Titanium poles and I stand on a deserted Manhattan street corner. My parents, neighbors, even taxi-drivers, are inside, freezing despite roaring generators, as they wait for the blizzard to pass.
Outside, I am wet, quivering as winds whip through triple-layered socks. I've forgotten circulation. The sixteen-inch snow, illuminated by street-lamp glow, forges an aurulent midnight sky. Here, I am at my warmest. Though quivering in the cold, my senses are forced open to the vibrancy around me. I am galvanized and secured by the adrenaline of the unique discovery: in vulnerability lies strength.
I find similar comfort in my volunteer work in Mount Sinai's in-patient Recreational Therapy, for the hospital is a constant storm. I'm struck with the building's vibrato in the white walls and constantly-moving wheelchairs and stretchers. The doctors stride through collected, inspired, but the patients only wait for everything to pass.
One of them is Jamie. When we first met, she was applying fuchsia lipgloss through tired eyes. A loud pink teddy-bear sat on her windowsill exhibiting her successful entrepreneurship while the hospital's Billboard Top Ten playlist cycled carelessly in the background.
"Last Friday Night" plays as I wheel Jamie into her room.
"Should I call your nurse?"
"I can get into bed myself." She tries to push herself up, but falls back into the seat, crying.
"Let me find help."
"You know, I don't have it that bad," she mutters. "There's metal in my legs from the crash--just--God, this place!"
She looks up. In her amber eyes, I see despondency, not fatigue. Noticing the pink teddy-bear, a symbol of her previous life as a prosperous businesswoman, perceiving the thoughtless lyrics around us, I blurt out, "We're having a concert; you should come."
"Music is the universal language," Chris Shepard, the conductor of the Dessoff Choirs, once reminded us during rehearsal.
I remember the first time I sang solo in public: open auditions for The Voice. Despite waiting six hours for this one decision, I realized that the strength in my voice couldn't be measured by a baggy-eyed executive's judgement. I sang, quivering in pride, not fear. Before leaving, a seasoned auditioner stopped me, expressing admiration for my courage and potential. She listened, my music resonating with her in the same way.
Jamie, however, is not listening, because Billboard beats just aren't her music; she cannot "dance on tabletops," as such songs say. The hospital shouldn't be alienating but allow for vulnerability, creating new paths to undiscovered strength. I keep that in mind while organizing the concert for patients.
The day of the performance, Jamie smiles, eyes still unfocused, shoulders draped in a crimson shawl.
I begin with the piano. I can't stand to fly; I'm not that naive. She blinks.
I sing to Jamie, finding her voice in my notes, "Find a way to lie about a home I'll never see." She stares at me, eyes unclouded now. Lyrics in forte place the metal pole that crashed down and her metal femurs before her eyes. Her fuchsia lips quiver in acknowledgement: despite her display of colors, she cannot avoid her physical state. "Even heroes have the right to bleed..."
An hour later, we arrive at the last song.
"They shoot me down, but I won't fall."
While singing, I'm reminded of the warmth in discovery; these hospital rooms can swell like frosty street-lamp-lit skies. Being vulnerable allows me to discover this unique perception in my environment. My voice is explicit, unwavering: "I'm bullet-proof, nothing to lose." Jamie's vulnerability shows her this strength that is not restricted by physicality. I see Jamie place her hands firmly on the wheelchair armrests. "I am titanium." She straightens slowly, respiring deeply. "I am titanium."
"Going back up?"
"Actually, I'll stick around. Someone's starting Monopoly, and moping around alone is getting boring," she laughs.
Walking out the hospital afterwards, I am smiling, hood down, head uncovered to raw, glorious February air.
Margarita Ren, a 2014 graduate of Hunter College High School, will be a freshman at Dartmouth in the fall.