prose// birth anniversaries and the witnessing of classrooms hallowing

I have felt it today, maybe for the first time in four years, maybe not, it is hard to recall. The texture of knowing, the feeling, “oh wow, this is what I have been doing for four years”. You know, the part of the Toni-Morrison-novel-reading-journey when you finally catch a glimpse of “it”: the arch, the vision, the subdued checkered pattern of a whole new world beneath the surface of the text (an idea, a looping, a surprise). How strange to feel like a soon to be graduate, sitting upright in my chair, thinking, yes I know synthesis, yes, I know how to articulate one thing and how to identify a second. Yes! I learned this! Yes, I know this!

The other day in a research seminar a girl said loudly that she did not know how to advise someone who wasn’t as driven and as passionate as her and I thought, I cannot possibly be a student at this school. (She and I cannot have been chosen by the same admissions committee). In so many ways I have both learned the dance and then not nearly fast enough. I don’t know about interviews and job applications and how to form my words with my tongue like the white girl with the long brown hair in my class does when she speaks. She sounds like prestige, Ivy League-ripe intonation tattooed into every syllable and I sigh. Four years here and I still can’t talk like that. Every now and again a professor shares an exceptional student paper with the class as if to say, see, beauty does exist! And I sigh. Four years here and I still can’t write like that. I am hazy and not nimble. Locke and Smith and other old men who’s faces I do not know, I cannot pretend to.

Today though, I think, maybe, I caught something, trout-fishing for dignity with two open palms facing the wrong side of the river. I have not often felt this close to swallowing the things I have watched expand in ripeness from the branches of this institution. Today my mouth grazed (just barely) the skin of the things that belong to me (finally!). The Prophet (SAW) said wisdom is the property of the believer where they may find it. I have been overturning stones in the center of locust walk looking for jewel-chunked answers. The other day my professor presented us with a copy of an old newspaper and my fingers traced the words “runaway” in tiny print on the 18th century paper and I thought, yes, of course I do belong here. Someone like me built this building and what a shame it is that after all this time I have forgotten to even remember the absence of their names. And wow, the stories of the stories of the stories of creation fold in on itself, time curling together like a bundle of kindling to a match and the whole thing is set ablaze at my touch, at the awakening (the first time my eyes widen and I let out a gasp in the middle of that cold and sterile white classroom and all their faces do not turn to me). I think then, about the ways I will not be missed and will not be remembered and still how much space I take up and how guilty I am made to feel about that (my sounds are wasted waves).

On Saturday, I turned twenty one years old. I feel it too. Like aging is something you can grab with your hands and sense the urgency. I think about the ways my body has grown and I have not. Years spread thin and thinner things I have not watered enough for the length of this journey. Do I have the capacity to Love the way I need? Do I have the ability to Forgive the way I need to? Am I capable of the kind of Honesty I need to survive?

I’ve thought about my greatest fear and perhaps it is never moving past this moment. If I am only ever this fresh twenty-one year old me, still blistering in the same places I should have healed from by now, still saying too much and then, when the words are counted as jewels, never enough. The version of myself who saves the blue book from her first examination with the word “excellent” written on it. How she cradles things that are all decomposable in her own memory, in the soil of things that count, in the belly of a much longer story. What if I never grow, if I keep trying and failing and cycling back through the same old songs? I should have learned to sing when I could. Do we become our thirteen year old selves, (weathered and with more experiences), molted again and again but still the same bird? I wish someone could have told me that! I did not know I was creating a woman I would have to live with forever, I just thought it was middle school.

God graces everyone. Some people simply have a better propensity to witness it in real time. I think about the things I’ve asked for that I have not received. Maybe they were taken away as punishment. Maybe if I had been more deserving more would have arrived. Or maybe, this now, this ache-filled, ureaka-spun, book-littered journey was the best of all the dreams. Faith is believing in the latter and responding as if it is the second, and hoping that if you have done anything wrong that it is the first because a punishment now is always better than those in infinity. Or at least that’s my simple, clumsy, unpolished take. And I know very little of most things.

But I do still know things. I know that now (I felt it flutter up, fly into my throat, big huge wigs flapping in my rib cage!). I know how to write my history paper due at the end of the week. I know how to clean my room, how to read a book, how to wake up in the morning and get through the day. I know how to grieve and how to celebrate, how to walk to the river and how to sit by it in silence. These are important things, vibrant things, things I can teach myself again and again and again. I know things I did not know before. I own more bits of the wisdom that has always been mine, lost, and now found.

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