Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather an indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.
The Book: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
Sometimes, when you meet someone, you kind of pause, for however brief a second, because you know this person is just extraordinary. Last year, we admitted a few new children into the shelter, and I was immediately struck by twelve year old Mỹ. Not only was she already such a fierce and grounded young lady, she had a spirit so pure and transparent that you can’t help but feel like you see right through her. She lets you see right through her. She’s inviting you to do so.
The first remarkable thing I noticed about her were her incredible public speaking skills. Unlike a majority of Vietnamese youth, in particular the (culturally desired) ‘dainty’ girls, she was articulate, bold, and secure. Good voice projection. Proper stance. Confident body-language. From where did she come?
The second thing I noticed about her were her incredibly chiseled arms. This girl had some defined triceps. Muscles, on the contrary, are not culturally desirable for Vietnamese girls, and especially against her petite-petite frame, her arms an anomaly. Once when I complimented her on them (because we Americans admire such things), another kid, Đào, half-teased that her arms were a result of her ‘lifting heavy things.’ But of course, Ai. What did those well-defined arms on this tiny frame reveal about her past hardships? What manual labor did she have to do in order to support herself, for her own survival?
Fast forward to the end of the summer when we were producing our informal TedxTalk, (because we’d been inundating the kids with Ted videos all summer), we had asked Mỹ to be one of the student speakers. She expressed her nervous-ness the day before: her eyes widened when we told her she’s open the first ever Tedx Xuan Phu. We assured her: she’d be great!.
Moments before she was to open, she gave me those puppy dog eyes and again claimed she was scared. She was visibly shaking as she stood in front of the audience. Nervous laughter. Eyes dart back and forth. Blood gushing to her face, she told us her story:
“When I was little, my mom told me at the beginning of the year that if I studied really hard, and get good grades, my mom would buy me a bicycle at the end of the year. So I worked really, really hard, because I wanted a bicycle. I studied and studied. But my mom got sick, and died before she could give it to me. But I didn’t forget my promise to her. I kept studying really hard. Even more. My teacher knew my situation, and told the media, and they did a story on me. I got scholarships, which helped with my school fees. All of these people helped me. Now I’m here, at the shelter. Now I keep studying really hard for my mom. I still remember what she told me, and I study really hard for her. I can still see her, hear her. She’s always with me.”
She was in tears. I don’t know how many times she’s told her story, to other people, to the newspaper, to tv cameras, but that day, her eyes still welled up with tears whenever she thinks of her mom. She brought us all to tears. The very first story of the very first Tedx Xuan Phu. That girl really is something else, but right now all I can think is:
You know, she still doesn’t have her bicycle.
End, Memory Seven.
Next week: A Dream of Passion by Lee Strasberg