This I Believe: Tehya Daniels (2019)

Hello. My name is Tehya.

Sometimes I have random moments where life is too amazing for my brain to comprehend. It feels as though my thoughts are outside of my body for a split second, and I can see how incredibly big the universe is and how small I am. Then, as quickly as it begins, my awareness shrinks back to normal. I always sit for a second, stunned, silent. Usually I start to laugh because I am so overcome with love and gratitude. When I was younger, I had these moments frequently. I was so intrigued with the mysteries of the universe, and I always wanted more knowledge, more understanding. Now, I rarely have these precious moments. My life has become full of things; I don’t have as much time to stop and wonder.

Back in the carefree days of my early youth is where my belief story began. Over time, my moments of wonder and awe slowly turned into hard, fast-formed opinions. In the fuzzy flashbacks of my first memories, I can pinpoint the unbiased and purely innocent thoughts I once had. When I was in kindergarten, I rode the bus to school and met a wonderful boy. We loved playing together. The boy especially loved playing with my dolls. It was such a beautiful thing. I would sneak my favorite stuffed animals and dolls into my backpack to show him. I remember he had a fervent interest in makeup. Later I would come to associate dolls and makeup as “girl things.” For a brief moment, however, we played as children. Not as boys and girls, just children.

There is something amazing about a child’s thoughts before the biases and norms of society reach them. They are full of love and acceptance. I like to believe that I am still similar to my five-year-old self; curious and unbiased. However, as we get older, things happen, and our guard goes up. Our learned bias becomes ingrained in our minds. Now I have prejudices and firm opinions. But I can allow my beliefs to grow and change. Most importantly, I can stop every once and a while to stare in awe and wonder.

I have always felt the need to save the world. In sixth grade, I did a project for school called a Cosmic Autobiography. It required me to write a timeline of events of the universe through a creative story. The later part of my story focused on climate change. Through research, I learned the extreme reality of climate change. I felt scared and upset at humanity for letting our beautiful home become a human wasteland. I wanted to fix everything and save everyone. There is evidence of this sentiment in my Cosmic Autobiography. Because the story was fiction, I wrote myself as an immortal character who had the ability to reverse climate change. Through this story I was trying to convince myself that I alone had the power to change the Earth and the course of human history. Here is a direct quote from my project: “I’ve had big dreams about global warming. Whatever I do, all I care about is giving back, and if everyone had their mind set to give back, this world would be a lot different.” This is the moment I realized I don’t have the power to reverse climate change. This is also the moment I realized that if everyone does their part, then real change WILL happen; there is power in unity. Since then, it has been hard for me to be hopeful about unity amongst people, in America especially. It has been easier for me to be at peace with my limitations.

Four years ago, at overnight camp I was cabin mates with a girl who was extremely depressed and anxious; she had attempted suicide in the past. Before we left camp for home, we exchanged phone numbers. I promised her I would text her occasionally, and that she could text me if she needed support.

Never again will I assume someone is okay, just based on what their situation looks like from the outside. I believe in the importance of reaching out to someone desperately in need of human connection. I might have had the chance to make a positive impact on this girl’s life if I had reached out again. But I was uncomfortable and scared that I wouldn’t be able to help. Although I can’t magically save everyone, I realize I can do little things for people. With my cabin mate in mind, I have become a force to be reckoned with. I speak my thoughts and ideas with the knowledge that I can make an impact.

Recently, I kept looking at the “bigger picture,” the universe is so big, and we are so, so, so small. Unlike the mind of my childhood self, I couldn’t appreciate life in the face of the universe’s vastness. In particular, I struggled to seriously see the point of recycling. To me, recycling was like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. In order to drastically change the climate and pollution levels of Earth, we have to do a lot more than separate our trash. To me, the extinction of the human race seems inevitable. I have continued to recycle because the animals who are coexisting with us on this planet are dying because of us. I don’t recycle to prolong the human race, I do it to decrease collateral damage.

At first, the idea that our existence isn’t eternal scared me. The most scary thing of all, were the questions: Will the Earth remember us? Every beautiful human soul? What we created before we disappeared? If there is no one to remember us, what is the point of having something to remember? What is the point of this life we have all been given?

One of the things that reminded me that life on Earth DOES matter is a poem written by Rupi Kuar:

 

bombs brought entire cities

down to their knees today

refugees boarded boats knowing

their feet may never touch land again

police shot people dead for the color of their skin

last month i visited an orphanage of

abandoned babies left on the curbside like waste

later at the hospital i watched a mother

lose both her child and her mind

somewhere a lover died

how can i refuse to believe

my life is anything short of a miracle

if amidst all this chaos

i was given this life

- circumstances

I realize it is okay to feel small when looking at the bigger picture. Because when you take a look at the here and now, it is beautiful; small isn’t a synonym for unimportant. Through all of this, I have discovered faith. I have faith that what I do in this lifetime, although forgotten in the future, will impact people in the present.

I also have faith in the vast unknown of the universe: the endless possibilities and mysteries that will never be uncovered. I have faith that aliens exists. Not the green kind with big eyes that come to Earth and take over. No, I’m talking about real, intelligent creatures that exist somewhere in the cosmos. The universe is so large. There is no way that Earth, this speck in space, is the only place where there is life. I have accepted this as fact, even though there is no proof.

I have faith that humans aren’t the center of the universe. This isn’t a bad thing; there is power in putting faith in something bigger than oneself. I have realized why the concept of God is so important. People feel the need to put faith in something bigger than themselves. And the results are beautiful.

People around the world are unified through religion, but they are also divided through religion. Unitarian Universalism is so important to me because our faith has room for everyone to be unified through spirituality. In no UU congregation is there hatred or spite toward others who believe something different.

 

May peace dwell within our hearts, and understanding in our minds. May courage steel our will, and love of truth forever guide us.

When I was six years old I decided to make a pretend fire with my friend. After we “lit” the flame, I started poking it with a stick. My friend looked at me and told me: “That’s not how you grow a fire.” She proceeded to tell me you have to BLOW on it to make it bigger. I told her no, you have to poke it, because I saw it on TV somewhere. We continued to argue like this for the rest of the day. Eventually we forgot about it, assuming the other person was wrong and we were right. Now, I realize that we were both right. We were both trying to give the fire oxygen and space to grow, we just went about it in different ways. This is the beauty of human nature.

Unitarian Universalists celebrate differences. However, we live in a world where there is war and inequality. People are unable to live harmoniously together. The world I have imagined in my head, where information and freedom is accessible for everyone, and love is so strong that hate disappears from the dictionary, will never exist.

 

A world where love always trumps hate but doesn’t eradicate it, can exist.

If everyone in this world embraces curiosity again and stops to wonder about things.

If everyone does little things.

If everyone stops focusing on the “bigger picture”

and instead focuses on the here and now.

If everyone reaches out to someone who needs a human connection.

If everyone recycles.

If everyone knows their limitations.

But also understands their impact,

We can create a world where

The boy on my bus never faces judgement,

My friend and I can both make a fire correctly,

The girl at my camp never stops being loved,

The sea turtles have a clean home.

I truly believe that.

Thank you.