incomprehension and scorn for his dreams, the frustration of being looked down upon for trying to work for what you want. My dreams and Sonny’s dreams are a little unheard of and a little odd to the people around us, dreams you would have to experience to believe are worthwhile. Sometimes I don’t believe in myself and the benefits of my goal, and sometimes it is hard to see where I am going. Like the climber hugging the face of the rocky, deadly mountain, I am not in a position to see the top, my goal. I only have my imagination to feel the success, and to design my path to reach it. When things happen that I do not expect, the challenge of absorbing the problem and shaping my life around it stretches my imagination and the abilities of my mind. Whatever stands in our path helps to shape who we are and prepare us for whatever happens next.

Dreamers should embrace challenges and see fallen trees in the road as an opportunity to get smarter and more spry, to have another success in our arsenal to use in times of doubt. But it doesn’t matter if your dreams are elaborate or conservative. Everybody’s lives are shaped to them, and what might look like a pile of sand to the big achiever might be a mountain of mortar to the office-chair roller. It doesn’t matter whether you are tasked with hopping over a crack in the sidewalk or swimming naked across the Arctic Ocean. What matters is that you use the challenge to move forward in your life. Even the office-chair roller needs grit to fix a paper jam.

….live every day, even if I only take one step when yesterday I walked a mile.

– Lisa Brock

English 10-1 Final Exam Personal Response Essay

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13

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