To those who almost lost the fire, or are in danger of it:
"This is the one course you need to graduate high school and I'm not sure you're ready for the real world."
Face flushed, jaw tight, I made my way across a scuffed linoleum floor to the door. Fluorescent lights cast shadows over my eyes. Pack slung over one shoulder. Brain swelling with latent comebacks and recalcitrant rage.
Never a model student by grade or conduct, I swallowed myself, reflexively shielding a fledgling flame of creativity and inspiration; trying to preserve this fragment of truth from the winds of assimilation and indoctrination.
Angst and scrambled idioms clogged my brain: I don't want your career and your machine. I don't want the world you’re selling. Say it. Write it. Scream it. Bury it in art and music and words.
I knew something, then. Fragile and honest.
My fingers brushed across a deep and indwelling truth, something massive, nonconformist, something beyond the mind of a sheltered, indignant 17-year-old. I felt it and dug my nails in because whatever it was, it was true.
Only years later could I know: people are born with a compass to the heart and keys to the cosmos but we trade in our familiarity with truth for the perfunctory tools of a role we're told to play. We become the line workers of mediocrity, fragile pillars of neighborhoods, schools, and institutions. We rise and fall only within the boundaries imposed upon us, to create an illusion of mobility and value.
But I didn’t have those words. Not yet. I could feel my humanity being ripped out and replaced with a motor. Kids like me got a label instead of a hearing. Discipline instead of discipling. We were called dissident. Angry. Hormonal. Distracted.
We got detentions.
I wrestled against a system and a broken world and found myself shoving against an iron structure that had rusted into the earth. Kids like me shouted into the wind after pounding on the walls. Like in dreams when we open our mouths but no words come out. Fear. Or desperation. We are left breathless. Labeled. Dismissed.
Told that we’re not ready for the real world, when the real world is the last thing we could ever want. When the real world was a looming pronouncement, a judgement, a prison.
Kids like me didn’t have those words. We couldn’t go toe-to-toe with professional adults to criticize the underpinnings of a society they stood on. We were snuffed out and left smoldering. Embers of truth extinguished in the name of production. Any kindness throughout was truncated by good intentions.
But kids grow up. Some of us didn’t forget. We held the the flame and let it flourish. We held the truth and let it consume us. We learned. We lived. Scars and all, we’re here. Alive. Burning. With words.
Speaking over you, over ourselves, defective and deficient, like we found the keys to the prison.
You are ready for the real world, because the real world was made for you.
Because the real world is not the abject reality peddled to our children. It’s not bills and debt and taxes. It’s not small screens and canned ideology. It's not politicians with bad hair and game shows. Those are trifles and pieces of something beyond.
The real world is the world you will create.
It’s a half-finished epic, a canvas with spectacular strokes, a song with just the bass-line. The real world is today for tomorrow and tomorrow forever. The future being bright and unclaimed. The horizon being untamed.
The world is yours to take. Don't watch it through glass smudged by fingers tracing sunsets. The fearful love fear because fear is safe, but being safe is not being alive. Entire kingdoms are built on the backs of people who find solidarity in the shadows.
Your sight in not fractured. Your love is not diluted. Your gut is not wrong.
You are ready.
The world waits for the people who live.
The world waits for the burning ones.