A few years ago, I searched for new poems to share with my high school students to kick off National Poetry Month. I wanted to find someone who was close to their age and who was already a published poet. And guess who I discovered? None other than Amanda Gorman! She had just been named the first National Youth Poet Laureate at the age of 19. Prior to that honor, she was the first Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate while still in high school! To say I became an immediate fan girl would be an understatement.
At this point, Gorman is a household name. Perhaps you’re awaiting the delivery of her children’s book, Change Sings. Or you may have just added a copy of her inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb (with a preface by Oprah Winfrey, no less), to your home library.
In the final lines of that strikingly beautiful poem, Amanda Gorman invites us on a continued journey of discovery: “For there is always light, / if only we’re brave enough to see it, / if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
Sight and light are common metaphors in literature and popular culture, and for a good reason. What we see and how we see are the basis of human interaction and emotion. Cue in cliches like “the eyes are the windows to the soul” and “I’ve seen the light.”
However, I’m not sure how often we remind ourselves that looking outside and inside ourselves takes courage. I’m not sure how “brave” we are. I’m not sure how willing we are to see the perpetual “light.”
For me, and feel free to disagree, that “light” is learning and growth.
The Power of Sight
Sight is something that takes time to grow into and adjust to. Think of vision development in infants. It takes about three months for babies to really focus on objects in front of them. And their ability to visually make sense of distance occurs when they are about nine months old.
Imagine all of the changes that they experience as their line of vision expands. It must be fascinating, but it must also be disorienting. They’re naturally “brave enough to see and be it,” as their wonder and awareness literally magnifies daily.
As babies grow into young children, they start asking questions about what they see. They are curious, wanting to learn facts and hear stories. They realize that what exists before their eyes is not a full picture. They long for answers to continue magnifying their vision of the world.
I’ll openly admit that it’s hard for us, as adults, to really see the world.
We’re busy. We’re trying to be parents, partners, friends, employees, and we’re just too tired to be students as well. It’s much easier for us to look straight ahead and tell ourselves we don’t have time to ask questions.
When we stop asking questions, we willingly narrow our vision. We can’t find the “light” if we don’t search for it.
Searching for the Light
I started wearing contacts in college, but it wasn’t until last year that I really began to correct my vision.
I started asking myself questions. What do I shy away from? What don’t I know? What do I need to learn? What am I curious about?
I started with my reading life and how I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone. I needed to diversify what I read, both in genre and in the issues that the texts confronted. Over the past year, I have maximized my time and expanded my knowledge by listening to Audible. From nonfiction works that tackle addiction, legislature, and body image, to YA literature by Elizabeth Acevedo and Jason Reynolds, to learning more about African culture in The Fishermen, I have seen painful truths and been reminded of the overall strength that resides in all humans.
In Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom, the narrator’s teacher says, “The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know the questions we need to ask to find out, but when we learn one tiny little thing, a dim light comes on in a dark hallway, and suddenly a new question appears.”