There was once a pilot who crashed her plane while flying over the Sahara Desert. Miraculously she survived, but, disoriented from the crash, had no idea where she was or how to get help. So she picked a direction and walked in the desert without any water or food. By noon, she collapsed on the sand from exhaustion. Right at that moment, however, a vision appeared. A brilliant genie spoke clearly to her. “I will only say this once. Do not despair. Do not give up hope. Just listen and do as I say and you will survive. In the end, you will be both happy and sad. But first, reach down and pick up some sand. Heed my words and continue on.”  The genie disappeared, but his words gave the woman strength. With newly found vigor she put the sand in her pocket and continued on her journey to safety. Just as she was almost too weak to go on, she reached the top of a dune and saw a small village beneath her, where she was nursed back to good health. She thought about the genie’s words, and she reached into her pockets to find something hard and cold. In her hands were diamonds. She felt happy and sad, just like the genie had told her. She was happy to be alive and to have the diamonds, but she was sad that she had not picked up more sand.

This story, “Sand Into Diamonds,” is one of the founding stories that we use to guide our service experience at City Year. Founding stories put our experiences into perspective, and this one serves to remind us that our everyday experiences, no matter how stressful or mundane, have more value than they seem. During your year of service, you will have experiences that challenge you and lead you to question yourself. You will feel dejected and unsure. But just the same, you’ll go through periods of confidence and excitement with your own possibility. Throughout it all, you’ll reach rhythm of familiarity, and months will blend together until it’s graduation day, and it’s time to say goodbye. That’s when you realize that your experience was more than the lessons you taught, the relationships you made, and the early mornings you had. Everything that you did in the past year, no matter how small, gives you invaluable experience and perspective on your life going forward. You may not have realized what the sand really was when you were collecting it, but by the end of the year, you’ll look back and wonder how you couldn’t see it for the diamond that it was. 

Hannah Laub served on the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Team at Kenilworth Science and Technology School during the 2016-2017 school year. 

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