Maya Angelou, the brilliant writer, storyteller, and a phenomenal woman, passed away yesterday. With Million Man March Poem, she gives her hope and courage to all of us. May her soul rest in peace and may her words make us rise again.
The night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.
Under a dead blue sky on a distant beach,
I was dragged by my braids just beyond your reach.
Your hands were tied, your mouth was bound,
You couldn’t even call out my name.
You were helpless and so was I,
But unfortunately throughout history
You’ve worn a badge of shame.
I say, the night has been long,
The wound has been deep,
The pit has been dark
And the walls have been steep.
But today, voices of old spirit sound
Speak to us in words profound,
Across the years, across the centuries,
Across the oceans, and across the seas.
They say, draw near to one another,
Save your race.
You have been paid for in a distant place,
The old ones remind us that slavery’s chains
Have paid for our freedom again and again.
The night has been long,
The pit has been deep,
The night has been dark,
And the walls have been steep.
The hells we have lived through and live through still,
Have sharpened our senses and toughened our will.
The night has been long.
This morning I look through your anguish
Right down to your soul.
I know that with each other we can make ourselves whole.
I look through the posture and past your disguise,
And see your love for family in your big brown eyes.
I say, clap hands and let’s come together in this meeting ground,
I say, clap hands and let’s deal with each other with love,
I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,
Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,
Let us come together and revise our spirits,
Let us come together and cleanse our souls,
Clap hands, let’s leave the preening
And stop impostering our own history.
Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,
Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,
Courtesy into our bedrooms,
Gentleness into our kitchen,
Care into our nursery.
The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain
We are a going-on people who will rise again.
“Education should be the process of helping everyone discover his uniqueness, to teach him how to develop that uniqueness, and then to show him how to share it because that’s the only reason for having anything.”
Ask people who have had the opportunity to go to college and get a degree what that means to them. Their answer would range from “It’s just a piece of paper” to “It changed my life.” That’s because with the current education system, who we are seems to matter less and less.
When I was starting high school in India, the school I studied in had four “packages” (it certainly seemed like that) and I needed to choose one to decide my career: 1) science, where you studied subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Maths and languages; 2) science, that added Biology to the rest of the Science subjects; 3) arts, where you learnt History, Literature and languages. Few other schools also offered a fourth package, commerce, where you learnt accounting, economics, business management and languages. I decided on studying commerce (seemed the best of the lot at that time). But my school didn’t have that option and my family was going to move soon. That, plus various other reasons, and I ended up taking science. I might have been rather good at it, but the problem was, I hated it. I had some horrible teachers and that didn’t help either. So when we moved, I went to a new school that offered commerce. I told the Principal at this new school that I would like to join the commerce classes and since it was just the beginning of the school year, I wouldn’t have missed much and I was very confident that I can make up for the missed lessons. The Principal looked at my grades from previous years and said, ‘You’ve done very well in science. That’s what you should do. I can’t let you change your subject. You’ll have to stay with science.” And that would have been the end of my dreams and my future life. She labelled me as a science student because, according to her, “I was intelligent enough to study science. So why would I think of studying any lesser subjects?” What I wanted to study did not matter. What I wanted to do with my life was not for me to decide. So for the first time in my life, I did terribly in school. I failed in every class, except for Maths and English, and that made me miserable. I saw my entire life crumbling before my eyes. Luckily for me, I had an amazing English teacher who pulled me out of the ground and encouraged me not to give up. With her help, I moved to another school. I studied commerce and did extremely well in it. I learnt a lot about myself from that experience. I know for a fact that who I am today would have been completely different if I had followed the path forced upon me and I would have lived the rest of my life regretting that path and hating the person I would have become.
“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.”
― Heath L. Buckmaster, Box of Hair: A Fairy Tale
Instead of identifying and nurturing a person’s natural abilities, education has become all about putting people in an existing box and neatly labelling them. It is wiping all traces of individuality from people and conformity is considered the norm. Our innate ability to be good at certain things is ignored for the sake of education that teaches everyone the same things and expects everyone to excel at all of those things. We go through life earning a degree, pursuing a career that earns us money, fame and success, because that’s what we are expected to do, and we never find time to understand who we are or what we really want from life. Our thoughts are myopic and never go past what we think we need, to be “successful in life”. When life is going smoothly, that’s not so bad. But when we face difficult choices, when we have to make life changing decisions, how we think, what choices we make and what lessons we choose to learn from our life experiences are the true measures of how educated we are.
“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”
― Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Education has come to rely solely on intellectual analysis and arguments. We are so focused on creating our “perfect world” outside that we don’t take time to think about what’s inside. Instead of directing our thoughts and our mind, we end up being directed by it. The difference is the same as living life consciously and deriving meaning from it, as opposed to going through life in a trance, without any sense of purpose, being tossed between highs and lows, feeling lost and alone.
Education is not just about morals. It’s about the ability to create a sustainable belief system. By sustainable, I don’t mean throwaway beliefs, ideas that you can easily replace in order to maintain. I’m talking about strong beliefs that can stand the tests of all that life flings at us. Why is it important? Imagine you have to make a difficult decision about doing something unethical, or illegal even. Other than the fear of the law, what will give you the courage to do the right thing and be really happy in life? Your top-notch college degree that feeds your ambition to succeed by whatever means necessary, or the strength of your own beliefs that tells you what’s right and what’s wrong at every turn of your life consistently and the self-confidence that comes with it?
A word of warning though, it’s easy to confuse educated confidence with arrogance. Dogmatic religious ideologies are a living proof of it. Keeping an open mind is just as important a part of education as the spirit of conviction. Blind beliefs are dangerous. They make us so arrogant that we lock ourselves away from anything that could make us see the chinks in our belief-armour. Faith in the broadest sense is not meant to keep the world out and make us prisoners of our own beliefs. It’s meant to keep us free and unaffected amongst the chaos in the world. Yes, it might be simpler to remove ourselves from the world. But how will we ever learn anything by doing that? How will that possibly ever allow us to really LIVE?
Writer David Foster Wallace, in his 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address, talked about the real value of education and how it teaches us to think. He started his speech with this simple, yet profound story:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”
And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
That’s the purpose of education, to be acutely aware of realities that are hidden in plain sight. That’s why true education is a lifelong pursuit. It teaches us the ability to stay awake everyday of our lives and to choose the things that are really worth pursuing, to choose the thoughts that go beyond the knowledge that the obvious world presents before us, and as Wallace said at the end of his speech, to remind ourselves to be like the older fish in the story and constantly tell ourselves that “This is water”.
“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When someone asks me where I am from, I hesitate. My answer varies depending on what I think they really want to know about me. Sometimes I say I’m from London. Sometimes I add that I grew up in India. When I meet someone who is familiar with India, the next question they ask is where am I from in India. I pause. I hum and haw. With an embarrassed smile, I tell them it’s difficult for me to answer as I’ve lived all over the country and I couldn’t really call one place or city home. Now I’ve moved to Oslo and it’s not getting any easier to answer. And just yesterday my husband asked me if I’d ever want to live in New York!
Though I grew up in India, I’ve moved so much there, I’ve never felt a sense of belonging anywhere. I’ve studied in over five different schools and lived the longest in a city I got used to but never really loved. I’ve nursed a secret envy for people who have childhood friends, the ones they’ve known since kindergarten. As a child, it was easier to think of our move as a game. I got to see a new place, meet new people, learn new languages and experience new cultures. What’s not to like? I got to learn so much everywhere I lived and I’m eternally grateful for that. And somehow, never once did I question where I belonged. “Nowhere” seemed like a perfectly good answer.
When I moved to London, for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I missed my parents but I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to my new life. It’s not meant to be that easy, is it? Perhaps because I was in love and I got to enjoy life as a real adult (you know, living in your own house, cooking, working, paying bills) and I got to share my life with someone great, everything felt right. I guess I had fine-tuned myself to jump from place to place. I was right to question the ease I felt. It didn’t last long. The crash came soon enough when I struggled with my career and was drowning without a sense of belonging. The flood gates I had held tight shut were thrown open when I least expected it. The waves kept hitting me and I shattered under it’s force. I could not avoid the question anymore. I had to brave finding an answer or face the risk of losing myself completely. Slowly and painfully, I sifted through my life and I realised that the sense of belonging I was looking for does not come from a place or from certain people. It had to come from within. Rather than belonging to a place, I found that when I was happy with myself, I belonged – with my life, with the people I love and who love me, with everything around me. That feeling of love and contentment within made me feel secure. That is home after all, a place where you can be yourself and feel safe.
So when we thought about moving to Oslo from London, the decision to move was a leap of faith that my husband and I decided to take. We wanted to experience living in another city and Norway is great for work-life balance. We knew Oslo would be a big change from London. But, Oslo surprised me.
There is a notion that Norwegians are not friendly and they are reserved and not open to new people. I don’t know how true that is but since I’ve moved to Oslo, I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve lived in London for years and hardly seen my neighbours. The day we moved into our flat in Oslo, every single person who passed by were friendly and welcoming. I joined the Oslo Writers’ League – a writers’ group predominantly made up of expat writers from all over the world. Some of them have lived in Norway for many years. I met fellow writers who are warm, encouraging and generous. As luck would have it, they were in the process of publishing their second anthology. And the themes for the anthology: Crossroads and Identity! So I submitted my poem, “Vulnerable”, and it was included in the anthology. On May 20th, we had the book launch for the anthology, All the Ways Home ( available on Amazon US, Amazon UK and The Book Depository). I heard some of the writers speak about their writing process and their story or poem in the anthology. I was surprised how much all us have in common. Each straddling different cultures and homes, all bound together by our passion for writing. Some called two different cities home, while some, like me, realised that living in different places has changed them in so much that they don’t feel like they really belong in any one of those worlds perfectly. Fitting into a single world is not meant for us. As our editor very wisely put it, we are figuratively homeless and we search for identities and homes that extend beyond a place. For some, home is where the heart is. But if your heart lies spread across countries, a firm sense of “This is where I belong” becomes a journey of exploration.
I read the book and every tale took me on such a journey. A woman who had a miscarriage and felt relief that she could finally have a career, a poet who paid tribute to a friend who had committed suicide, a writer who saw her life as chapters split between Lebanon and Norway, a writer who never felt at home anywhere – the stories kept coming and I was drenched in their emotions. And when I finished reading it, I knew I wasn’t alone in my search and that I had others to share it with. In life, it doesn’t matter where we start or where our destination lies. The journey is what matters. Our identities are not bound to a single place. It’s decided by our experiences and how we see ourselves through them. It helps us learn more about ourselves and who we really are. And with every lesson, we find our sense of belonging within ourselves.
All the proceeds from the sale of this book is going to Utdanningshjelpen, a charity in Norway that sponsors education for children in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique and Ethiopia. Everyone who was involved in the making of this book, volunteered their time and talents to make it happen.
So go ahead and buy it, because the stories and poems in this book will change the way you look at where you belong.
My poem “Vulnerable” was published in Oslo Writers’ League anthology, All the Ways Home. The themes of the anthology were ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Identity’. I submitted this poem under ‘Identity’.
All the proceeds from the sale of this book is going to Utdanningshjelpen, a charity in Norway that sponsors education for children in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Mozambique and Ethiopia. Everyone who was involved in the making of this book, volunteered their time and talents to make it happen. If you want to read soulful and poignant stories and poems by some very talented writers, do go buy the book and support a great cause.
‘In the past few decades, the United States and the Soviet Union have accomplished something that — unless we destroy ourselves first — will be remembered a thousand years from now: the first close-up exploration of dozens of other worlds. Together we have found much out there that is magnificent, instructive and of practical value. But we have found no trace, no hint of life. The Earth is an anomaly. In all the solar system, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet.
We humans are one among millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for one hundred fifty million years, the dinosaurs became extinct. Every last one. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And humans, the first beings to devise the means for their own destruction, have been here for only several million years.
We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. We have an obligation to fight for life on Earth — not just for ourselves but for all those, humans and others, who came before us and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent than to survive to eliminate on a global basis the growing threats of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse and mass starvation. These problems were created by humans and can only be solved by humans. No social convention, no political system, no economic hypothesis, no religious dogma is more important.
The hard truth seems to be this: We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We would prefer it to be otherwise, of course, but there is no compelling evidence for a cosmic Parent who will care for us and save us from ourselves. It is up to us.’
I have lived in London, one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, for many years and I have seen warmth and kindness in the streets of London to the peaks of Snowdon. The colour of my skin or where I come from never mattered. I’m beginning to wonder if that was the exception and not the norm that I believed it to be. I’m one of the most optimistic people in the world, but the dark side of political cynicism is dragging me down. So it pains me to say this about my country, but we need a time out to think things through.
1. These are the political parties we have to choose from:
The Conservatives, who seem to constantly suffer from a disconnect with what kind of struggles ordinary families go through everyday
The Labour. Does any one know what they stand for anymore?
The UKIP, who don’t want to be called a racist party even though their “ethnic minority future face of UKIP” called them racist and quit the party
The LibDem. We might as well replace them with mannequins
Choosing between them is like trying to choose between a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep sea and jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I’m a writer and they have made me run out of metaphors.
2. MPs and bankers steal thousands of pounds from public money and they don’t spend a day in prison, while a young boy is sentenced to spend a year in jail for stealing a pair of shoes. I never understood why they are paid so much. Is it an incentive to not steal or an exit strategy when they do get caught stealing?
3. It’s embarrassing to watch the leader of our country go around taking selfies. He should fire his PR team if they led him to believe that will make him popular. None of them had the guts to sit him down and tell him that he is no Obama, he has neither his charm nor his charisma. I would respect him more if he weren’t trying so hard. I’d rather he would be himself. Unless he is worried that he would look like a posh boy. Hmmmm, now there’s a pickle.
4. Why do people report what Katie Hopkins says? Her views on parenting to celebrities to immigration can never be taken seriously. Her only expertise is putting down everything and everyone. And she actually has a column in a newspaper? Whoever writes, blogs, reports, puts Katie Hopkins on a TV screen with her next comment should be banned from reporting FOREVER. Spare us her crazy talk. You want something interesting to report, go speak a college kid or his/her nanna.
While we are on the subject of Katie, why do we live in a world where Katie Price’s third divorce is news?
5. Getting a decent education has become extremely expensive and difficult in UK. We even discourage foreign students from coming to the country to study. They wonder why the young don’t respect the system. The system has left them adrift without an opportunity to make something of their lives. Why would they respect it?
6. Theresa May can strip naturalised British citizens of their citizenship even if it leaves them without a country. I suppose she thinks that someone born in the country is more valuable than someone who lives there legally, contributes to the welfare of the society and has made a conscious choice to be a British citizen? Sorry to sound like Chandler Bing, but, could she be more unwelcoming? The anti-immigrant rhetoric is getting out of hand with vans telling people to “go home”. Why not just close all the doors to UK and sit by ourselves? What’s next, sending back all the immigrants and see how we survive that economic suicide?
She also wanted to make visitors from “high risk” countries pay a £3000 bond to let them into the country. The money was supposed to be returned if they left before their visa expired. Thank god, that didn’t happen. If that’s how bad the immigration system is, find better ways to fix it. Deterring tourists, who boost our economy, makes as much sense as Katie Hopkins!
We are better than all of this. So please, let’s take a time out.
Elwyn Brooks “E. B.” White ( 11 July 1899 – 1 October 1985) was an American author and essayist, who wrote many pieces for The New Yorker and penned famous children’s books such as Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. He was also know for his unwavering faith in the human spirit, which he displays in this letter that he wrote to a sailor when the latter wrote to White expressing his loss of faith in humanity.
North Brooklin, Maine
30 March 1973
Dear Mr. Nadeau:
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), Beijing and The Center for Psychological Research, Shenyang have spearheaded a campaign to make the Chinese public aware of the destructive effects of verbal abuse. They told the stories of six juvenile offenders in Shenyang Detention Center, who committed serious crimes like assault and murder. Here’s the video of how they found that words can become weapons:
Words are not just a jumble of letters. They carry meaning and intent. That’s why books are so powerful, they are full of words after all.
Words can describe the impossible and the unimaginable. They can build worlds and introduce us to places and people we never knew could exist. And yet, we throw them around without thought and caution, without regard for the consequences. Every time someone uses words to support discrimination, injustice, hatred and violence, the divide between people widens. The only way to face hateful words is to speak up with words of kindness and compassion, to say loud and clear that words are not meant to divide, they are meant to unite; that words are never meant to be used as weapons; that words are not meant to hurt, they are meant to heal.
How have words influenced you in your life? Share in comments.