Eric rewrote and revised his essay over and over and over again. He wrestled with what little events meant to him, and worked hard to get each sentence just so. This sounds exactly like Eric. He was accepted to all eight schools to which he applied and graduated from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in 2017.

He’s 5 feet flat, with great eyesight, and super competitive. I’m 6’3’’ with failing eyesight, but I can’t let him outdo me. I’m the older cousin, I taught him everything. He follows me so he can brag how “I found it right where you were looking!” Lee and I are going for the same thing, the elusive “hoonie” that’ll be remembered for years to come.

Finding “baby teeth” excites his little sister Mia and I encourage her, but I’m going for the big stuff.

My extended family has spent a week “agate hunting” on the Oregon Coast for the past 20 years. We do many activities, but combing the beaches for these golden, milky rocks is more obsession than tradition.

Pacing slowly, eyes glued to the ground, we walk bent over like hunchbacks.  Some dig through sand, others search the shoreline, and I wade into the water. I look for agates independently but we move together, feeling carefree breathing in the ocean air. Laughing with my family loosens me up and puts me at ease, taking my mind off the stresses of home. I’m never unhappy when I’m on the beach with my family.

We received bad news upon arriving at the beach two years ago. My grandpa needed wrist surgery and would stay home with Grandma. I was saddened by the news, but although they were gone I wasn’t going to let that ruin the trip. It was clear immediately the dynamics had changed. Instead of following my grandparents, I spent the time in suspended animation, finding excuses to be lazy. I’d always adopted my grandparents’ energetic spirit, but in their absence, I was counting the days until we left.

On the last night, I complained about having to make s’mores on the beach, a family tradition I had loved. My uncle said, “We have to do s’mores so grandma and grandpa know we had fun.” The irony that I made an effort to make it look like I had fun felt eerie, since it used to be effortlessly enjoyable. I didn’t know why going to the coast made me feel good, but without my grandparents I couldn’t feign enjoyment.

Mia always threw a fit when it was time to go home, but that year she was happy to leave.

I found just as many agates that year as any other, in fact, we had done everything the same as always. My grandparents were the only variable that was manipulated, and yet the results had completely changed.

People grow strong or weak by feeding off the energy of those around them, and when my grandparents were around me, I always had extra positive energy to absorb. I never recognized the confidence I gained from hearing their words of encouragement, reminding me they were once in my shoes and survived the same challenges I face. The opportunity to vent, listen, and reflect with my grandparents was therapeutic, and without that we were just looking for rocks.