In small ways, at small times, when I was small and insignificant, women who were large, so large they obscured my vision, annihilated the darker parts of me and taught me something new.

From the first woman whose brown eyes were the largest portals to truest love that I could conceive of, gracious receiver of Crayon pictures and macaroni glued to paper, humble cook, hard-working co-bread-winner, independent woman, I learned that I must not throw my pearls at swine and that loneliness is not forever. I learned that compassion is dangerous, but I am good for it. I learned that I can do anything, but that I must try. I learned that I need no one, but my Creator, to conquer the world and to do right. It is you who teach me that I am worthy, and that is the most important lesson of all, for a small girl with sensitive ears, in a loud world with no discretion.

English teachers, my English teachers, receivers of early-dated manuscripts whose stories were wrought by inexperienced hands. You cherished and read them, you smiled, and encouraged. It is you, the Kosechatas, the Swanns, the Eddlemans with your mighty endurance, your kindly tongues, and your incredible brains that brought to budding, no–flaming vividness my passion for writing, for intelligence, for womanhood.

Friends, friends of many ages, abandoned, moved and displaced, torn by hurt, but never forgotten. You have shaped me, and you I thank for gouging out the bigotry in ever small, but earth-shattering waves.

It is the Elizabeths who breathe only patience, kindness, and acceptance for the unloved and unexalted, willing to be hidden so others can be lit up.

It is the Hollands who feed their brains with books and poetry, with politics and social justice, small remarks of Democratic ideals, long tirades of dissatisfaction with the way things are; it is you who teach me not to be satisfied, to speak up, to not give up, to remain vigilant, so all may receive compassion.

It is the Samanthas who cook, who pay, who listen, and show up. It is loyalty without many words, but by actions that scream and resonate in my eardrums. It is you, who teach me that I need not say anything, if I am there, if I am breathing, if I am willing to be human to someone in need, then I have done great things.

It is the Lexis whose attentive listening, surging, beating heart, ripe with desire to love and be loved, ripe with sensitivity to the hurts of others, ripe with forgiveness for those who have never asked for it. It is you who teach me to humble myself, to remember God’s grace in the face of inexplicable betrayal.

It is the Stepmothers: carepackages, assumed role, second mother. It is expenses given in times of need, clean room, stocked refrigerator, exclamatory texts at the most timely opportunities. It is you who teach me that family is chosen. It is you who teach me that love cannot be bought, cannot be tossed aside, cannot be beaten into submission. It is you who teach me steadfast and resilient love in difficult situations, never giving up hope, always offering that foundational love, even when my heart aches.

It is aunts. Many aunts whose indelible marks print continuously on my being. It is an aunt who is also a friend. Sailor Moon posters, four-poster bed with cats the size of me, giggle-writing sessions at the computer, sketch book full of wonders. It is a horse play set, and a generous heart, a laugh that is boisterous and beautiful. It is you, your talent, your patience, and your persistence through abuse, hurt, abandonment, and trial that inspire me to be more. You inspire me to hold on, to push through, to keep trying at myself, at my writing, my art, my human essence. You, a figure, a fascination for the one who I shall also list:

cousin, best friend, oldest accomplice–It is you, strange and creative mastermind who teach me to laugh and never stop laughing.

You, hard-earned laugher, reader, writer, lover of people in need, are my oldest friend, and most forgiving of all wrongs. You, my confidante, butt-kicker, and inside-joke scribe, teach me that life doesn’t have to be grim, and I do not have to forget myself to the chaos. I may look to books, to movies, to friends, to Nature, to myself for the humor to break the despair. My laughing friend.

Women-shapers, women. Teachers, all. I love you for your interest, your fortitude, and who you are.