I stand here as a direct product of both the deliberate steps I have taken and also the steps I have deliberately left up to chance. I am here because I chose to be–whether I made those choices actively or passively.
When I was in elementary school, I fostered a lifelong love for poetry. Upon learning of this love, my mother–who was quick and opportunistic as always–seized her chance to instill in her daughter a new lesson. For ten dollars, she said, I would have to memorize the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. Upon hearing this, my business savvy ten year old-self–who was also quick and opportunistic as always–then seized her chance at claiming the staggering fortune that was ten whole dollars (which could, in turn, buy me eight Baby Bottle Pops). Six years later, I naturally no longer have those Baby Bottle Pops. I do, however, still have a good portion of that poem memorized. Six years’ worth of choices later, I can now see that the true fortune I gained that day was not my ten whole dollars. The true fortune was, as cliché as it may sound (and as cliché as it is), a new and invaluable sense of responsibility and control. To quote Henley, “It matters not how strait the gate/How charged with punishments the scroll/I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul.” “Invictus” taught my ten year old self that she was in sole control of how her life would unfold, and my sixteen year old self is richer because of it.
That is why I am here. I am here because I have chosen to be. I have chosen, crucially, to be intellectually curious, unabashedly passionate, and to live like the Dalai Lama in that the happiest time of my life will always be the present. That is why I am here. I am also here because my mother was born in Birmingham in 1969 and because she went to college and met my father and went to medical school and then to her residency and gave birth to me. That is why I am here. I am here, too, because I guess my great-great-great grandmother ran just a whip’s length too slow and found her body bound at hand and foot and then on a big, stinking boat, and then in the New World where she would stay and her children would stay for good but not for better. That, too, is why I am here. I am here this day in 2014 because my great-great-great-great grandmother was there that day in 10,000,000BC and because she was Eve and because she was with Adam when the world was born and because she resided in Eden and because she was created by God. That, most importantly and most ultimately and most basically, is why I am here. I am here because I was created and I am here at this most present moment with my most present attitudes because I have chosen to acknowledge my creator. That is why I am here. And that is why I will be everywhere else that I will actively elect to go.
The places that I am actively electing to go are going to be big places. They will be places of taut lapels and front-creased khakis and high ceilings almost as high as the lofty goals, as the hopes. They will be places of busted-out windows and of yards with no sprinklers because there is no bermuda grass and there are no daffodils and there is no water to waste; they will be places of houses with low ceilings almost as low as their expectations for their sons, and especially daughters, in school. I will go to all of these places because I have already actively chosen so. And where I plant my foot I will plant flowers and where I raise my hand it will be to grasp that of another and where I open my mouth it will be to say what is necessary and what is good. All these things I have chosen because of my attitude, because my mother was born in Birmingham in 1969, because my great-great-great grandmother was born in a place unbeknownst to me in a year unbeknownst to anybody, and because my great-great-great-great grandmother was Eve and she had the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. I have made these choices because I have the same Word that my great-great-great-great grandmother had; I am here because I have that God, too. And I am here most presently with my most present values because I have chosen to listen to that Word and because I have chosen to listen and live for Him.