Most days, I want to think of myself as something pretty special. I want to tell myself that I am truly one-of-a-kind. I want to believe with all my heart that I'm a fighter... a survivor, and that I made it this far because of my hard work and on the raw force of will-power alone.
But other days, like today, I face the truth. I look myself in the mirror and tell myself what a lucky person I am. Because had my parents been any less devoted to my success, had my teachers been any less relentless in their demand for excellence, had the foundations and principles of my life been only a shade different, and had there not been a God, I would not be the person I am today.
Days like today, I remember: I may have seen this much and come this far, but I did NOT do it on my own.
I've spent the last four years living in Kingston: going to school, working, and getting acquainted with urban life. Yesterday, I sat at home in rural St. Mary remembering, for a good long while, how easy it is to forget the people and places that comprise the 17 years that precede the last 4.
Is it really that easy to forget the pride in my father's smile, the warmth in my mother's arms, the loud, cheerful rings in my siblings' laughs? Is it so easy to forget music-filled streets and Miss Mabel's corner shop, and the names of classmates who stayed home to help build their parish, while I was whisked away to urban Jamaica with lofty dreams, in search of something (supposedly) better... in search of something (supposedly) more?
I sat listening to my siblings' jibes. My sister is a woman now. And my brothers have beards, or stubble... How weird that they have lives -whole lives- that I have very little knowledge of. How weird that my parents are growing old. How weird that my teachers and neighbours and classmates have never forgotten my name, or my face, and that, with the extra wrinkles in their tired faces, they smile when they see me, and remind me -again- why I should never give up. Why I should never forget.
I must not forget past classmates carrying babies in their arms: theirs and their little sisters'. I must not forget street vendors missing teeth, the sight of once-firm flesh now sagging, jangling and dangling as they offer passers-by their wares. I must not forget scruffy young men, congregating on street corners, already beggars, drunks and drug addicts... I must not forget that for every step I take, someone gets left behind. That for every rung on the ladder I climb, someone stands on the ground, wistfully looking up or cluelessly gazing around... I must not forget that they toil relentlessly. And I must not forget why: because too many children, by virtue of location alone, are abandoned and forgotten. They're bright. They're smart. They're awesomely talented. But they're oblivious to how much they're being robbed.
They have no access to what this world calls success. No access to urban Jamaica and all the secrets it hoards and hides... They remain where they are: seeds of potential. Undiscovered. Undefined. Unfulfilled.
They look at me and smile. And I think they feel proud. But, really, what's there to be proud of? I am no better than these. I am a daughter of St. Mary soil, just like anybody else. While I am in Kingston trying to realise fairytale dreams, they are at home fighting through the despondence of habitual disempowerment, finding new ways to survive a world that denies them the privilege - nay, the right- to fundamental amenities.
And it's a long road ahead of us. We have a far way to go. But if we ever expect to look in the mirror and feel any sense of accomplishment, it must be because we never forget. It must be because I never forget.
I cannot forget... help me to remember... I must NOT forget.