Dear tiny person:
You don’t exist, and may never exist, so you are hypothetical. And my limited mind, I’m sure, cannot begin to build more than a foggy idea of who you could be. But here is my letter to you. I know that lots of women do this, and I have never fully gotten on board with that, writing to someone who may never exist and investing hope in them. Like teens who are encouraged to write letters to their future husbands. Meghan Trainor’s song to that effect shows what a shallow, shifting train wreck such letters like that can become. But I’m writing, daughter, because I’ve got to tell you sometime so very exciting: today, Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with fellow children’s rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi. And, well, that gives me so much hope for your life. Malala is seventeen and a survivor of Taliban assassination attempts, because she stood up for herself and for other girls and women’s rights to education. (We’ll talk about what assassination and Taliban mean later.)
In many places around the world, folks don’t believe girls should learn about the world and ideas and important parts of culture, history, or power. They say it’s useless and dumb to educate girls. But really, it’s dangerous, and they’re scared. Malala said, “Extremists have shown what frightens them most: a girl with a book.” Because girls in cultures around the world know what it’s like to be discounted. We know what it feels like to have all our needs met and still have to fight to survive. We know what it’s like not to have all our needs met even when we work hard. We know what it’s like to have people who have never inhabited a female body limit our access to life-saving medical care and health education. We know what it’s like to work just as hard and just as long as our male counterparts and make less money. And we know, my love, what it feels like to be used. So. You have my permission right now to be dangerous, to endanger every bit of all of that. I want you to be dangerous.
With education–whatever that entails–people have the potential to build their lives, to dialogue with empathy with others, and to create things that can help humankind heal ourselves. I don’t mean you have to go to college or graduate school, though you know that would thrill me. But in everything, be curious. Ask the tough questions. And keep asking until you find answers or find that there is no definitive answer. We can work on those problems when we reach them. I will help you.
Learn all the words you can so you can read books. Write books. Scribble out comics. Be a story teller. Adopt a group of neighborhood busybodies and tell them what’s up; nobody needs gossip. Write poems. Oh, dear god, I hope you write poems. Make things. Paper airplanes with secret codes folded inside. Dresses and slouchy trousers. Shortcakes with creme. Model engines that could become bigger engines. Taste a lot of things prepared many different ways; you might not like German potato salad (I have no idea why not), but you might love a good English jacket potato with beans and cheese. Wear French and Italian perfume. Spritz your wrists at a street market in Morocco. When I was little, I stirred cinnamon in vanilla extract and dabbed it all over. Float mint leaves in your bath. Experience the feeling of wearing the world weightlessly.
Let yourself be surprised by what you learn, what you can’t live without, and by who you love. But whomever you love, please choose someone who encourages you to learn and to be brave. I don’t care if you love someone who has never eaten felafel or sipped an Italian cappuccino, or who believes some different things from me. You may even love someone who has never read The Bluest Eye. As long as they love you when you’re thinking dangerously and walking bravely, or feeling like you’re failing at both, I promise to learn to love them too.
I want you to travel. I mean, if you have any inclination to do. That is its own form of education. My mum, your grandma, told me before I took off for six months in six brand new (to me) countries, that traveling to South American as a young adult taught her something very important: people are people everywhere. We are all people. And in a world where some folks still believe anyone different from them is less of a person, that is vitally important to remember. Please, please remember.
And when you have seen all the places you can see, and have read all the words, smelled all the spices, tasted all the foods, and sipped all the teas, come back to tell me all about it. Even if I’ve been there, done that. I want to know the way you’ve seen it.