A Letter about Love

May 11, 2015
Dear M—,
It’s interesting that you ask me about love today. Love has been very much on my mind lately. I’m still trying to figure it out myself—love. I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you what I do know.
I know that love grows exponentially—the more you love, the more you love, the more you love and on and on. There’s no such concept as people having only so much love to give. My parents taught me that lesson. They had nine children. Every time a child came into the world, they discovered they had even more of their love to give. Similarly, every time I had a new sister or brother, I discovered that my capacity for loving other human beings was infinite. My parents taught me that love is a bottomless well, and that each bucket we dip into the well will fill up, no matter how many times we send it back down again. My parents taught me that lesson, the birth of my children reminded me of that lesson, and every year, my students reinforce the lesson that love has no limits.
(My parents also taught me, when they got divorced when I was 13, that love and relationships are completely separate themes. I mention this, because rumor has it your parents are going through a divorce now, and this is understandably a tough time for you. So much more is involved in starting, maintaining, and nurturing a relationship, whether it be marital, friendship, or even work-related, than mere love, that we will have to save the subject of relationships for another letter.)
Love is the feeling that someone else matters. It’s caring about one’s health, happiness, and success in life. Love is a glow inside of you that makes you happy. Most of all, love is a gift. A gift we give others. When you really love someone else, you give that person the gift of a part of yourself without expecting anything in return. When you ask something in return for your love, it’s no longer a gift, but a weapon you use against that person, against others. Love should not be a power struggle.
Similarly, while one must earn trust, love should not have to be earned. A child, especially, should never have to feel like they should have to do something or achieve something to gain the love of their parents. When I was a child, I would tell my mother I hated her, and she would reply, “I love you.” Now that I’m a mother myself, my son will declare he hates me at times he doesn’t get what he wants. I reply, “I love you.” Because it’s true. I love my children, my sisters, my brothers, my nieces, my nephews, my parents, and my fiancé, even in their worst moments, and even in my own worst moments. Love is a feeling that comes to life and grows, it should be given freely, not with strings attached or stipulations.
Yes, love is a gift we give others, without expecting anything in return, but it’s also a gift we give ourselves. You know when you are mad at someone, or someone has hurt you? How it eats you up inside, like a parasitic worm devouring your heart? Love is the opposite. Love sets you on fire, makes your heart feel like a warm loaf of bread right out of the oven. Loving others, feels as good as hating others feels awful.
I know that there are as many kinds of love as there are people. The love we give to others is always a gift unique for that person. The love I have for my siblings is different for each sibling, for my children is different for each child, and different than the love I have for my fiancé. My children need a love that is limitless, that protects them, that keeps them safe. My siblings need a love that allows them to change, grow, and make mistakes. I love them for who they were, who they are, and who they will be. Their love is less demanding, less omnipresent, than the love between myself and my children. My love for my siblings is like putting savings in a bank that we can cash in on in an emergency. My fiancé needs a love that is patient, a love that can wait, a love that is strong enough, sure enough, to withstand distance and time. It’s a love that is unquestionably loyal. It’s a bird in a house with a door that never closes, coming and going as it pleases – an eagle that can sail away on the wind anytime it wants, but chooses instead to call my heart home. Some people think love is a trap or a cage, see it as limiting one’s freedom. I think loving someone freely is the best freedom there is.
Everyone loves differently. It’s not our love of others that brings us pain, but our expectations for others to love us and the idea that we can shape that gift someone else gives us to fit our own desires. I have a friend I talked to recently who I haven’t seen in ten years. I’m going to visit him this summer. The other night we spent an hour and a half on the phone. When I hung up, my heart was soaring. I realized I love him. I realized he loves me. In my loneliness, I tried to take that love he has for me and shape it into romantic love, to make him want me. But love isn’t like that. When someone gives you a gift, you don’t trade it in for another. Trying to make him love me a certain way is like taking a gold ring and exchanging it in for a lead one. You have to accept the love others offer you and not try to use that love to get something you want, whether that be gifts, attention, or more love. If someone gives you the gift of loving you as a friend, treasure that gift for what it is and not what you wish it was.
Finally, love means accepting another person for who they are, not for who they could be or who we want them to be, but who they are at this very moment. It means loving their imperfections, it means understanding their limitations, and forgiving their weaknesses. Love is not words, but actions; not promises, but deeds. Love can be kind and gentle, love can be crazy and passionate. Love can be reasonable and absolutely insane, but love is never abusive. Abuse is not love. Sex is not love. Love is love, and sometimes love means walking away and letting go. Because love also means accepting yourself for who you are, not for who you could be, or who you want to be, but who you are at this very moment. You have to love yourself first, before you can give that gift to others.
This is not everything there is to say about love, but M—, you asked, and I had to start somewhere.
Ms. Meg Pierce

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Don’t Believe Them

Don’t Believe Them
by Meg Pierce
May 13, 2015

Don’t believe them.
When they lead you to feel
That the best part of you is your pretty face,
Your dark curly hair and coquette lashes.
Don’t believe them.

I’ve heard you question
Ancient so-called wisdoms.
I’ve seen your eyes flash in defiance
Against a doctrine that has tried to put you down,
Make you a lesser citizen.
I’ve watched you refuse to be a sheep,
In a room full of followers.

Child, you don’t have all the answers yet.
You don’t even know how much there is to know.

When I say you need to learn respect
I don’t mean “obey.”
I mean that while you’ve found your voice,
You also need to find your ears
And open up those eyes
To see that we are on the same side.

I’m fighting for you,
Although by all means
You can hold your own in a battle,
Kid, we can’t win this war alone.
I’m up here rooting for you every day,
But you’re your own worst enemy,
For believing some of what they say
For believing the best you have to offer
Is sweet lips and a smile.

Save all that sugar and spice, child.
You’re fire, but you think you’re ice.
You think that they can’t touch you,
But they already have.
You’ve let them define good girl and bad.
You’re a rebel, but you’re hurting yourself.

You seem to think your weapon’s your body,
But girl it’s your brain!
You are righteous and stubborn,
And sometimes insane.
You’re brave as H. Tubman and Ms. Rosa Parks.
But all your heat is just sparks—
Without the right kindle,
Your fire will dwindle.
So feed it.
Feed it and stoke it
With learning and books.
Your brain is your weapon
So forget your looks,
And train it and mold it
And learn how to use it.
So that when it comes time
To shoot off your mouth
You’ll do more than just spout
Self-righteous rot.
For when you waste words
And play with the truth,
You’re wasting your talent,
Defaming yourself.

Pick your battles kid
And make sure they’re worth winning.
So that when you do take aim
Others will listen
And know, you’re not only sane,
But amazingly smart.
You have so much to learn,
This is only a start.

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Poetry: When You Are Not With Me

When You Are Not With Me
By Meg Pierce
July 2013

When you are not with me
I hold you close to me
Anchor your memory to my body
Like a hot air balloon full of fire
I clutch onto the invisible ropes
Wrap them like a cloak around me
And refuse to let go.
I want to be there in the basket
Floating in the clouds
But if I take my feet off the ground
I will lose you to the sky.
So I must not fly.
I conjure pictures of you
To act as sand bags
And imagine these invisible ropes are your arms.
The world cannot find me here
Hidden in the shadow of thoughts of you
I cannot see the world from down here
But only the fire of our love
Heating the air, turning cold memories
Into the colorful balloon of our future.

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Poetry: Independent Woman

Independent Woman
By Meg Pierce
August 20, 2013

You are an independent woman.
You march to your own drum.
You are your own boss.
You protect your child fiercely.

You are an independent woman.
You depend on no man.
You pay your own way.
You carry your own burden.

Ring goes the telephone.
Hello, where are you?
You’re coming home soon?
I miss you, I love you.

You are an independent woman.
With a quickening heart.
With a smile on your face.
With a song on your lips.

You are an independent woman.
You depend on no man.
You don’t need him, you want him.
You are an independent woman,
An independent woman in love.

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Poetry: Home

By Meg Pierce
July 2013

After two years overseas
I’ve come back home.

Like stored clothes pulled from a plastic bin,
I try on old friendships for size,
See how we’ve endured the years.
Some as cozy as my black cotton dress,
Others worn thin by time.

I traverse my favorite haunts
And fall in love all over again.
I rediscover memories around every turn,
Layered like a sweet and sour jawbreaker.
I play the local, knowing all the secrets,
Yet everything is as fresh as desert flowers after the rains.

After two years overseas
I’ve left my home.

My own bed veiled in its net.
My hyperactive dogs that my boyfriend hates.
Roosters crowing at all hours of the night,
The lakes that fill the streets after the rain.
My poker buddies and book club.
My classroom with its picture of Mark Twain
And desks waiting to be filled by my favorite students.

Memories layered like harmattan dust
In my mind.

A continent away I yearn for my home in your arms,
The feel of that face that goes from sandpaper to smooth
As the workweek turns into the weekend.
The feel of my fingers on your scalp as I kiss your full lips.
I crave the fevered debates we have in bed
And miss you wriggling like a puppy
Until I scratch your back.

Home is my son snuggled up against me.
Home is my son’s silly giggle.
Home is your long arms around me.
Home is your teasing laugh.
Home is my heart split and yearning
To be two places at once.

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Babies and Voodoo: A Birthing Plan for Togo

Des Villages Du Dapaong 016

When I decided to have my baby in Togo rather than in the U.S. I had this vision of simplicity in my head. No airplanes, no renting, no worrying about school for Orion. I’d go to the clinic, pop out the baby and bring him home. The simple life.

Mwahahaha. And then real life came knocking at the door. I wanted the best gynecologist in West Africa. I have him, only problem is, so does everyone else. Which means that my 2 p.m. appointments turn into 7 p.m., sometimes 9 p.m. visits with the doctor. And if I accidentally make the appointment for a consultation and he needs an ultrasound, I get to repeat the wait a few days later. Ok, I’ve adapted to this, gotten a lot of leisurely reading done in a mosquito-infested 95 degree waiting room. No big deal. Only a few more visits.

Then I start talking to other women who have had the joy of child birth in Togo. There went my visions of packing a pair of clothes and a diaper bag. My packing list for the hospital now includes: extra clothes, sheets, mosquito net and lotion, toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer, wash clothes, pagne (cloth), gauze for the umbilical cord, pain killers, possibly laxatives, bleach so the nurses can clean the hospital room and a pot or big plastic bag for taking the placenta home. You know, so the voodoo priests don’t get a hold of it.

That’s right. The Togolese have a huge fear of voodoo. Voodoo definitely spurs the imagination. Before coming to Togo, my knowledge of voodoo ran to the horror film images of wannabe teenage witches sticking pins into a voodoo doll. Since then, I’ve talked to the Voodoo priest at the marche and I’ve seen the voodoo gods outside of village homes and the shrines protecting the fields, and I’m a lot less concerned. I wonder how much of local people’s beliefs about voodoo are as made up as our Western beliefs. Voodoo is actually the term referring to the various gods in the animist, polytheist religion. The shrines I’ve seen in the manyoke fields here look very similar to the shrines I saw in the fields of rice in Thailand. A simple wooden structure with offerings for the god to protect the fields. In Togoville the voodoo included a beautiful tree branched into two halves representing two gods that protect the village and some carvings of stumps outside the houses which were the family’s gods protecting the house. Families sacrificed chickens to the gods in exchange for protecting their home.

Night in Lome 035At the fetish market, the dead animals were used for a variety of different remedies from constipation to impotence and sacrifices of animals were for praying for employment and the like. The fetishes, basically charms, we bought as souvenirs were for safe travels and to protect against poisoning.  No mention of love potions or evil spells.

But don’t tell that to the local Christians. Fear of voodoo runs high. Rumor has it that women fear having someone touch their stomachs for fear they will curse the baby, and that babies must stay at home for a set amount of days to ward off any evil voodoo spells. I’ve heard talk that people steal babies for sacrifices, and have a friend who says that someone tried to take her baby right out of her arms while she was standing on the street.

I thought that Christianity and Islam would have expelled superstitions in followers, but it turns out a belief in heaven and hell, good and evil, angels and demons, leaves the imagination ripe for all sorts of fantastical ideas. Among them that Halloween night is a night when the door between the human world and the spirit world is more open and evil spirits easier to be summoned, or that ugly women can mix up voodoo spells to make an attractive, rich man fall in love with them (because why else would a hot guy be with a less attractive woman?) Along with placentas, objects like used condoms need to be looked after so no one steals a man’s sperm. Blood donations are hard to come by because people worry about doctors selling the donations to voodoo priests out the back door of the hospital, so if one were to have an operation in Togo, you would want to donate blood beforehand.

So my “simple” birthing plan now includes the question of what will become of my placenta and whether I will need to bury it in my yard. Oddly enough, thanks to my cross cultural communications class in college, I was actually not surprised about the yard burying because we had studied the treatment of placentas amongst the Hmong people of Thailand who believe that the soul of the baby stays attached to the placenta and thus they bury the placenta near their homes. I was told that often people bury the baby’s placenta near the family home here in Togo, so even if the parents reside in Lomé they will take the placenta back to their “village.” Someone’s “village” here can mean anything from a 20-house neighborhood of huts in the boonies without electricity to a sprawling town with electricity and urban amenities.

Now, I can’t tell you what my own experience will be like coming up here in a few days, but I do know that my doctor is going to have a lot more questions next time I see him and that whatever my experience is like I’m going to have some stories to tell.

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Alternate Plans…

Garden and beer 028Alternate Plans
By Meg Pierce
January 24, 2013

I missed a party tonight
Only invite I’ve had all month
I missed music and beer
I missed the joking and cheer.

I missed a party tonight
To stay at school and work
To decorate tables red and white
Instead of a party I prepared poetry night.

I missed a party tonight
And cleaned up the study hall
Picked flowers to set the mood
Spent my last 10 mil. on food.

I missed a party tonight
To make a list of students
You then came up on stage and read
Lyrics born from your own head

I missed a party tonight
So I could see you perform
So I could clap and cheer
As you overcame your fear.

I missed a party tonight
And forced you to attend
A night of lyric and rhyme —
I could have changed the time.

I missed a party tonight
And I’d miss it all over again
To hear you holler and shout
As you students tried your voices out

I missed a party tonight
To give you the chance to perform
In front of a crazy crowd
Students, you all deserve to feel proud

I missed a party tonight
But it will be years before
You will ever really know
How much life can be changed by a poetry show.

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