Inclusion and Exclusion in Our Daily Lives PART II: STEADYING GAZES
DEIDRA K. RAZZAQUE
THE NAME YOU LOST
They call you thief, problem, delinquent, nuisance, liar, threat. These people in the echoing courtroom, in the shabby police station, in the narrow aisles of the grocery store. And me, in my house at night, when you steal my old blue bicycle. We discuss you in cramped offices filled with computers and telephones, study files inches thick, and make angry gestures in the air. You have become synonymous with sighs. Your name is the sound of someone walking out of a room. We say we want to help you but we are not patient teachers. How to save you from your own destructive hands, we ask one another. We worry about society. We wonder when to leave you alone. You are fourteen years old and you know too much about guns, and so little about love. Maybe you learned this life from your father, with his own habits of stealth and liquor, with his withering fists. Maybe it was your mother who taught you defiance. She wanted so badly to forget you that she bled into another country. Or maybe you act as you do simply because your own, fine name is hardly ever said with a smile. It has become a coat we’d like to hang in the winter closet.
But Omar, this name you lost, you could still take it up, live it fully. You could stun us, thrill us, silence our unkind chattering. You could become to yourself everything you wish, and to us, a hopeful story we tell. Once there was a difficult, uncertain boy, we would say, but one day he remembered who he was.
So Omar, let’s thread together all the meanings of your name until they form a blanket. We’ll throw that blanket over the wary delinquent, the crying thief, the hungry liar. We’ll let him sleep. Then you, Omar, you can ride far on my bicycle. Ride to a place beyond your reputation. You can find new parents with their gladness intact. You will become their first son and they will teach you how to plant and how to harvest. In that other place, Omar, you will learn, you will grow, you will become elevated. People will fill rooms to hear you speak wisely; you will be profound in your eloquence. Sometimes you will have strange dreams of a different sort of life. In these dreams you will know how to wield a knife and make strangers do your bidding, and you will find money in your pockets that is not your own. But in your real life you will follow the prophet who is your own insightful self. You will look people in the eye and they will feel blessed by your presence. They will ask, and you will be so happy to tell them your own, fine name.
Do you think Omar will accept the invitation of the author to grow into his best self? Why? Why not?
Has anyone offered you an invitation like this? Why? Did you accept?
Do you know someone—of any age—you'd like to offer a similar invitation to?
What inspired you to write this poem? I literally left my bicycle outside the house one night, and in the morning it wasn't there. A neighbor said that she had seen Omar on the street with a blue bicycle, and, yes, later I saw him riding it, too! I didn't care much about the bicycle itself, but I did care a great deal about the fact that, through my work, I had tried to help Omar in various ways. I couldn't believe that he would care so little about my feelings. But then I started to think about all he had been through, the role models he had, and how maybe he stole from me precisely because he wanted attention from someone who might really notice him and try to understand him.
How true to life is it for you now? I think there are Omars all over the place--people who deserve to be reinvented so that others can start to see them as they might be, rather than constantly judging them for how they have behaved in the past..
How did writing the story change your understanding of the situation and of yourself and of the dynamics of inclusion or exclusion? Writing this poem was an intriguing experience. It really made me think about how amazing the world would be if, every day, we could each let positive imaginings mean more to us than any negative experiences. It seems like doing this over time could lead to less negative experiences, because we would inevitably start to see one another, and ourselves, differently. I think that very often both exclusion and inclusion result from fear--of the other, of the unknown, of the truths we are afraid to recognize, of being misjudged, of the connections we share with those who seem very different from us.
From this point, having written the piece, what freedoms might you give your characters or yourself that you weren't able to see before writing the story or poem? I think this poem is about creating those freedoms I couldn't see at first in the situation as it actually happened. I hope that reading it will help others to think of new, positive ways they can envision experiences in their own lives.
DEIDRA K. RAZZAQUE is a passionate advocate for marginalized youth and intercultural education. She has been writing since before she learned her ABCs, and has been published in the anthology Kiss Me Goodnight, on women who lost their mothers as children. For years Deidra has thrived in the warm forests of Costa Rica. Now she is experimenting with seasons in Vermont, where she lives with her husband and daughter.