I was a poet once. I started writing when I was ten and, by the time I was 16, I’d won 6 poetry contests and had been published 3 times. Always in anthologies, assured that the poems would be listed in alphabetical order by last name so I could hide, securely in the middle, between the bookends of other people’s words. I made sure that what I entered in contests was good enough to win but not great enough to call undue attention to myself. Then one day, I got high and I screwed it all up.
In the midst of my high, I wrote a poem about doing drugs and I entered it into a contest. Many months later, I received a letter. “You have won the such and such poetry contest. We would like for you to come to our conference in New York.” These words struck dread in my heart but I kept reading. “We would like to have you read your poem on our TV show and be interviewed about it”. I sat there, staring at the letter, dumbfounded and angry. How dare you write to me and tell me that I am someone, that I have potential, that I have something worth sharing with the world! My entire body is bruised from being beaten and thrown out of a moving car, my days are spent doing vile things to get drugs, I eat one meal a day if I’m lucky, and the address you sent this letter to was three homes ago. Who the hell are you to make me believe there is hope?!? I crumpled the letter and threw it on the floor, sobbing and raging at the cruel joke contained within it.
I remembered hearing stories in school about slaves who didn’t want to be freed. Nobody in my class could understand that, but I did; I understood it completely. I had more than one opportunity for a different life but I was so rooted in the viewpoint of my present, that I could not allow myself to hope for anything beyond that. To me, where I was would always be how my life looked and there was no getting around it. As if to cement that reality, I decided to get high.
Later that evening, as we crawled on the floor, hoping to find an additional speck of crack we may have dropped, I saw the letter, laying crumpled and sad in a corner. I crawled over to it, gently smoothed it out, and cradled it like it represented the fragility of my life. Tears once again poured down my face. I knew I had to stop writing. It was simply too dangerous.
I never responded to the letter and I never went to New York. When the book came with my poem in it, I tore it out, as if tearing out the page in that one book would delete its presence from all the others that had been printed. I didn’t write another poem for over twenty years. Marianne Williamson was right. My power frightened me way more than my inadequacy.
When I look back, my heart hurts at the sight of that girl, covered in bruises and scars, crying in a corner because someone had the audacity to tell her she was great. I hold her and comfort her in my mind. I wish I could have shown her how drastically things would change. I wish I knew then that my past – or even my present, no matter how dim it may seem – does not have to be my future.
I realize, when I have memories like this, that who I am today could not have happened if it weren’t for her. That learning how to love that scared, angry, confused, broken and battered girl of my youth is what has enabled me to become a beacon of love and hope for others. That realization allows me to bless and honor every hardship, every obstacle, and every tragedy of my life.
How about you? What have you learned to honor?