Before Words



When I was little I was a flower child wanna be.  Barefoot dancing through rain puddles and lying on fresh cut green earth were favorite past times of my youth.  Born too late to arrive in Haight Ashbury, I hung out in a little grass yard on Hamlin Avenue in the south side of Chicago.  Wearing my yellow enamel painted metal smiley face medallion with love and childhood pride, I coveted bell-bottom jeans with tall leg length trees bleached white on indigo fabric.  During the summer heat I pinched and poked at hot tar bubbles blistering in the lines that fixed the cracks in the black asphalt drive and roller-skated up and down the sidewalk path in a tiny orange polka dot bikini.  Come fall, I loved to walk the woods, hold hands with my dad and marvel at all the trees he knew the names of, the tiny pulpits where Jack lived and the sweet earthy smell of sun-touched leaves in the damp, cool autumn air. 


Mostly, I remember, I liked to make things. 


Hour after hour I’d sit in the alleyway, alone or with my neighbor Carol, and crush old brick into fine orange-red powder.  Piles of pigment pound from clumps of baked earthen clay had me completely mesmerized by the act of making…simply for the pleasure of making itself.  This per formative act of self-forgetting would transfix me for hours unending and would later become the fuel for the passion I was pulled to pursue.      


I remember these acts of purity, the creativity of my childhood, as I encountered a similar and exuberant effort daily in the five and six year olds with whom I’d spent my days.  An eighteen-month adventure of learning and teaching after grad school that landed me in the middle of the Arabian Desert smack dab next to the Red Sea.  I watched how this classroom of bubbling and buzzing five year olds turned quiet as they drifted into the world of forms and ideas, wishes and dreams, with a wisp of white below their gaze and a drawing utensil in hand… a paintbrush or a cardboard tube or a lump of clay.  Though they spoke in a variety of mother tongues from places across the globe, their unifying language was one before words.  And their alphabet of images shaped me, their lives and their learning ~ intermingling with the memories of my childhood, pointing full circle back to the seminal acts of my youth.


I learned much in those eighteen months living in a land both strange and foreign with children whose dreams and aspirations appeared to me as falling rain.  Their presence inspired me and begged me to remember, to stand present and to dream, to wish along side them for a future bright with possibility, full of curiosity and wonder.


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For Omar, Haya, Prasannaa, Yara, Salman, Ahmed, Nicholas, Azzam, Naail, Saba, Hasan, Rayan, Kiki, Bernessa, Habeera, Lama, Khadija

and Humaira who showed me exactly what I had been looking for and taught me again how to see.