Honorable mention — Amber Cocchiola: Look beyond the pasture

By Amber Cocchiola

Amber Cocchiola

There is a reason race horses wear blinders. Jockeys don’t want them to look for themselves but follow a specific path to achieve one specific goal: crossing the finish line. Religion, in a similar way, puts blinders on people, causing them to obsess over the finish line of their lives. I don’t have to look to the finish line, though. I don’t have rules that dictate the way I prepare for death, so I choose to not prepare but instead to absorb every living moment instead. I don’t need an afterlife because I am happy with the life I have.

I cannot imagine living my life for death, yet those who wear religious blinders obsess over it. To them, this life is simply a stepping stone to another life. Even if people did have a second life after death, what kind of excuse is that to ignore your first life? To spend every waking moment thinking about what you need to do to so that when you cross your finish line, you’ll be sent to another race?

One of the things that makes the world, and life, interesting is that it is made up of moments — both good and bad. In one moment, a bird could find the final twig for its nest. In another, a child’s sand castle topples over. I can see these moments because I am free to look around me. Race horses are not free to look at the good and bad, however. At the end of their lives, all they will remember is racing toward the finish line instead of the sight of the cut grass next to the track or the colors of the spectators’ hats. If people took off their blinders, they could see everything they’ve experienced that led up to the moment they are in. With blinders on, people think their life started in order to move onto another life.

Instead of worrying about preparing for their own finish lines, people could look around and help make this moment the best moment it could be. People could make time for love and laughter because they genuinely want to, not because they think love will give them a better afterlife. If the philosophy of living here and now was adopted by the masses, it would make people kinder. People would help each other not because they fear a fiery finish line, but to improve this life. People would take time to look beyond their pastures. People would start to care.

Amber, 18, attended Bio-Med Science Academy in Rootstown, Ohio. She presented at Battelle Headquarters for the Governor’s Opioid Challenge and attended the Women in BioScience Conference in 2015. She has performed with her choir at such prestigious settings as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and National Archives Building and the Chicago Natural History Museum. She will be attending Kent State University.