Friday, November 05, 2004

The greatest love of all...

My daughter has three girlfriends at the house tonight for a sleepover. I can hear them talking, telling silly stories, giggling, and otherwise being kids. I’m so glad for them; tonight there is nothing for them to worry about. There are movies to watch, cookies, popcorn, chips, and candy to eat, and Barbie dolls to play with. This morning on my walk as I planned mentally for tonight’s festivities I found myself singing a familiar song: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride.” These four little girls are our future. Two of them are homeschooled by loving, concerned parents while the other two are sent off every morning to be brainwashed by the government wardens into being conformist consumers. So the future of the first two is undoubtedly far better than the future of the latter, but perhaps I am biased. And certainly, I digress. (I'm only kidding about the public school thing.) Even though they are here tonight only to have fun, paint their toenails, and stay up as late as possible, it’s also an opportunity for me to teach them well. Teach them to love themselves and each other. Teach them to be strong, independent, and compassionate. Teach them to be generous, kind, and accepting of one another and of themselves. Sure, it’s an ambitious curriculum for one evening, but the truth is that these girls will learn far more from reading my life, my interactions with them and with my family than they would ever learn sitting at the table in our homeschool room. Yesterday I thought about voting with my life; tonight I am thinking about teaching with my life. With my strong and confident voice, the stories of my life journey, and my genuine love for my family and myself, I teach them about confident womanhood. With the conspicuous absence of magazines that advocate conspicuous consumption, obsession with fashion, make-up, and thinness, and the best way to snag and keep a boyfriend, I teach them that who they are matters much more than what they look like and who they are with. I can teach them in some small way that the beauty they possess inside will last them a lot longer than their flat bellies and thin thighs; I know that truth firsthand. The good news is that at only nine, ten, and eleven years of age, each of these pre-teens is already leading the way in some area of their lives. Becca is a very talented gymnast. Amber is an all-star softball player. Ashley has an irrepressible imagination and tells fabulous stories that leave the other three rolling on the floor, bellies aching with laughter. There simply isn't enough time or space for me to list the virtues and talents of my beloved first-born child. There is beauty, strength, courage, perseverance, tenderness, and a spirit of adventure in each of these precious girls. My only assignment tonight is to hold up a mirror of praise and encouragement before each of them so that they see just how gorgeous they are. The lyrics to this morning's song roll across the bottom of the screen in my mind: “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe. No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all is deep inside of me.” It has been my aim to live a life that shadows no one else’s. Six years after Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn went co-ed, I was the first black girl to graduate. I was the only child in my family to attend a non-Christian college, and later became the only one of the four of us to have children. (Well, that last part is a little disingenuous as I am the only daughter and therefore none of my brothers could really “have children” in the literal sense. But there are some other juicy “only one” things I’ve done that I would gladly share with anyone interested enough to write me at I have made it a habit to live as I believe, learning as I go, failing at times and succeeding at others. I have given up on dreams I've had while others have been taken away from me, but no one has managed to relieve me of my dignity. Even the perverted train conductor who groped me in the middle of the night as the train crossed the border from France into Spain in August of 1986 succeeding only in getting me furious; my sense of security was shattered, but my dignity remained intact. As the autumn of 1986 progressed and I fell in love with Madrid for the first time, as I walked back and forth to classes along El Paseo de La Castellana, as I learned the Spanish language, the value of friendship, and how to make tortillas, I discovered something else. Far, far away from family and friends, wishing for the comforts of my dorm room at Williams, and navigating the perilous waters of love in another language, I realized that the greatest love of all was the love that already existed in me. Those family and friends that were so far away could only help so much. The solitude of my solo suite in a cushy Williams College dorm could only keep me so safe. Even the adoration of that young man who said I was the tallest, darkest, and loveliest American he’d ever met could never match the love that was growing inside of me for me. My belated birthday wish for my daughter and her girlfriends is that they will someday have that “aha” moment, that flash of realization that they are loved as they are by God, by their family, and by their friends. And beyond that, may they have multiple moments of shock and awe at how beautiful they are, how strong they are, and that the most fulfilling, steadfast, indeed, the greatest love of all is the love that is inside of them.

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