This I Believe

Nicole - Jackson Heights, New York
Entered on February 12, 2007

I believe we can cheat death

A while ago, a subway ad caught my eye. “Cheat death,” it said. It was a picture of a bottle of pomegranate juice with a broken noose around its neck. Very clever, I thought. These guys know how to sell their juice. We might buy anything if we thought we could really cheat death. Why else do people get face lifts or go on special macrobiotic diets? The truth is we haven’t found a way to stay young forever. However, I know a way we can cheat death, and we don’t need to buy anything to do it. Here’s my strategy: Write. Read. Listen to other people while they are talking. Share your stories. I believe in the power of communication.

When I was thirteen, I began to keep a journal. There were so many changes going on inside me at that time. I could feel in love and an hour later boil with anger. There were moments of confusion, and questions that had never occurred to me before. I felt I would burst with emotions if I didn’t express them. My journal was a safe, secret place to let my ideas out.

I still keep a journal. However, even when I was younger, writing in a journal wasn’t enough. I wanted to share my writing with others. I wrote stories, poetry and essays while I was in school. I struggled to put my ideas into words, and capture my meaning with the right image or phrase. I can’t say I’ve always enjoyed writing. Sometimes it comes effortlessly. However, often it is such a difficult task that I want to give up. I take that frustration as a sign that I have something important to say. I’m a stubborn person, and I hate giving up. So especially at times when it feels hard to write, I push myself to continue.

Writing is powerful, but by itself, it doesn’t let us win over death. We also need a reader. In sharing my writing, I have learned about the anxiety and excitement of being heard. In listening to and reading the words of others, I have been moved and amazed by our connectedness.

I chose to be a teacher rather than a writer. I teach English to immigrants in a public high school in New York City. I don’t want to only cheat death myself; I want to teach others how to do it also. When I teach vocabulary words, I give my students weapons. Used well, they can be tools of peace and strength. Used carelessly, they are tools of destruction. I work to create a community of understanding and respect in my classroom. I want my students to think deeply, to express their ideas, to write effectively, and to be sensitive, thoughtful listeners. I find hope, humor and inspiration in my students. I hope they find meaning, and questions, in the assignments I give and in their interactions with each other. It was so important for me to write during my teenage years. I hope I am equipping my students to better express themselves to their world.

Cheating death is not about staying young forever. It is about staying. Surely, there are many ways to leave something behind before we die. Create art. Have a child. Pass a law. For me, it is communicating and teaching communication. I believe language transcends generations and cultures. I believe that our words plant seedlings that continue to live in the thoughts of others. I believe that by writing and being read, our words attain immortality.