I have always loved Langston Hughes poem, ‘Dreams.’ They personify my mood these days. My story is one of dreams. I shared that during a presentation yesterday at NYU. I have this presentation where I go from dreams to ambition to dips and rising and back to dreams. It’s my take on the programmatic focus of my research.
I live to sustain evidence-based effective research in limited resource settings. It’s an audacious dream, many people describe as vexing or least understood outcome of research. I beg to differ. It isn’t vexing to me. Never has been. I have written multiple grants on it. They failed. The field was not ready then. They still may not be, I said during my presentation yesterday. But I can dream and when I do, I am reminded of the words of Langston Hughes:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
While we are at it, today I did the unthinkable. I have always dreamed of being a children picture book author, so I pitched a story, inspired by dreams and gazing out to a night full of brilliant, radiant stars. It’s the annual picture book pitch fest on Twitter and I figured I have nothing to lose. I also finished the first completed draft of the most brutal grant I have every written today. Grants, stories, one thing for sure, I am holding on to my dreams.
What I am carrying is mighty? I am carrying dreams that are bigger than me. I am learning that everyday. It also takes time. Nothing happens by accident. Even the good news I shared yesterday, first has to go through failure for success to become ours. I am learning to be patient with time. The me of before, the one that rushed into grant writing early, was so anxious and ready to get any that I just wrote and wrote and failed and failed. It should never be that way. Didn’t I have any mentors, a dear friend of mine once asked? Why did you write all those grants and kept failing but still kept writing?
Honestly, I was eager to learn? I knew that this business of writing grants was full of rejections. My very first grant was initially rejected before it became successful. So I know too that to get one, you have to fail. What I didn’t know was that I would fail so many times and yes I had mentors? I just thought I was on to something and if only reviewers believed in me like I believed in myself, than that something would be the greatest work ever. It has taken years and learning past failure to know that truly, what works is a vision, a story.
Ideas are plenty. I get them everyday. I have many that failed. What is necessary is your will to endure all that comes with the ideas and may your endurance be bigger than you imagine. Yesterday’s success was a difficult grant to write. We initially wanted to keep it simple, but our local leader pushed and pushed us to go big or go home. I initially refused and then bought into his vision reluctantly. It’s his field and I thought all I was doing was helping him visualize how far we would take it.
What I didn’t know at that time, was that cervical cancer had buried its roots in our home. We initially submitted the first version of the grant June 4th 2021. I got the news of my sister in-law’s illness, something we thought was just minor on June 5th. That was the day I knew what our leader had been warning us about all these years. He always said cervical cancer was a problem. I said ok, but didn’t know the extent. But on June 5th, my world changed. I moved from anger to fury to denial and anger, wishing and praying that this was a bad dream. We tried everything. In the end, everything we did was not enough.
So I continued to do what I knew how to do best, write grants so no woman would die from cervical cancer again. As we begin, this new research, I am leaving this year to remind myself to never forget to dream and dream big. None of this is possible without a dream, and a story to propel you though what may be a tough writing experience. Those grants I failed, they were always well written, but lacked vision and ways to become impactful. I am learning that everyday. The need to move past failures to spaces where dreams soar. Those bigger than you. It’s my keep for today.
Claude McKay once wrote a poem entitled ‘if we must die.’ In it, he shared that may our death not be like hogs who are hunted and penned down, while dogs, mad and hungry bark around, mocking us even for dying like pigs. We are better than pigs. Much more glorious. And so if death is to be ours, if all of us have to live through a last sunrise or a last sunset, then he noted that may it come nobly, so that even our living is not in vain. Yet so many people live in vain. Death will always be victorious, however you live. I know that. But try to be better than pigs even if we must die. Even Jane Goodall noted that death can be the last great adventure, the idea of what lies beyond it. Know it and you know life. All of this got me thinking of life. That and seeing a full moon tonite. So I literally penned a response to McKay and called it, “If we must live.”
If we must live, if we must do it our way, may we do it like the moon, unafraid to glow, unafraid to be brilliant. May we also live with people unafraid to dream, people unafraid to pass through uncharted territories, rugged landscapes or rough terrains because they are so drunk in their dreams. If we must live, may we be uninhibited by our dreams, drunk in them too and be with people who dream drunk. For what use is life without dreams even if the dreams are hazy and complex. All dreams are. What use is life without imagining the impossible, like reaching for the moon, touching it, knowing it’s there always, longing for it, seeing it and then somehow surpassing it. If we must live, may our dreams take us past the moon, take us to new heights that defy words. May we do so dreaming of life too beyond reaching for the moon. May we surround ourselves too with dreamers and together, may our dreams help us surpass all our hopes for life, even the audacity of surpassing the moon. For to live beyond the moon, is to be bold, audacious, and any other word that personifies daring. If we must live may we dare to dream. May we dare to be like the moon. Dare to be with people and places that take us to the moon and beyond, and keep us forever glowing in an ethereal radiance that can only come for life lived beyond the moon. So if we must live, may whatever lies ahead of us, be as brilliant as the moon and still surpass the moon’s brilliance. Imagine that, a life whose brilliance, whose glow surpasses the moon. What a life that would be, this life beyond the moon, beyond your wildest dreams. If we must live, may we do so beyond dreams that came before us, dreams that take us high through paths unknown, for whatever adventures that lie ahead. If we must live, may we go wherever our dreams take us. And may dreams light the path, however dark it may seem, for however long it maybe. And even if we must pass our last breath, pressed against death’s firm grip, may we whisper ever so softly, how we lived, because we dared to dream.
This dream, I dream, of life beyond the moon, is as breathtaking as a baby’s kiss, my baby’s kiss. I gave him the moon. Well at least a small glimpse of it. He kissed me right after, as if to say thank you. If we must live, may life’s many breath be the moon, be beyond the moon, and be as gentle as a baby’s kiss. I am dreaming in love. I am dreaming of my baby’s kiss. And life, is so worth living, because we, my baby and I, dared to dream.
Everything ceases the moment you discover Langston Hughes. Jacqueline Woodson shared this in her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. I have been dreaming and Langston Hughes is my keeper. He helps you become intentional with words. To him they matter and can be fire within, setting a world ablaze when used with precision. He was skillful at this, hence why I keep dreaming, of words, of joy, of timeless things I can do, because I dared to dream. ‘Hold on to your dream,’ he once wrote, ‘for if they die, life becomes like a broken-winged bird, unable to fly.’ I am holding on to them and because of Mr Hughes, I am prepared to fly. See my take on his powerful poem ‘Dreams.’
Let your dreams be like the glowing moon. Impossible to reach, but still, hold on to your dreams.
Let your journey be as golden like sunsets at dawn. Impossible to describe, your journey full of gold.
Let your joy be like countless circles of light. Impossible to count, your circles full of joy.
Let your questions be as endless like rivers without end. Impossible to debate, your questions that flow.
Let your voice be loud for justice and peace. Impossible to silence, your voice so loud.
Let your soul be full of grace. Impossible to break, a graceful soul like you.