Since my junior year of high school, I’ve been saving up money for college by working at a fast food restaurant.

I regularly work the closing shift, which means getting home around 3:30 in the morning. Sometimes during my breaks, I’ll sit at the tables in front of the restaurant and scroll through my Snapchat only to see pictures of my friends out at parties, which always hurts a little. It feels like I’m missing out on the fun of being a teenager.

At the same time though, the sizzling grills, bubbling fryers, and orders being yelled out sometimes provide a welcome distraction from worries I have about my future.

We never really talked about it, but I grew up knowing that my family would not be able to help me with tuition. So even though I was accepted to a four year university, I decided to go to community college for my first two years to save money.

My family has always been economically vulnerable — something a recent survey, called GenForward, from the University of Chicago, says is common among black and Latino youth. The survey asked millennials how an unexpected bill of a thousand bucks would affect them.

I know what this kind of sudden expense feels like because it just happened to my family.

Last month, I was getting ready for school, when I walked into the kitchen and saw my dad on the phone looking worried. His work truck had been stolen during the night with all of his tools for flooring inside. He’s the primary breadwinner. But without his tools, he couldn’t work.

We had just enough savings that he was able to buy the minimum amount of equipment and with an old pickup truck he was able to get back to work within a few days.

It was a very close call. My family was able to stretch to cover this loss, but who knows, what if there’s a next time? This is a question I’m taking with me as I step into my future. I’m hopeful, but also very aware that I don’t have much of a safety net.

With a Perspective, I’m Emiliano Villa.

Emiliano Villa is 18 and lives in Oakland. Youth Radio produced his commentary.

Full disclosure: I’m a body nerd.

As a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I get to geek out daily helping people connect to that thing they’ve been carrying around with them their whole lives: their body.

I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, and now, I call the Bay Area home. There are universal body problems to be sure, but there are also regional patterns that afflict us.

In New York the residents are riddled with neck and shoulder issues. In LA the 405 and the 10 leave a lasting impression on people’s hips, and in the Bay Area?

Well, we don’t seem to be able to use our wrists or hands anymore.

As a new teacher here, I was shocked to see how many students couldn’t come onto their hands and knees for exercises. Imagine 2 cast members of Silicon Valley staring back at you, holding up their hands, and mouthing, “Is there something else I can do?” That’s my life.

I asked a long-time Bay Area instructor about it, “Oh, yeah,” she said, “You have to offer alternatives in every class here. It’s a real thing.” Yes, Bay Area, this is a Very. Real. Thing.

Katy Bowman, an esteemed biomechanist, describes how our physically passive and highly repetitive lifestyles are cultivating new diseases in the human race. The Bay Area is full of progressive ideas and active lifestyles, but we also seem to sit – typing and texting – at the vanguard of a tragic pathology: one that inhibits the full use of our hands.

I had a dance teacher in college who waxed poetic about our hands. “Our hands,” he would bellow, “are what make us human!”

At the time, I rolled my eyes- but now? When I look at my students, unable to use the very same opposable thumbs that got us here…I get it. Our hands are what make us human. We need to stretch, massage and strengthen those very same extremities that allowed us to crawl, clasp, and climb our way through this world. In our feverish desire to succeed, and curate our lives, please: Let’s respect and preserve what got us here -our hands.

Want to shake on it?

Patty Wortham lives on a sailboat in Alameda.

Everyone has a story. This is mine. In 1990, at the age of 30 and just a week short of completing my graduate degree in Public Health, I went to the campus physician for a routine physical where he discovered a testicular tumor. I was given the phone number for a specialist and told good luck. Fortunately, luck was on my side. I continued on.

I actually spend very little time thinking about my own story, despite the fact that I have worked with cancer patients for over 20 years.

Now I find myself obsessively reading articles about the ever-changing health care battles, trying to separate out fact from fiction. Can I really be denied coverage because of my pre-existing condition? Will older adults have to pay more? The questions go on and on.

The health of many, many Americans will be profoundly changed for years to come by decisions being made today I Washington.

How many? Let’s just take cancer. In California alone, 20 new people will be diagnosed every hour of every day.

So what can we do to make sure that this health care bill addresses the real needs of real people.

Tell your story to a politician. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative came about in part because of his son’s cancer diagnosis. Tell politicians about your pre-existing conditions, the cost of medications, your lost income due to illness.

Tell your story to those relatives who you can’t seem to agree with on anything political. Chances are they will have their own health stories that share a common thread with your own.

Here’s the thing: Despite the sharply divided political environment, cancer, like other illnesses, is fiercely non-partisan. Which means that the impact on patients, whatever their own political affiliation, makes for a shared story. Tell it.

With a Perspective, this is Rob Tufel.

Rob Tufel is the Executive Director of Cancer CAREpoint, a San Jose based non-profit organization providing support to cancer patients and their families.

It’s 3:30 in the morning, and I’m sitting in my favorite chair: a crinkled and worn, brown leather recliner. One of our cats has discovered I’m up, and he’s come to say hello. Miles, our 11 year-old springer spaniel, is curled up on his bed beside me, snoring. Otherwise, it’s quiet, except for the distant humming of an appliance, the wind outside and the creaking of the house.

When I find myself unable to sleep through the night, I grab a blanket and stretch out in my chair in the living room, the light beside me casting a warm, yellow glow allowing me to read, pet the cat, or listen to the night sounds of the house.

About 10 years ago I had my first real bout of insomnia. It was dreadful. For two weeks I couldn’t sleep a wink. Things had changed at work, and I just couldn’t let it go. As each day passed into night, I felt more pressure to arrest this new pattern and finally tumble into sleep. Deep, beautiful sleep. But the more I tried, the harder it became. I was caught in a vicious cycle of my mind. I became desperate and found myself in the ER one night, begging the doctor for relief. He gave it to me in the form of a shot. Finally, my prayers were answered.

But I had entered a new phase of my life. No longer would I take sleep for granted. I created new routines and formed a novel appreciation for the tenuous patterns of the mind.

My relationship with sleep has now evolved to a place where when I wake up in the middle of the night – and by no means does this occur every night – I don’t fight it. I just go with it. It’s strange, but now I almost treasure those nights I find myself in my chair, a cat in my lap, my dog at my feet, a good book in my hands.

It’s actually the best time.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin teaches 8th grade English at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.

Backpacker magazine rates the hike to Yosemite’s Half Dome as one of the most treacherous in the United States. Dangers along the trail include, apparently, fatigue, dehydration, scorpion stings, rattlesnake bites, mountain lions, bears, hanta virus, plunging to one’s death from a great height – be it over waterfall or cliff – forest fires, and believe it or not, the plague.

No locusts though.

As a man more accustomed to the excitement of reading a good history book in bed, I was surprised to find myself, an hour before sunrise, facing the infamous cables that enable the final assault to the Half Dome summit. For those of you yet to do Half Dome, after hiking most of the night, one is greeted by what appears to be an impossibly smooth, impossibly vertical, sheer face of granite scaled by a rickety ladder of cable and wood that promises a 2000-foot sled ride to death should one misstep just once on any of the wobbly rungs.

‘No way,’ I said. ‘Not a chance.’ Every nerve in my body told me to turn around and head back down the valley.

Unfortunately, I was with 10 of my closest friends.

‘It’s easy’ they said. ‘Four-year-olds do it’ they said. ’80-year-olds do it. Everyone does it.’

And so I climbed half-dome that morning, not because I faced-down the advertised biblical dangers, but because I was more scared of peer pressure, and what my friends would think.

We were nearly the first to summit – beaten by a couple who had camped the night on the peak. The sun rose above the mountains lighting up Yosemite Valley below, and pretty soon the four-year-olds, the 80-year-olds and the families-of-five started to join us.

Now that I’m home, far from that monstrous granite outcropping, I laugh in the face of Half Dome, supposedly the most dangerous hike in America. Hah!

Just don’t confront me with my deepest fear, the opprobrium of my peers.

With a Perspective, I’m Luke Pease.

Luke Pease is contemplating paragliding next weekend at Ed Levin Park in Milpitas.

At a recent meeting concerning foster youth, I met a young woman, Shamir. Waif-like, with immaculately coiffed hair, she clicked her long nails nervously on the table.

Abandoned as a toddler, she passed through dozens of foster homes before ending up homeless in Vegas where she worked as a “dancer”. She returned home with a young baby, but no one, she found, would take her. That’s when she decided she would go to college. She dreamt of opening a shelter for foster youth with children.

Right now, she said fiercely, the only thing keeping her from her goal was an Algebra class that she’d failed twice. “I got this thing with math,” she said.

By any standard, foster kids perform abysmally. Abandoned, they find it notoriously hard to trust the world. These are the throw-away kids who’ve grown accustomed to being failed by the system. More than half end up homeless or exploited.

At break, I asked Shamir if she would like some help. Later, we sat with her seven-year old boy, who demanded her attention. He needed help with homework. He was hungry. Someone at school had taken his lunch.

Shamir struggled with equations that involved inequalities. She didn’t understand why if you divide by a negative number the equation shifted. You have to flip the sign for the equation to remain true. I struggled to explain why this was so. Shamir, though, had little time for it. She just needed to make it through the next test. So I gave her simple rules, she tried some problems, and they seemed to work. She smiled with relief.

“Now that’s good,” she said. “I like it.”

But then her phone rang. “Is she okay?” she asked abruptly. “Are they still in lockdown? Did they get her out?” She left the table.

Her boy looked up. “My school was in lockdown three times last month,” he said. Shamir returned, clearly shaken.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I’m okay,” she said.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m ready.”

“Are you ready for the inequalities?” I asked.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis works with at-risk youth while working on a memoir about the emigre experience. He lives in Sebastopol.

As I walk through ancient pines under a fire lit sky, a protruding mountain blocks the sun from all below it. A lake surrounded by houses and forest blend into its reflection. I grip a rod tightly as I cross a stream that seems to be made of needles when it runs through my legs. I remember the countless times I have fished and failed, yet here I am.

I make a motion I have made thousands of times as my line slices the water then sinks below. I look around and see a chipmunk scurrying up a tree, a Steller’s Jay chasing a bug, and an Osprey scanning the water.

My rod starts to twitch and I set the hook. A skittering flash of pink and green leaps making a fold in the still water. A rainbow trout peels my line soothingly. He seems to reflect all of the forest in his deep yellow eyes. The trout stops wrestling once in my hand and I release him to the lake.

I continue the catching and releasing until one trout catches the hook deep in his mouth. I try to keep him in the water, but it is too hard to find the hook. One minute passes until I get the hook out. I quickly place him in the water trying to revive him, but he just floats belly up. I watch his jaw moving slowly up and down and his beautiful colors start to dim while a streak of blood runs from the gills. I am too late.

All things die for food or other reasons. I just feel that I wasted a life. With that thought I keep him and make him my dinner.

From that day I learned life is delicate and should never be wasted. I regret that I did not consider this and left two trout on the bank, hoping they would not be squandered. I hoped a coyote, bear, Osprey, or another hungry animal would find the fish and feast.

With a Perspective, I am Beau Detels.

Does the name, John Peter Zenger ring a bell? Unless you attended elementary school in New York City, probably not. I learned about him in the third grade and hadn’t thought about him since. But recently, it slipped back into my consciousness. A little research established why.

In 1734, Zenger, a German immigrant, started publishing a newspaper, in which he was very critical of the royal governor, one William Cosby. Though he did not deny the charges, Cosby sued Zenger for libel, accusing him of printing, in his words, “false and seditious reflections”. Zenger spent eight months in jail awaiting trial. His lawyer, one Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, no relation to Broadway Hamilton, was the first to wear the sobriquet “Philadelphia lawyer” as a tribute to his legal acumen. Knowing the judge for a Cosby crony, Hamilton tried the case before a jury, arguing that telling the truth was a valid defense against libel. The jury quickly agreed.

What got the acquittal, however, was not Hamilton’s argument, but Cosby’s massive unpopularity. No precedent was set, but the seed sprouted seventy years later, when a man named Crosswell was convicted of libel, again in New York. On appeal, the more celebrated Hamilton came to his defense, also arguing that statements should not be considered defamatory if they are true. Because the judges split, the conviction stood, although Crosswell was never imprisoned. And, a year later, the state legislature made truth as a defense a law.

Ironically, also in 1804, Hamilton was rapping one night across the dinner table with the Jeffersonian candidate for governor. His excoriation of the Federalist-leaning opponent was leaked to the press, contributing to that worthy’s defeat. That worthy was one Aaron Burr. The musical tells you the rest.

In one of history’s neat little codas, both Alexander Hamilton and John Peter Zenger rest in the graveyard of Trinity Church, in lower Manhattan.

John Peter Who? Imagine the discussions we might not be having these days without him.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator, actor and author. He lives in the East Bay.

During a trip to Tanzania I once watched a herd of elephants march slowly across an African savannah under a blistering blue sky. The scene revealed such an immense sense of the earth as a beautiful, ancient and wild place that my own puny senses could hardly take it in.

Recently, I read that elephants had declined 30% over the last 10 years mostly due to illegal killing to remove their tusks to make into objects nobody needs. The elephant’s tusk is designed to help the animal live successfully, yet here it is causing its demise, not only of individuals but possibly an entire species. If the trend continues, experts predict, that by the end of this century, the few elephants left will survive only in zoos. I can’t imagine a world without elephants.

The question is the same as it always is when confronted with a painful fact. What to do? The first thing I did this time was give money to several elephant conservation groups. I talked about the issue with friends. Some, and I don’t blame them, looked off into space. Others told me it was too painful to talk about. I could easily fall into the latter category and sometimes do. But then I remember it’s not about my pain. It’s about the pain of elephants, or tigers, or an orphaned boy in Syria, or a war-widow in Iraq. I could go on and on, as we all could.

Giving money is good but I feel I need to do more. I try to focus on the task not so much on the goal. Work the tasks one at a time and don’t think about how small they are. What are the economics? Who buys poached items? How are they stopped? Write letters, make phone calls. Become a pest.

Here is my task for today. Paste this essay on my bathroom mirror. Follow my own advice. Do a little more to help an elephant, a Syrian child, a tiger, an Iraqi widow. Because if I don’t, part of me disappears, too.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is a retired environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.

Okay, it’s true I’m a geologist, and I’ll cop to seeing the world through senses shaped by a geologic perspective. But don’t think this is an apology for that perspective. Quite the contrary, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have that influence superimposed on my otherwise human views.

Here’s an example. I’m at a ballgame at AT&T stadium and the seats are packed with thousands of fans representing the enormous diversity of the Bay Area. From where I sit high up in the stands the throng looks pretty much look alike. Of course I know differently.

And then, suddenly, I’m on a field trip to Death Valley, high up on a hill looking out over a broad valley covered by a field of rocks. They were washed down from the surrounding hills by streams and rivers. From where I’m standing they all look pretty much the same, but the rocks reflect the diversity of their source material, the bedrock underlying the hill surfaces. And, indeed, they do, being composed of chunks of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, sandstones and shales and granites and lava. The surface is called desert pavement and the similarity in colors is termed desert varnish. The rocks look alike, but we know they are different.

It’s the same with the fans at AT&T Park. They all look pretty similar. But I know they are uniquely different, reflecting their origin and history going back generations. When we study the geologic history of Death Valley, we take that geologic history into account, explaining the uniqueness of the rocks and surfaces. How much richer would our appreciation of the diversity and uniqueness of the viewers in the stands be if we took the time to appreciate their distinctive histories?

Sometimes we can learn a lot from geology.

With a Perspective, I’m Ray Pestrong.

Ray Pestrong is an emeritus professor of geology at San Francisco State University.

On a June afternoon, Glacier National Park’s Lake MacDonald reflected the same shade of blue as a breaking Hawaiian wave. As I walked into the chilly waters, both the size and the whiteness of my feet seemed amplified against the red and grey cobbles.

Gradually, my submerged legs adjusted to the cold. I took a couple more steps forward, winced, and looked ahead to distract myself. In the distance stood a forest of cedar trees. Higher up, the trees surrendered to the permanent coldness, leaving bare rocky slopes where mountain goats forage for alpine grasses. A few glaciers still filled the highest cloud covered valleys.

I entered the all or nothing phase of mountain lake swimming. I needed either to exit or dive in and start swimming.

I plunged. I did my best crawl for 25 yards or so, until my moving muscles dispelled the chill. Renewed, I treaded water, enjoyed the liberation from two days of tent dust and sweat, and took in the view.

The movement of the clouds across the lake created evolving patches of turquoise, royal, and navy blue. During a ranger talk that morning, I found out that the lake’s unique color comes from the glaciers grinding the sedimentary rock below them to a flour-like consistency. The meltwater then flows into the lake, scattering mostly blue light into a plethora of variations.

In the same presentation, I learned that scientists estimate that all of the park’s glaciers will be melted by 2030. The distinctive colors of the park’s many lakes will diminish, and there will be less cold habitat for mountain goats and pikas.

As I did a lazy backstroke, I realized that 2030 is not that far away. I will be 66, and hopefully still bathing in alpine lakes. Maybe my kids will have kids of their own. We might again camp together by Lake MacDonald. The view will still be beautiful, but some magic will be gone.

With a Perspective, I am Beth Touchette.

Beth Touchette is a K through 12 science educator in the North Bay.

Just recently I got a peek at the new for me food culture of road cycling. At rest stops on a biking jaunt I slurped nutrition from little white squeeze packets while enjoying boiled potatoes with salt, cookies, fresh fruit, and a smorgasbord of energy bars designed to help us cyclists summon the energy for the next 15-mile push.

This was all a bit jarring in that over the last several months I’ve been experimenting with a seemingly opposite fitness-oriented food culture. For my fellow members of the zone diet challenge at my local Cross Fit gym, potatoes are definitely off the menu, and the fructose in the squeeze packets a giant no-no. My wife and I, both ex-vegetarians, have been busily scarfing full fat Greek yogurt by the tub, sardines by the boatload, and pork chops by the, well, we’ll leave that one alone.

There’s a curious Northern California connection to these trendy but opposed food cultures. The manufacturer of the squeeze packets is headquartered in Berkeley, while the author of a bestselling book extolling the benefits of diets high in animal protein is based in Oakland. Cross Fit got its start in Santa Cruz, and many of the bikes breezing past me on my endurance ride were made by a company in Morgan Hill.

We seem to export food and fitness trends from Northern California every bit as much as we export technology. But it’s worth noticing that food and fitness trends and fads, like most trends and fads, tend to be rooted in fear. Could it be that a lot of us fear the obesity epidemic, and have latched onto fads instead of fixing our unjust healthcare system, our subsidy-fueled agricultural system, and the general economic inequality at the epidemic’s roots?

Or if, as some suggest, the obesity epidemic has just a single villain, sugar, then why are we so afraid to follow our progressive era ancestors like Teddy Roosevelt and take the fight directly to the sugar trust?

Old Teddy appreciated the strenuous life, of course, and people like me who participate in the flourishing denominational multiverse of American fitness subcultures are in many cases successfully improving our health. But when does it become time to add a dollop of bravery, of real democratic commitment, to our expensive Greek yogurt?

With a Perspective, this is Matt Mitchell.

Matt Mitchell teaches middle school math in Sacramento.

“They leave the wings,” Jack said. We crouched down low, scanning the damp sand as the morning mist began to burn away. Among the forlorn scattered feathers, and the oddly disembodied, bright white wings, bold etchings told the story. The peregrine a dark, decisive bullet shooting down toward the gull, striking hard and severing the spine. Its tail and feet grazing the sand as they struggled, outcome long foretold. The gull become a meal, nature’s harsh and unremitting destiny — every morsel gone except those lonely, pristine wings.

We moved on, eyes alert for other signs. A string of dots tucked beside a rocky cliff face, each tiny toe kissing the dust lightly as the mouse scurried toward shelter, tells another story. Not far off, we find what we expected, a slightly wavy line of tracks, soft round pugmarks of a bobcat searching for a snack. The two don’t cross, and there’s no sign of a scuffle, so we know the mouse arrived home safely. The cat continued up into the dunes, where we lose the trail but find instead the blunt, chewed stems along the hem of every plant and bush that signal rabbits — abundant numbers, by the look of things.

Around one dune and down another, skirting bursts of poison oak and trying not to crush the sand verbena, we find the rabbit tracks, runs of prints from one safe haven to another. By now the sun’s well up, the fog long gone, and the wary dune inhabitants all under cover, though their tracks are unmistakable for those prepared to slow down and use their senses.

They are threads of a tapestry we all used to know, waiting to be picked up again. Each one ties us to the animal that made it, leading to a new, old world of rediscovery.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

Zoom back about four years to fourth grade: I was sitting in the office crying, waiting for my parents. I had gone insane. Again. I didn’t even remember what happened. I never did. All I knew was I completely flipped out, like I had several times that year. This led other kids to think I was insane. I always sensed everyone was slightly afraid of me, and I hated it. I wanted to control my anger, but I just couldn’t. Calming strategies never helped. Neither did taking a break nor countless hours with therapists and such. It seemed impossible, like I would always be like this. I had almost accepted this as fact and was completely closed to any help. I sometimes came close to going insane on people who tried to help. I wanted to give up on myself.

But I am not one to give up, and that is largely because of this. I found activities that helped me be my best self, and they quickly became hobbies. My fourth grade teacher found running helped me be my best self, and now I have run several races. I also discovered I felt calm after reading. I now have three bookshelves in my room, and even those aren’t enough. Then I realized puzzles and brainteasers calmed me down. Along with my books, I now have a stack of puzzles and mazes, and there’s always a puzzle cube next to my bed.

These hobbies helped more than any calming strategies anyone came up with. Gradually, outbursts became less and less common. I began to feel better than I ever had. It felt great to get rid of my reputation for being insane. I had way more friends than before, because people weren’t afraid of me, and I generally felt much happier and more at peace with myself. Although outbursts still occasionally happened, I usually was able to stop them before they started.

And here I am now. My anger issues are now in the past, and I think most people have almost forgotten I used to have behavioral issues in the first place. When I look back on when I was younger, and think about the times I had huge reactions, I want to go back in time and tell myself it’s going to be okay. Because it really is.

With a Perspective, I’m Zander Ashworth.

Zander Ashworth is completing eighth grade at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.

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