National Love Letter Writing Month
It’s a curious November. Last year at this exact moment I decided to dedicate the entire month to writing a love letter each day, to mirror National Novel Writing Month. I started November of this year (yesterday), declaring that panic attacks are acceptable. LOL
I admit, this is still a continuous love letter despite promises to move on from the subject because I didn’t want to bore everybody or be accused of “emotional dumping.” But the love letter has changed tenor for me and fuck it I just wanna keep writing them. Meaning: I will write one every day this month, again. Except now I’m thinking of the letter of love, not the love letter. Love someone, to the letter of the law, the letter of love. What is the letter of love?
This morning I interviewed staff at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia for WHYY, aka public media, aka light and simple exchanges to serve as introduction and gratitude toward community champions.
The OSB campus is incredible. A beautiful estate built in the 1890s in the Spanish mission style, surrounded by fruit orchards and beautiful tactile paths. But as gobsmacking as it was, I found myself holding back exclamations of too much awe, knowing what it sounds like to hear someone from outside, exclaiming shock that an “other” might have any luxuries. I kept having the thought, “this is amazing,” followed by “I can’t believe how much care the kids receive,” followed by “even non-disabled people would love this.” And that’s when I shut down my comments. I know. I know.
In my world, white men traipse in asking “how on earth did you get all this?” like we must’ve tricked someone. Frequently Asian Americans are paraded as having overcome racism because we live large. And it’s not that we want to fixate on injustice or surviving it, but I also don’t want to hear that our victories feel like surprises either.
The staff were generous with their introductions and explanations; kind and concise. I did my part to keep chill. I didn’t want to appear self-righteous, but I also didn’t want to miss an opportunity to set up a brag for the school. OSB has award winning athletic teams, for example, but I didn’t want to ask about it and accidentally promote an “overcoming” or “perseverance” narrative.
So this is the actual story: the superintendent told me she hadn’t intended on staying here long when she began her career over forty years ago. Her specialization was in deaf education and this was just a training job out of grad school on her way to another school. It all changed at a swim meet, she says. One of the students on the Overbrook swim team had cerebral palsy and wanted to compete. So they entered a heat, and they swam in a heat with floatation supports (sleeves, a vest). The other competitors had all finished the race—two laps back and forth—before the final swimmer had finished their first length. There was no expectation they would win, but with the rest of the heat out of the pool it was now just a group of people witnessing a lone student slowly make their way across a pool. So what did the other competitors do? They all created a perimeter around the pool and started cheering together. They cheered and cheered until the final swimmer finished the heat. The superintendent said that after witnessing this swim meet, she decided to stay as she felt the opportunity to grow as a caregiver and educator.
Sensory education is crucial in this environment and a counterpart to OSB’s athletics program is their newly formed horticultural center. Kids gain so much from the tactile experience of planting fallen succulent leaves, to the olfactory experience of entering a room full of blooming geraniums and oregano.
I think learning is love. If learning can be pleasurable, then I will have felt loved. If you learn anything from me, I will have loved.
I want you to feel loved and I hope we get to love each other with knowledge that doesn’t hurt. I hope learning feels really really good. Like, sensory activation good.
We love by learning. We learn by growing.