Joseph mused in his mortification. How does one go about gracefully stumbling, face first, in front of a clandestine crush? No high school textbook prepared Joseph to answer such a question.
Yet, there was hope. As Joseph stewed over his lunch in the cafeteria of D.M. Davis High School, a taste of sweetness consumed his thoughts. She had smiled at him. Despite his fall in front of her at the first football game of the season, with his oversized sousaphone snaking around his lean yet rigid teenage body, the most beautiful girl at D.M. Davis High School had smiled at him. But really – he doesn’t have a chance, his thoughts changing rapidly and negatively. He’s a band geek who trips on his tuba, and she’s beautiful Danielle, the cheerleader, who makes many a young men toss and twirl in desire to date her.
All of a sudden, Joseph remembered he had to go to the library to do some research. He groaned inside.
As a senior, he was the most experienced competitor on the D.M. Davis High School’s Speech and Debate Team. But as good as he was he had failed in reaching nationals for the past three years. This year, though, he was going to win. His speech would be on immigration.
After all, he was an immigrant himself. He was brown and beautiful. His parents immigrated to the United States when he was really young, but he never really felt like an immigrant, nor did he ever feel compelled to walk around touting himself as one. Joseph didn’t want to jeopardize his ‘American-ness,’ whatever that meant.
While looking at books, he didn’t see one person there at the library. As Joseph turned the corner, he saw Danielle, alone at a table, the only other person there, immersed in a book. She didn’t look up.
To Joseph, at that very moment, the library had never felt more crowded, as if a whale was swimming in a kiddy pool.
He wanted to talk to her, to say anything. But what could he say? ‘Remember that one time I fell on my tuba? Good times... would you like to go out on a date?’ If only he could catch a glimpse of what she was reading, then he could start up a conversation with her.
Joseph stealthily walked in a giant circle around her, pretending to look at books, all the while trying to catch a glimpse of what she was reading. In his circular adventure around her, he failed to notice his ever-shrinking proximity from her, until he was nearly an arm’s length away from her.
Without taking her eyes off the page, Danielle broke the boisterous silence.
“I’m reading a biography on Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife. She was a troubled but courageous woman, a maligned southerner in the White House during the Civil War, but I think she loved Abe with her whole heart; she knew he’d become great.”
Danielle looked up at Joseph. She locked her penetrating green eyes onto his, warmly smiling at him.
“You should really read about the Lincolns. They’re so fascinating.”
She then got up, took her book, and left the library. And just like that, she was gone.
Joseph stood there dazed and silent. What just happened? As Joseph made his way out of the library, a slow slog out of eternity, lost in his mind, he startled himself with an epiphany for his speech.
It was a cold and chilly night at D.M. Davis High School’s last football game of the season. The stands were passive and undisturbed, as the cheerleaders tried to rile folks up, noticeably to no avail. And then there was the marching band.
Joseph sat there in the stands with his instrument nestled next to his feet, his head laying on his clenched fist, his elbows pressing on his legs, looking like the stone-still statuesque thinker that he was.
Joseph hadn’t talk to Danielle all semester, since that fateful day in the library. Indeed, Joseph took Danielle’s advice and read up on the Lincolns. He was startled to find out they were altogether human, not just mythic figures of history.
If only he had the courage in the library to have talked to her.
At halftime, the marching band made its way down the stands towards the field. The flutes began their march, cueing the rest of the band to move. The halftime show began.
The show went as planned. Until it didn’t.
Joseph was executing a marching movement, trying to reach his next position when in the corner of his eye he noticed something off in squirmy Jeff Davis.
What Joseph knew that very few others didn’t was Jeff’s condition.
One time, when Jeff and Joseph were five years old, something happened. They were playing with Jeff’s toys when all of a sudden Joseph witnessed something unusual. Jeff fell to the ground with his Legos in his hands. Jeff started whaling and crying, trying to get back up, his legs unresponsive. Later, Joseph found out that Jeff had Guillain-Barre Syndrome: a condition that causes muscle weakness, and in Jeff’s case, temporary paralysis from the waist down. Very few people knew about Jeff’s condition, especially since it rarely popped its ugly head up.
As Joseph marched with his tuba, he turned his gaze towards Jeff, whose legs were starting to go out from under him, Jeff trying to keep his body up. The halftime show was coming to an end. Joseph knew Jeff wasn’t going to last long on his feet.
“I’ve gotta do something,” Joseph thought grandiosely. “Well, isn’t that the most cliché thought. I guess doing the right thing is rarely ever original. I hope being courageous is some kind of goodness because I don’t want to do what I’m about to do.”
Jeff fell to the ground, clutching his saxophone. Joseph immediately followed suit, grabbing the attention off Jeff, falling forward with his monstrous tuba.
“Well, this sucks.” Joseph thought to himself, his tuba firmly planted into his face.
But as Joseph stuck his head up, he marveled at what came next. As soon as Jeff and Joseph fell, the rest of the tuba section also fell to the ground, one by one. The rest of the brass, from the trombones to the trumpets, soon collapsed thereafter. In domino effect, the entirety of the marching band fell to the ground, everyone thinking it was part of the show, the football field littered with nerd bodies.
The once mute bleachers of fans erupted in applause.
Joseph rushed to Jeff to help him off the field, while the rest of the band slowly stood up to a resounding applause from the stands.
Joseph was on the sidelines when Danielle rushed up to him. She was eagerly silent.
“I saw you fall on your tuba. I know you did it to take attention away from Jeff. Jeff is my cousin.”
Joseph remained silent. She kissed him on his cheek.
“I think Abraham Lincoln would have fallen on his tuba too,” Joseph said smiling at her.
An excerpt of Joseph’s final speech, which he won nationals with:
"Over two hundred years ago, our founders brought forth on this continent, themselves – diverse immigrants dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.
Today, we are engaged in a great civil discord, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, can long last with welcoming borders to all. It’s altogether fitting and proper that we discuss this issue as Americans.
But, in a larger sense, we have long ago already consecrated our open land for all those who seek refuge, far above our poor power today to build a wall or lock the door. This land on which our house stands was built by immigrants. It is for us today, rather, to rededicate ourselves to this idea in which all in the world who seek refuge can come to our home to start a new life on the last best hope of earth. That from our honored forefathers we take increased devotion to un-dividing our nation; for a house divided against itself cannot stand; that we here highly resolve that our nation shall never die in vain, that this nation, under everybody’s Gods, shall have a new birth of diversity – that government of the immigrant, by the immigrant, for the immigrant, shall never perish from the earth."