You were my first love. And I’m still hopelessly in love with you. Truly, madly, deeply.
I remember how you were there for me when I was young. When I couldn’t always get the right words to form when I was speaking you helped me to express myself. When I didn’t understand what others were saying you helped make it clear. And not just when I was young. You’ve done that throughout my life, and you do that now.
We’ve had so many memorable moments, you and I. You entertained me innumerable hours with the tales of others’ exploits and ideas. I was so captivated by you. When I supposed to be asleep at night I would sneak out of my bed and lay on the ground in my dark bedroom so that I could see you in the narrow strip of light that beamed through the crack under the door. I cherished those moments alone with you at night. It was much more valuable to me than sleep.
You taught me so many things. Through you my creativity was piqued by the Italian Renaissance; my heart was grieved by the Middle Passage; my mind was stimulated by Shakespeare; my soul was inspired by Langston Hughes. I traveled to faraway lands; past and future times; was male and female, black and white and brown and yellow and red, human, alien, and animal.
But while you helped me discover the world around me, but that isn’t all. I evolved from being a passive receptor into an active participant in our relationship. Once, I merely followed you, and you were gracious enough to allow me. I guess I was more of an understudy than a parasite in our symbiotic, growing connection. I found myself in you and the courage to emulate you – and eventually forge my own thoughts and word, through you. I found my faith, something that had been not only foreign but also unappealing, through you. You have transformed my existence, my understanding, my entire world.
People laughed at me in a good-natured way in middle and high school because I took advantage of the minutes in-between classes to spend a little bit of time with you. I’ll admit to being so focused on you that I bumped into people – and lockers – once or twice. (Okay, more than once or twice…but let’s get back on topic here!)
When I was in an unhealthy relationship I often cried out to you because I didn’t know who else would understand and not judge me. You’ve been there with me in the lowest moments of my life – even when I no longer desired to continue my life. There is no one whom I could have poured out my heart to – the massive pain, the shame, the depths of my depression and fear and rage – who could have provided me a nonjudgemental platform for my hurt.
We’ve shared so much joy too. We have made change together. We make a good team. I am grateful for how you allow me to be myself and share myself. You are not only there for me with big things, but even with the “little” things. I can’t even count how many times you’ve saved me from being forced to converse with people seated near me on airplanes or from having to ward off the unwanted interests of a potential suitor. When my albatross, undesired social interaction, tries to rear its head, I pointedly turn to you and engross myself in you…and voila! Crisis averted. You’re like “Kryptonite” to others at just the right moments, lol, and I am so freaking grateful!
I have learned to appreciate not just what you are to me, but what you represent in the lives of others too. When my daughter’s spoken words were primarily absent with the exception of a few cute echolalic phrases, you introduced yourself to her too, and gave her a voice. She did NOT need to use her mouth to have a voice, and you helped illustrate that. Because of you, the brilliance that is Emma, Amy, Rhema, Carly, and so many other phenomenal non-speaking people is known to the world. Thank you.
You’ve helped me join with others to advocate for so many important causes, including but not limited to opposing the elimination of women, youth, and family-centered HIV services (Ryan White Part D); racial justice; disability discrimination; giftedness/twice exceptionality; gender equality; adoption; HIV stigma; refugee youth; autistic empowerment; adoption, and so much more. You’ve helped me share my story and that of my family. You’ve helped me to fight for others as well as myself and my family in a far more effective way than I could have done without you.
Because of you I have met some of the most amazing people. Because of you I have traveled to numerous cities and states (not other countries yet, but a sister is hoping/praying for that!); because of you I have been blessed to be included in books, magazines, abstracts, and websites that I would have never dreamed was possible for this disabled black daughter of African immigrants who grew up below the poverty line. Heck, you helped to lead me to a speaking engagement in the White House; that’s a huge accomplishment for someone who once lived six doors down from the “crack house!”
But even if you hadn’t done all of this for me, I would still love you. You are mighty and beautiful and amazing and desirable and intriguing and strong and compelling all of your own accord. I don’t love you for what you have done for me, though I am inexplicably grateful for what you have done for me, who you have been for me, what you mean to me. Those things certainly add to everything, but I loved you long before all of that. I love you because you are so easy to love and I felt your love first. I love you because of who you are.
I know why Paul felt moved to draft Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, and all the other “ians.” (And the non-“ian” epistles too.) I understand how MLK and Nelson Mandela and so many others were able even in prison to create magnificent, life-changing work. You make the world come along, and your very existence has improved the world.
People might try to twist you for selfish gain and to manipulate and/or harm others, but they can never taint the essence of who YOU are. I believe the Bible stated it best: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the Word WAS God.” (That has significant meaning for me as a Christian, but there are numerous statements attesting to your value from non-Biblical and also non-theistic sources for those for whom that phrase isn’t applicable; I just can’t think of one offhead right now.)
We (the world) needs you. And I, Morénike – I need you. I need you. I thank you, and I need you. For in many ways, there is no me without you.
You gave me my first language and you will capture my last words. You represent the screenplay of my life. I wish I had fancier terminology to address you by. “Reading”
and “writing” don’t have the cool factor you very much deserve. But these will do; it’s what we have. You are not any less amazing because you don’t have a fancy name.
You are loved, and you are appreciated.
(Written July 23, 2016 by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu)