I am alive

by You Have My Word

ballet dance

Listen up!

When you woke this morning, did you for one second think: I’m alive? Your lungs just kept breathing as you woke from sleeping, dreaming, now awake, alive.

Say: I am alive.

Say it like you mean it!

I love that I can tell how long someone has been at a coffee shop by how many rings stains are on the table, or by how much coffee is left in the cup. Do you know how I know this? Because I’m alive. I love how when I shut my eyes I know if you’re there or not. I hear you breathe, I smell your skin, I take your presence in. I know you’re there because I’m alive. You are alive. We are alive. I love watching dancers. They’re alive. Never mind the day-to-day drumming from dawn to dusk. They light up – limbs extended, veins riddled with rhythm as feet furrow further across stage. I love how photographs capture moments and books capture stories and food captures taste and skin captures scars and we press on because we’re alive.

Here are some tell-tale signs: howling dogs at midnight that stack raised hairs on the backs of necks like the backs of books stack spines. the drunken dizzy and waking to strangers in the early light – never stay for breakfast. The razor to skin and pill-popping and can’t-get-enough-clubbing. Those starless winding drives, and the homeless and the hungry for food and help and home and heaven and hell and alone.

I remember the first time I knew I was alive: I am three years old on a red, white and yellow tricycle pedalling as fast as my little legs will allow me to spin through the air propelling forward. My mother: close behind, pushing a pram with the twins I’ll come to love as brother and sister. We are returning from an afternoon stroll and not 20 metres from our house when my front rubber-clad tyre locks against a small imbecile of a stone. My cute tricycle jolts to a stop and hurls me from the seat. Reeling over handle bars I come to grips with the fact that this is going to hurt. That I am going to bleed. And I do. Hands and knees and bits hit stubborn tar with a force my small frame has not experienced before. Flesh scrapes and the blood is the only way my three-year-old mind can interpret the fact that I am alive.

My mother comes running to check that I was OK. Arms embrace me and she asks if she can kiss it better. I let her. The blood mingling with her love and I know I am alive with water running from my eyes.

Did you ever try and see how long you could hold your breath under water in the bath tub? It got tricky if you wanted to open your eyes because water is warm and I’m not sure anything but tears are meant to comfort your eyes with heat. I never timed myself but I was convinced that I held a world record pinching my nose so no water would get in, scrunching my eyes to blur the seconds of time while I waited – body immersed in dirt of the day diluted by bubbles and play things. It’s too bad that training never helps when you’re really stuck under water.

I am thirteen years old and learning to surf. I meet the fury of the ocean. I cannot describe the exhilarating feeling of knowing the power a wave holds and yet it treats you gently if you treat it with respect. What looked like a seal with arms flailing was me on a board as I tried to navigate the waters past the back line. Sea salt air filling my lungs, people on the beach now so far away I could have easily mistaken them for an ant colony. I spot my and tackle it head on.


Breaking through tense tepid water head first I’m engulfed by dread and dream at the same time. My cheek hits the ocean floor and with sand flicked back into my face, mouth, eyes I realise I could drown. Tumble, turn, kick, fight for air, dare to open an eye to peak at the horror. I don’t know up or down, left or right, what’s my name again?

finally finding footing I shove off ocean floor through fluid fury. Gasp!  My head broke the surface like a new born beginning to crown. I couldn’t fill my lungs fast enough with air to replace the liquid that had begun to leak into them. I knew amidst my gasping and clawing and distress that I was alive.

That time I jumped out of a plane strapped to a stranger who was supposed to know what he was doing, I knew I was alive. That time I got chased by a swarm of bees. That time we hooked up my friends braces to a battery, I’m certain she knew she was alive. That time I was overtaking cars because of the speed I was travelling on my bike or when I ran full tilt into that glass door only to be hit by three other people with my face still glued to the glass. That time the thud of disappointment hit straight into my gut, I knew I was alive. That time I was most alone, or tattooed too close to the bone. That time I thought that paintball shot to my throat would suffocate me. That time I stood between burning sugar cane fields with billows of fire towering higher than I could see, I knew I was alive.

That time my dog died, I knew I was alive.

Right now, I know that I’m alive. I’m surprised you can’t see my heart pulsating like it’s begging to be let out of my skin.

And I am grateful.

I am grateful for every time I kick my toe, or bite off just a little more chili than I can chew. I am grateful for the smell of spring, and equally grateful for the smell of things rotting. I am grateful for mom’s cooking. I am grateful for kisses and broken bones – the touch of lips, the snap of white and marrow. I am grateful for guitars and choirs and children that sing and voices joined in unison. I am grateful for birds that call me to rise before the sun has set the sky alight. I am grateful for every goldfish that has to be flushed. I am grateful for heartache and sometimes eating too much. I am grateful for piano keys that let me play out my deflated dreams with the sound of soft creaking pedals beneath my feet. I am grateful for anesthetic that eventually wears off and for burning summer days and for poetry and for rain. I am grateful for sweat, blood and tears. I am grateful for victories and debilitating fears.

For each of these things in their own awaking way, remind me that I am alive.

Say: I am alive.

Say it like you mean it!

Another spoken word piece I performed at the end of last year. I keep coming back to it as a reminder: I am alive.