Thirty Seconds of Silence


Staring into the eyes of my scene partner, I frantically beat against the black curtain that had suddenly closed over my brain.

β€œBut the possibility for a cure was left open!” my partner repeats, wide-eyed and panicked.


The seconds seem like hours. This mistake is crucial. This mistake is devastating.

Once again: β€œThe possibility for a cure was left open ….”


Nothing can ruin everything.

Here, at the national competition of National History Day, my group is up against historical performances from 49 other states and several countries. And my failure can put an end to eight months of nonstop research and rehearsal. My failure can make it all worthless.


I have been acting since I was six. Never before have I completely forgotten a line during a performance. I have four partners who have put their hearts and souls into this project depending on me, four people who worked tirelessly with me for the entire school year to get primary interviews, gather sources, and rehearse the performance over and over – and this is when I decide to draw a blank.

Finally my line comes to me. Not from behind that damn black curtain, but from behind our carefully constructed set. From my best friend.

β€œA consequence of that belief!” she shouts, knowing, as only she can, exactly what I need to continue the performance.

β€œA consequence of that belief is that people continued to search for a cure to a disease that didn’t exist ….”

The curtain in my mind lifts and I am back, reciting the lines exactly as we had rehearsed. After the final bow and our interview with the judges, there is nothing left to do but ask myself what went wrong.

The question tortured me for months. The answer? Nothing.

I made a mistake, one that I could not have predicted or avoided. It may have seemed disastrous at the time, but it helped me realize something that many people are forced to learn in places far from the sheltered suburbia I call home.

Nothing can ruin everything.

No mistake or hardship can stop the world from turning, and dwelling on my mistakes will do no good unless I take the time to learn from them. There are calamities far worse than forgetting a line in a competition. I did not commit a felony, kill an innocent person, or lose a loved one. We may not have moved on to the final round of competition, but we did become experts on a topic that we were extremely passionate about, and we were able to show that commitment to our judges and peers despite the few seconds of silence.

I went on to compete in National History Day for the rest of high school, getting to the national level three times and placing at the state level four times. Each year brought with it lessons in research, time management, and perseverance. Yet none of it affected me quite as much as those few seconds of silence that June of ninth grade.

Since then I have failed my first test, gotten my first B+ on a report card, had three actors drop out of the show I was directing the day before the performance, and gone through numerous break-ups, breakdowns, and fall-outs. Those few seconds followed me, reminding me every day that I am not the sum of my mistakes, but rather the sum of the lessons I gain from them. Those few seconds of silence should not and will not define my National History Day experience, just as a missed homework assignment, a bad test grade, or a forgotten line will not define me.

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