When I was three, robbers broke into our house. They tied my parents and family up, wielding guns and coarse threats. They emptied the gold bridal jewelry from my mother’s and aunt’s cabinet, and made quick work of our possessions, apologizing intermittently—they said they were short of cash. This didn’t happen often, but it had happened before, and it would happen again: such was the state of an increasingly insecure Lahore, Pakistan. When the four burly men were about to leave, my frail, bony grandmother called out to them, “If you ever need dinner and are about to go hungry, you can always find bread here.”
My grandmother, known by her first name, Mumtaz, was born in Pasibet, India, before the bloody scar Partition left in the Indian subcontinent’s body came about. She recalled hiding in gas stations as a little girl, cowering with her family as they took the risky journey to Muslim-majority Pakistan. She faced further loss when, in her early 30s, she became a widow with three children to care for. Pakistan, like the rest of the world, struggles deeply to accept the strength of its women, preferring to stifle them so it may not be seen. I cannot imagine how hard it was for my grandmother, made entirely of iron and steel, to navigate single motherhood in late 20th century rural Punjab. She may not have liked it when I cut my hair short or met our modern standards of feminism, but Daadi, as I called her, embodied strength in a much more meaningful way, gamely facing down struggles most of us can only imagine.
Some people, when faced with scarcity and loss, come to clutch what they do have closer—Daadi was the opposite. She and her blimp-sized heart threw open the doors every morning, saying to the masses in Pakistan, “Come in, come in!” It didn’t matter what new tragedy befell her personally—she would still pour her soul into helping the needy as a way of living. Early on as a child, I noticed the differences between her household and that of my mother’s side of the family. Though both treated their workers well and gave to charity, Daadi took it several steps beyond what was expected. The people we hired—maids, drivers, chefs—were our family, eating with us, talking to us, dropping in on us when they’d moved away. I remember hearing through the grapevine that her tendency to pass out ice and water among construction workers during the humid summers was looked down upon—a lady of her class was definitely not supposed to cater to and invite in laborers of their class—but that didn’t have a chance of stopping her. When Daadi passed away, mourners came to our house from far-flung corners of the country. People, ranging from society ladies to de facto beggars, wanted to pay their respects—and the same people knew they would be accepted and welcomed into Daadi’s house, regardless of social class. She didn’t run a house for us, her already privileged family—she ran a house for anyone in Lahore who needed one. And, yes, one of those robbers did drop by, semi-regularly for a time, to have some hot food in his mouth. —Emaan M., 19, Dallas, Texas
Matt from Matt and Kim
About a week ago, Matt and Kim had a show to kick off homecoming week at my university, where I’m in the marching band. I skipped rehearsal, just this once, to camp out next to the stage with my brother to see if we could catch a glimpse of the band we had both admired since middle school. We found Matt, bent over and digging around in cords and amps behind the stage. He stood up and walked in our direction. “Hey, Matt!” my brother called to him. He jogged over to us.
Let me say how adorable this man is. He has perfect skin and teeth and an intense jawline and bright blue eyes. He was wearing black skinny pants and a white sweatshirt with the word “KING” in big bold letters. He came over to where my brother and I were standing and introduced himself, and asked us our names and shook our hands. He was unexpectedly normal, and made polite conversation—something about the metal barriers dividing the stage from the audience, I don’t really remember, I was a little starstruck. He asked us how to pronounce Louisville—was it “Loo-ah-vul,” or “Loois-ville?” He told us that it, “Should be pronounced Loois-ville because it makes more grammatical sense.” As a native Louisvillian I don’t agree, but I was too excited to fight him on it. After we chatted for a little bit, we asked if we could take a picture with him. He said yes, and a friendly passerby took the shot.
Later at the actual show, the band was awesome. Tons and tons of energy, great crowd, great band, good vibes all around. When Matt came on stage, he waved at me and my brother in the crowd, and I found confetti in unexpected places for days after. I’ll never forget how thrilling it was to make a relationship with of my favorite bands while in my favorite city. Matt earns a solid 10 out of 10, at least according to this critic. —Abigail P., 18, Louisville, Kentucky
The day that Kimi told me I was her favorite camp counselor at Boring-City-Day-Camp was probably the most emotional I have ever been at any job ever. She has been coming almost every week for the past two summers and has been bringing her sass with her, always looking fierce in pink frilly dresses and oh-so-chic shrug sweaters. I’ll never forget the day she gave me the once-over and stated, “Quiche (my pie-themed counselor nickname), your hair is really short. But don’t worry. It will grow back soon.” She currently goes to my old elementary school, and we have very animated conversations about old French teachers with fake accents and the first-grade teacher we both had who wears a lab coat and pretends to be a scientist. She’s only nine, but I always find myself talking to her like we’re a couple of cynical old spinsters who both hate swim time with an unhealthy passion. On the last day of camp this summer, I told her I had a present for her and produced my very own personal collection of embroidery threads from my backpack. I told her she could pick any colors she wanted, and that I would show her how to make a friendship bracelet. She reluctantly started browsing through the options and said dramatically, “OK. But I thought it was going to be a real present.” Oh, Kimi. Stay fiery. —Brianna D., 19, Canada
I live in Florida. If you are a Floridian and haven’t been to Orlando, you haven’t lived here for more than a year. Since I have lived here my entire life, summers were spent at the beach or at “the most magical place on earth.” I have been to Disney World many times, but one stranger has made every Disney trip since the one I saw him pale in comparison. Disney World is famous for many things, especially its fireworks show, Wishes. At the end of a great day meeting up with some family friends, our night was coming to a close and we were more than sad to see it go. For one last hurrah, we decided to sit around and watch the fireworks show together before they drove back to South Carolina. While hundreds of people were deciding whether to sit down on the pavement or try to stick it out standing, one person stood out, and before the show even started. He was a tall man holding an umbrella in one hand and wearing a soccer jersey that read “London” on the back. For the purposes of this story, his name is London. When everyone heard Jiminy Cricket’s voice over the loudspeakers, the show was about to begin. London raised his umbrella and started conducting the fireworks show, for 20 minutes, without stopping. This was a big deal. Wishes is a great fireworks display, except for the fact that the fireworks pop up everywhere, and you never know where to focus your attention. London solved that problem. He directed the entire fireworks production flawlessly, so that no one following his lead would miss a beat. London gets five stars for being an amazing human who decided to help people, and asked for nothing in return.
P.S. In my research, I found a video of him (not mine) on a different occasion. —Isabella R., 16, Miami, Florida
Last year, I was on a bus with my mum when the coolest old women in the world also got on for the journey into town. All three had perms and bad coats, but all of them were also wearing high heels and seemed ready to party, at around half-nine in the morning. They were discussing all the places they were going, and all the things they wanted to see whilst in town. Getting off the bus, they nearly fell over due to their high heels, and one had to be caught by someone getting on the bus—but that clearly didn’t stop them. All three got off and within literally 10 seconds they had reached their first café, presumably of the day, and walked in chatting away like the happiest people on the planet. They are who I want to be when I am an old woman. I give them all five stars just because they were the coolest and happiest old people I have ever seen. —Tilly, 16, United Kingdom
★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★
The Boy in the Bush
I live far away from my school, and a short walk away from the nearest bus stop. One day I was walking home, away from the bus stop, and I turned into a narrow alley—the only way to my house. There’s a large bush of I-don’t-know-what at the entrance to the alley, and as I pushed it out of the way to cross through, something stirred in the bush. I froze as a boy’s head popped out of the leafy fronds. He wasn’t bad-looking—hence the immediate appeal—and he stepped out from behind the bush wearing a Van Halen T-shirt (already, he had won my heart) and offered me a mint. I refused politely but we got talking. The next day, after school, I returned, and there he was again, waiting for me, and the next day, and the day after that. The thing about him was that wherever he went, he attracted attention with his spiky red hair and a strangely charming way of dressing. I loved that. He is now my best friend. —Gertie F.
Sinister the Dog
These events took place while I was watching my aunt’s dance show in a beautiful alley in San Francisco. The show started outside, and it was the perfect time of day; it was a beautiful sunset and we weren’t too hot or too cold. It started out with about 12 people walking in time slowly up the alley and humming softly. Since the alley was open to the public, people would walk through every once in a while, right through the show. One women in particular stood out to us: She walked right through with two big dogs and all the confidence in the world. She seemed not to notice us at all, and instead was very concentrated on getting her dogs to follow her. Then, she started to call one of her dogs: “Sin! Sinister!” she yelled, much to everyone’s surprise. She continued walking, with her cleverly named dogs, and we all continued watching the show, now with smiles on our faces. I give this women five stars for her creative pet names, for not caring what others think, and for immensely adding to the performance, without even knowing it. —Livija L., 15, San Francisco
For my friend’s birthday, we decided to go roller skating. Simple and fun, and we thought we would all suck, so what harm could be done? Well, after an intense game of laser tag with kids half our age, we entered the rink. To be completely honest, I am not that bad at roller skating, and neither is my friend, Katie. After around 10 minutes of practicing, Katie and I decided to race (not the best decision when there are a lot of people in the rink). So, after one lap, I started cutting it close with people, and basically I did a 360 in the air and landed flat on my knees. Not the point of the story, though. The point of the story is that I was able to rely fully on my friends to help me get home and stay strong. I had my own 360 in my head at the same time—that my friends aren’t just people I hang out with to have fun, but people I count on to not only literally pick me up when I’m down, but stand by me through whatever my obstacle is. —Abby N., 15, Massachusetts
When I first started high school, Emma was one of the senior girls, and I thought she was the prettiest girl in her grade. One time, I noticed her playing Jesus in chapel, and from that my 12-year-old self concluded that surely she must be popular, because only popular girls would have the courage to wear a white robe and sandals in front of the entire house. Emma always qualified to represent the school in cross-country and athletics, and she was a model. Then, to top it all off, even after she’d graduated, Emma was invited back to the school to give a speech because she had become the dux. The vice principal even gave her a pre-speech, commending all her achievements and gushing over how she got the highest score in the entire state. I think that was the moment I decided I wanted to become the dux, and I visualized myself in her position at the podium, having my name carved into a school plaque. Not too long ago, I heard that Emma was actually pretty pretentious, which goes to show that sometimes your idols aren’t always all that idealistic. Nevertheless, thank you Emma for being a rare source of motivation. I will always remember how you said in your speech, “Be like a duck—calm on the surface but kicking like hell underneath.” —Meghan C., 15
It was a normal day. I was eating my bowl of Lucky Charms, watching an episode of The IT Crowd, waiting for my parcel to arrive. The phone rang and, knowing it was the postman, I buzzed him in to my apartment block. However, the person I saw at my door was not the usual grumpy, annoyed, scarily-pounding-on-the-door postman I usually encounter. This was, in fact, an angel sent to the post office business from the almighty being himself. His knock was a perfect gentle tap, letting me know I needn’t worry about him wanting to recreate one of the Taken films, and the face that greeted me was no longer one that made me fear for my life, but a beautiful ball of happiness. I look forward to seeing it every time the post arrives. (I don’t know his name, but I’ve accidentally started calling him Postman Pat.) His eyes were the happiest pair of eyeballs I had ever seen, and he did something that both shocked and moved me: HE SMILED. He continued to make my heart dance like a puppy by wishing me, “A nice day,” and saying, “Thank you.” No, Mr. Postman, thank you, for helping this girl no longer feel like she’s going to get murdered every time someone buzzes her apartment when she’s home alone. —Sinead M., 18, Wales
Abbey is a great gal. Wearer of quirky garments and smudgy kohl eyeliner, she’s always available to get me out of gym through lunch dates and hot chocolate in her office. Yup she’s a counselor. Our relationship is strange at times ’cause she’s an adult who happens to be an authority figure, and I’m a 15-year-old. We met through a series of sewing classes (we danced and chatted way more then we sewed) and posh dinner parties that our parents put on (they were all friends as well). But it works anyway, and we don’t give a fig what people think. She’s feisty yet shy and doesn’t recognize her greatness and how admired she is. She’s still learning the ways of the world and her counseling shows that through chocolate biscuits and cheesy quotes, but that’s the beauty of her—out of any adult, she understands kids the best and even though she’s way ahead of our game, she still delivers her wisdom on the right level. Her and my grandma also have a strong bond going because their dogs died around the same time. For a while they were making plenty of late night, teary phone calls to each other and exchanging boxes of chocolates through the mail. In fact, my grandma recently bought a puppy. She called her Abbey. —Chloe M., 15, New Zealand
Bubbly Starbucks Workers With Creepy Bear-Snack Comments
Most popular, big marketplaces have a coffee shop built into them. The one I was in had its own Starbucks. I ordered a Frappuccino. I got the two most bubbly, kind baristas to help me. I didn’t catch their names, but the cashier didn’t charge me for the loose change on my order. While the other worker was making sample Fraps, I took two. He said, “They have Teddy Grahams in them—you know, the bear snacks that you eat face first so they’re headless.” They were both super nice, and the comment about the Teddy Grahams made my day completely. I wish I could give them 20 stars, but they get five out of five, if we’re keeping it professional. It must kind of suck to work in such a small area with busy customers all the time, so I guess if cracking jokes and being nice makes their job easier, so be it. Thanks Starbucks dudes, for being so bubbly! —Tiffany, 18, USA