I remember the day she brought it into the room. We were sitting in a circle, and Maia was seated to my right. We started at my left, which means she went last. When it was Maia's turn she looked down. Hesitated. Shrugged her small shoulders in her way, letting us know we shouldn't expect much.
And then she began. Reading her scrawl off a small, white page, she recited a poem she called, "Perfect." As I listened, my energy moved from that critical teacher place between my eyebrows, to the tips of the hairs on my arms. She had me.
I reverberated somewhere around the ceiling. The room became sound. I was pulsing along with her words,
"Your life is not a book. Don't give me that look."
Did anyone else speak that day? Suddenly the rest seemed excess. Because Maia was marrow. Maia was bone.
Since that day, Maia's poem "Perfect" has made its way to hundreds of classrooms. Thousands of students. Inside teacher's anthologies. Hospitals. To Jessica Romoff in her 7th grade classroom. Maia is thronged at performances. They study Maia's poem in school.
It almost paralyzed her. That kind of success. Over a poem. But Maia is more than a poem. She is a power. She is a possibility. I want to pretend I know what's best for her. I want to micromanage her career. I want to love her through to self confidence. Make her show up on time, and be proactive instead of procrastinate. I want her to take her place with all those easy breezy scholars in college. I want her to know that she is brilliant, and deserving of huge and giant LIFE.
But Clarissa Pinkola Estes says when you give someone what you think is their medicine, walk away, "and take your shadow with you." Don't stand there and watch them drink it. They may swallow it ten years from now. They may leave it on the side of the road. You may never know that it made a difference to them at all. Maybe they will carry it in their pocket close to their heart until they are ready to take it, and maybe you had the wrong prescription all along. Sometimes loving someone means letting go. It's one of the hardest lessons I continue to keep learning.
Here is Maia's story. From Maia.
* * *
"This is why it hurts the way it hurts. You have too many words in your head. There are too many ways to describe the way you feel. You will never have the luxury of a dull ache. You must suffer through the intricacy of feeling too much."
Iain Thomas, "I Wrote This For You"
Sometimes I think about my past failures and I get sad, no matter how inconsequential they seem to be. That time I forgot a poem on stage and succumbed to reading it from my cellphone. That time when no one clapped. Those other times when no one clapped. That time I poured my heart out to find a student sleeping at their desk. That time I made a collect call out of curiosity and had to pay my friend's mother fifty cents. That time I failed Spanish. That time I failed Korean. That time I failed French. That time I failed ASL. It is a deep hurt, igniting several other pangs of regret and remorse and embarrassment that come rushing up all at once. And it scares me to know that I am capable of feeling so much, all at once. My heart drops into the pit of my stomach when I remember the time I called my mother ugly. 15 years later and I still want to cry. My heart beats faster and my chest feels like it's going to implode. My throat closes up. Every part of my body hurts. I think about the time she got me a present I didn't like and how I left it in the backseat of her car despite her constant reminders. And I find it hard to breathe. I can feel it up my throat and squirming in my bottom jaw. My stomach hurts. I am dizzy. But I wrap my arms around my chest and suppress anything trying to jump out.
When my grandma talks about wanting to die, when she confronts me with the brutal reality of the inevitable, I don't react. I am unaffected. I am buttering my toast. I am detached because it's the only way to keep my spine straight and my feet on the floor. I will not want to go to her funeral. I will not want to visit her grave. I will want to stay as far away as possible. Nothing in this world scares me more than the fragility of human life.
I expel pain at insignificant moments. To the Tori Amos dog shelter commercial - you may have my tears. You may have my quivering lip and wobbling shoulders. You may have my broken heart, my sobbing, my short gasps of breath. Because I do not want to cry in her absence. Because I am afraid of what will pour out of me. I am afraid of running out of tears and out of breath and out of feeling. I am afraid of being empty. I don't think my body would be able to handle it. I don't know how I'd find the strength to open my eyes and rise to my feet every morning.
I imagine this to be a concentrated version of my entire life. First I feel lost. And then I feel angry and upset with myself and with the world. And every bad thought and feeling that has ever passed through me comes crashing all at once. And it progressively gets harder to breath. I have a climactic existential crisis before eventually giving up. I briefly feel relieved. And then nothing at all. And I settle into a comfortable numbness.
At my best, I am dramatic, self-serving, and ruthless. At my worst, I am vacant and underwhelming. The spectrum of my personality is built like a looping roller coaster where everyone, including myself, tend to feel a little nauseated. I am crippled by anxiety and depression. I have been all my life. And I have learned to suffer quietly, letting opportunities pass me by on every occasion because I've never felt capable. This is how I live my life. With everything just out of arm's reach. This is why I've been kicked out of school seven times. This is why I still can't drive at the ripe age of twenty. This is why my group of friends could be counted on an amputated hand. This is why my answer will always be "no." I am perpetually on the cusp of greatness. But emotional instability and a deep rooted fear of failure keep me tip-toeing through life like every task is an intricate puzzle made of broken glass. To be perfectly honest, I am the most terrified person you will ever meet. I am afraid of vulnerability, of inadequacy, of embarrassment, of imperfection, of death. Of life, for that matter. But I'm figuring it out one step at a time.
Take a look at Maia performing "Perfect" at the 2012 Classic Slam:
Maia is an emeritus member of the Get Lit Players. The Get Lit Players are an award winning Classic teen poetry troupe, comprised of Los Angeles County teenagers. Emeritus members mentor Los Angeles County teens and perform at special events throughout the nation. Go to www.getlit.org for more information.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
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