Do I dare disturb the universe?

“Are we playing with our hair or do we have something to say?”

My English teacher condescends, lounging haphazardly atop his podium in a stereotypically professorial fashion. A glass of sherry and he is Ernest Hemingway.

Last night I said, “I am a vegetarian,” and my father asked why and I told him about the ways farmers fatten the chickens, glutting them with growth hormones to harvest them more quickly. I told him about the massive amounts of water and gasoline expended for the noble purpose of providing every American with a slab of steak. He nodded and nodded.

My elbow is jutting out at an acute angle, the back of my hand resting on top of my head. Ernest shifts positions, waiting. I sit in the furthest row on the far left, a strategic choice that allows me to talk and eat during lectures with impunity. I have grapes in my mouth.

“Maybe you can just eat fish, then,” my father says, but he does not know that overfishing has drastically altered the makeup of aquatic ecosystems, that aquaculture threatens the rich biodiversity of our oceans. “It’s different than when you were little,” I say. “Our planet will be so drastically different in 50 years if we continue depleting resources at the rate we’re going.”

I smile, swallow the fruit. I have the utmost respect for English teachers, the ease with which they dismantle conceits and imagery; they are cardiologists slicing through layers and layers of tissue to get to the heart. They tend to be a little quirky, perhaps a bit eccentric, which makes the surgery all the more interesting.

One of my closest friends abstained from eating meat for years. My resistance to her continued attempts to convert me to the cult of veg-heads was a point of personal pride. I championed turkey sandwiches and chicken nuggets; rationalizing my beliefs with the carnivorous instinct of early human beings. But here I am, munching on paneer and garbanzos. I cannot explain this shift, except to say that I feel obligated, as a member of the nascent generation and a citizen of the earth, to do my part to conserve and preserve and protect. Obviously, my impact as one individual is negligible, but not unimportant. I am still young enough to believe I can be the change.

The class titters restlessly; I glance at the short story. I do not have an earth-shattering sentiment to share about this piece of Faulkner; in fact, I did not understand much of what I read. Strangely, I do not feel paralyzed. I stumble around with a tepid interpretation of the text, which, while not terribly articulate, proffers one worthy insight, which Ernest extracts and expounds upon.

I am beginning to understand that not everything has to be an earthquake. Little tremors, while not as aggressive, still move the earth. We do not have to have all of the answers, but we have to want to find them.

“Ah, we are speaking today. Speaking is good.”

Tiny tremors.

Alosha Southern is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.