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            If someone were to take a picture of the small suburb where Amelia lived, it would look like a perfectly peaceful paradise. To her, though, there was a certain gloominess underscoring the bright and sunny summer day. She felt unsettled, as though something was forgotten and missing from her little world. As she walked home from the little lake, only a mile from her cottage, Amelia was preoccupied, thinking about everything and nothing. Suddenly the corner of her light gray eyes caught a slight sparkle on the side of the dirt road. Amelia who in all her nine years on this planet, was persuaded by wonder, had to investigate the source of the sparkle. She didn’t view herself as choosing to pursue the investigative path. It felt to her like the only possible course of action. As she moved closer, the sparkle inched away, gradually getting larger with each step Amelia took toward it. When she finally found herself able to focus again, she knew she had been chasing after the spark for an eternity.

            Amelia now surveyed her surroundings. An old tree caught her eye. It wasn’t big. It didn’t have a magical air to it like the ones she had read about in her fairytale books. It was simply a tree. Its bark was old and peeling as if it had sat there for eons, decaying from lack of attention. Nevertheless she continued to gaze wondrously at the tree, ignoring the peculiar spiny herbs and entangled fluorescent flowers around her. She did not see the rundown cottage on her right. Or the elderly lady sitting on a rickety swing to her left. Amelia was fixated on the tree. She examined the intricate natural designs hidden within the tree until she was no longer there.

            Once again Amelia found herself in a different place, a new place, but this time she recognized her surroundings. She had arrived back home. In front of Amelia stood her parents, huddled around something that was not yet visible to her. She noted in her mind that her parents looked terrifically fresh today. Her usually weary parents were bright-eyed and had somehow hidden their gray hairs and worry lines. Her mom and dad shifted, their bodies parted, to reveal a baby in a pink polka-dotted onesie sleeping peacefully on a silky blanket. Wisps of soft blonde hair protruded from the tiny cotton hat on the child’s head. Amelia tried to call out to her parents to ask them what was going on, but not a sound came out. The baby suddenly woke from her slumber, revealing a pair of big gray eyes, and suddenly it dawned on Amelia that she was looking straight into her own young eyes. Love.

            As though a screen shuffled before her, Amelia now found herself back at her old preschool playground, staring at her five-year-old self swinging from bar to bar. Only a few bars from the end, little Amelia slipped and fell onto the sand. Amelia watched as an early version of herself hopped back up on the monkey bar, ignoring the small scrapes on her knees, and tried again. Again and again she climbed and slipped until finally she made it to the end. With a final look of triumph, the little girl ran back to her classroom. Perseverance.

            Darkness hit once again and Amelia found herself at the lake, where she had been only a few hours earlier today. It seemed however like an eternity had passed. The dark murky lake had swallowed the sunlight.  No one went in the lake. No one ever did. Amelia was now there with her friends. They all just played around the edges careful not to get too close. Stories were told about what lurked in the depths of the lake, the kind of stories that gave 9-year-old girls nightmares. But Amelia jumps straight into the dark lake. She floats in its center splashing around with a huge smile on her face. Courage.

            The world shifts and Amelia is in a huge amphitheater. On the stage stand 200 high schoolers. Many of them are familiar friends. Each student is wearing a cap and gown. They are graduating today. An older, more mature version Amelia steps up to the podium to give a speech. Amelia watches her older-self graduate top of her class. She feels her heart pound as she listens to the valedictorian deliver her moving speech which leaves not a single eye in the audience dry. Amelia has gotten a scholarship to Yale and with it, a ticket out of the small town. Diligence.

            A curtain is drawn to reveal a beautiful courtyard. Amelia recognizes this place. It is the place where everyone in the town gets married. Her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had each, in their turn, wed at this spot. Amelia hears a wedding march tune and through the aisleway walks a beautiful Amelia, 24 years old, wearing a flowy white gown that flares at the waist with a full-lace skirt. It is the wedding dress she had always dreamed of and seen in her fairytale books. She realizes what she is seeing as what she is not seeing. Amelia in her twenties had passed up on her scholarship to Yale to stay with her boyfriend, the same one who is standing taut at the end of the aisle. He looks like any other man in the town: played football in high school only to drop out when the workload became difficult. Yet Amelia was marrying him. Frailty.

            Amelia has no time to ponder and reconcile the flash images she has seen in the past hour because the ground moves under her feet and she finds herself in a small tired cottage. In front of her stands a middle-aged woman. Amelia would not have recognized the woman as herself were it not for the striking gray eyes. They are her eyes but the sparkle is lost. The woman is a stay-at-home mom, her sole purpose to care for the two young twins seated in front of her. She does nothing else with her time. Her husband works long days at the old mill earning a meager few dollars per hour. Path dependency.

            Amelia feels herself sinking into a dark tunnel. At its end, there is light and Amelia now sees herself once again in the small shabby cottage, only this time the twins aren’t there. Amelia stares in awe at an elderly woman sitting in a worn-out rocking chair. The woman sits alone in her chair, her gray eyes wide open, meditating on what could have been. Suddenly there is darkness. Solitude.

After a few moments, Amelia is back on the dirt road. The light has a renewed sense of naturalness. The air has a fresh sense of reality. Amelia is her 9-year-old self, just her and her alone. The sparkle on the dirt road which had drawn her off path is gone and the sun shines bright once again as Amelia makes her way back home. Amelia knows now that she will strive for greatness. She will never give up, through the many ups and downs of life. She will take risks and continue to pursue the path less travelled. She will use her brilliant brain to accomplish her goals. Amelia will live her life to the fullest. The old woman sitting on her rickety swing smiles to herself as her unmistakable eyes gaze across the horizon. She finally shuts her eyes and lays down to rest, her task complete.

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