Young Writers Share A Life Lesson

Each week, Young Writers Project receives several hundred submissions from students in Vermont and New Hampshire in response to writing prompts and selects the best for publication here and in 21 other newspapers and on This week, we publish responses to the prompt, Lesson: You are sitting on a park bench and an old man sits down beside you. He teaches you something. What is it? Read more at

Prompt: Lesson

Hello Miss, how are you today?

Not well, I hate my home, I’m running away.

Oh Miss, it really can’t be that bad.

It really is, old man; I hate my mom and dad.

Tell me really, why do you hate them so?

I never get what I want. Oh, I don’t know.

You know, Miss, life isn’t always fair.

Look at me, I’m old and losing my hair.

Old man, no offense, but my problems are worse.

My mother refuses to buy me a new Gucci purse.

A new Gucci purse, hmm … that would be nice.

Did I tell you I have to live with mice?

Well, now you’ve got me feeling guilty old man.

Here, please take a dollar and put it in your can.

Miss, I don’t want your money, that’s not what life is about.

If you didn’t care about money so much, you’d be better off, no doubt.


I’m sorry sir; I hope I did not offend you.

I’ve learned a lesson, and I won’t forget it too.

Well, I’m glad young lady, I’m glad you could learn.

I’m glad you could see that money shouldn’t be your number one concern.

It was a Saturday, and Central Park was buzzing with people. I had happened to find the only empty bench and was quietly reading my book when I heard the shuffling of feet and then the bench kind of sunk down a couple inches. Someone had sat down next to me.

I figured I should be friendly and say hello and introduce myself, but when I turned to greet the person, I realized that this man had no intention of being friendly. There was this awfully scary and grumpy look on his face that immediately made me lower my hand and shove my nose into the book. Why was he in such a bad mood? There seemed to be no reason for him to be stewing and radiating unhappy energy all around for everyone to have to deal with. I certainly didn’t want that near me. It was quite annoying.

After a few minutes I’d had enough and turned to him and said, “Excuse me, but there seems to be something bothering you, and your angry ‘harumphs’ and ‘umphs’ are disturbing me. Is there something you would like to say?”

He simply looked at me and said in a very pleasant and quite amused tone, “Well good then, finally you noticed. You happen to be the first one all day to say something. Everyone else just got up and left.”

I was confused, and the look on my face made him continue. “You see, I am trying to prove a point to myself and to others. This world is so obsessed with being on time, not talking to strangers, and never considering other people’s feelings, that I feel I need to do something about it.” 

I responding by saying, “I have never thought about that. But I can understand what you are saying.”

I expected him to elaborate on the subject but instead he said, “Good, that’s great. Now don’t change the way you think. Keep being a polite person, and you will be happier because of it. It was nice to meet you. Bye now!”

And with that he stood up and walked away to sit down on another bench. The person sitting next to him took one look and promptly walked away; he winked at me and then moved on. It was one of the strangest encounters of my life, but he made me realize that you can turn any situation into a memory that will last, as well as to always be a polite and honest person in any situation. I will never forget him or his spontaneity. 

A girl was sitting on a bench with pencil in hand, writing lyrics to songs that she had been working on. She was so focused she didn’t see that an old man had sat down next to her.

“Ha! Finished. Too bad nobody can sing it.”

“Finished with what?”

“Oh! Sorry. I didn’t see you there. I finished my song that I had been writing for a couple of weeks now.”

She was not very fond of this old man. He smelled of rotten fish. He had also sat down next to her without a sound and he had never coughed or anything to show that he was there. He had not even asked to sit there, He had no manners at all. She may have been poor but she was always so polite to her elders and everyone. He must have been so old that he forgot them.

“Sorry, where are my manners? My name is Jack. May I sit here? Oh! Sorry I must smell like rotten fish right now. I work at a sushi shop down the road and I forgot to take a shower before I came here.”

“My name is Annie and that’s quite all right.” Wow, she thought, it’s like he’s reading my mind!

“So can you sing a song for me?” he asked.

“Oh, I can’t sing.” At that second her cheeks turned red and then purple and then red again.

“I know you can sing.”

“I think I know if I can sing or not.”

“Try singing a line at least.”

“No,” she said, “I can’t sing even if my life depended on it and who are you to tell me that I can sing when I can’t.”

“OK, maybe you don’t think that you can sing, but I do. Just trust me on this, OK?”

“You know what? Fine. I will, but I’m never going to do this most embarrassing thing in my whole entire life ever again … I got my ticket for the long way ’round...”

“That’s incredible,” he said. “And you said you couldn’t sing.”

“Wow, I guess I can sing.” But when she turned around to thank him, he was gone. She looked all around and he was nowhere in sight. It was as if he vanished into thin air. She got up and saw an envelope filled with money.

“Sir, you forgot something.”

She saw that there was a letter attached to it and it read: “Dear Annie, This envelope is for you to follow your dreams and become a singer.”

“Wow, thanks, Jack!”

She got up and started the walk home.

About the Project

Young Writers Project is an independent nonprofit that engages students to write, helps them improve and connects them with audiences through the Newspaper Series (and and the Schools Project (

Next Prompt

Dislike. Write about something that disgusts you, no matter how wrong, distasteful, or awkward it is. Alternate: One thousand peas. Write a fairytale that includes the phrase, “one thousand peas.” Due April 12.