94: A Double Victory

94: A Double Victory

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

A Double Victory

The only thing that ever sat its way to success was a hen.

~Sarah Brown

“Hi Sam,” I said when I spotted him in the pack of first-graders walking down the hallway at his elementary school.

“Are you here to see me?” he asked in his usual monotone voice.

“Yep, it’s Thursday, and I always come here to see you on Thursdays,” I said. “I’m sitting at our usual table, and I brought my bag of fun activities.”

He nodded. “I’ll go in the classroom and get my pencil.”

I’d already been in his classroom and spoken to his teacher. Mrs. Smith was just as concerned about Sam as I was. He was one of those “at-risk” kids, and that’s why I volunteered to work with him each Thursday.

Sam was in first grade for the second time, and he was still hopelessly behind his classmates. I didn’t know a lot about his home life, but one look at him made it clear that it wasn’t ideal. He spoke quietly and without expression. In the eight months I’d been working with him, I’d seen him smile only once.

It was clear that the world had handed this little boy a tough lot in life, and I was determined to make it a little bit better.

Sam returned with his pencil. “Can I look in your bag?” he asked without looking at me.

“Yes, but Mrs. Smith wants us to work on your spelling words first.”

“I hate spelling. Can’t we just play a game?”

“You know the routine, Sam. You practice your spelling words, take your practice test, and then you can see what’s in my bag.”

“But I can’t do it. I’m not good at spelling.”

“Come on, Sam, you can do this,” I said. I spotted the poster on the wall across the hall. In huge letters, it said, “You never know what you can do until you try.” Underneath the poster, Mrs. Smith had hung up her students’ exceptional papers. Many of them were spelling tests. And not once had one of those tests belonged to Sam.

I’d made it my goal that by the end of the year, Sam’s spelling test would be good enough to go in the hallway. But it was May and we were running out of time.

I pointed at the poster and said, “What does that say?”

He recited it, rather than reading it. This was a weekly thing.

“You never know what you can do until you try,” he said without conviction.

“That means that you’re capable of a lot more than you think you are,” I said. “You can do this. You just have to believe in yourself.”

Sam rolled his eyes. He’d heard it all before. But still, he picked up his pencil and started writing the words.

The next morning, I received my Friday e-mail update from Mrs. Smith. “Sam missed seven on his spelling test,” it read. He’d missed seven words out of ten.

Not good enough for the hallway.

The following Thursday morning, I received an e-mail from a writers’ group I belong to. A magazine I’d always wanted to write for was seeking submissions for a special issue. A friend in the group encouraged me to submit something.

“Oh, I’m sure they’re looking for writers with a lot more experience than I’ve got,” I wrote back.

“So you’re not even going to try?” she asked.

I really didn’t see the point.

An hour later, I was helping Sam with his spelling words. When he insisted he couldn’t do it, I pointed at the poster.

“What does that poster say?” I asked him.

“You never know what you can do until you try,” he recited.

“That means that you can’t give up, Sam,” I said. “I know it’s hard, but you can do it if you just keep on trying. You might surprise yourself.”

And then I realized what I was saying. I was expecting an eight-year-old to do something that I myself wasn’t willing to do.

I felt like a fraud.

Sam sighed. “Can I go to the bathroom before I write my spelling words?”

“Of course.” As soon as Sam left the table, I reached into my purse for my cellphone. Before I lost my nerve, I sent an e-mail to my entire writers’ group, promising to submit a story to that magazine.

I knew my story wouldn’t be good enough to be published, but as I looked at the poster, I realized I needed to follow my own advice.

When Sam returned to the table, we worked on his spelling words. And that night, I worked on my story.

Two weeks later, I walked into Sam’s school. As soon as he saw me, he pointed at the poster in the hallway. “Notice anything?” he said.

Sam’s spelling test. Posted in the hallway with only three wrong. He smiled a little and said, “You told me I could do it.”

“And you did,” I said. “Sam, I am so proud of you.” I wanted to hug him, but I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about that, so I lifted my hand for a high five.

He smacked my hand and smiled a real smile. “You never know what you can do until you try,” he said.

The next morning, I received an e-mail informing me that the story I’d written had been accepted for publication. My writing was going to be printed in a magazine I’d always dreamed of writing for.

And I knew that I had Sam to thank.

~Diane Stark

More stories from our partners