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We are made of molecules, stardust and comets — small matter. I am 21, and I just want to love and be loved — because love is all there is.

I am 21 and small matter Beyond me love is all there was

(Photo collage courtesy of Ange Theonastine Ashimwe)

1.

I guess, now, I am twenty-one, and I still wonder what it means to be alive — and if what it means is the truth — and if it is a collective truth. I know that’s a silly question. But there is nothing more silly, beautiful and poetic than the concept of human existence. Look at me, there are days I want to be liked more than I want to live my truth; those days I keep quiet when I should be talking and talk when I should be quiet. I am always travelling in two different cities all at once. I am not alone in this. Anyone I have ever met wanted to be liked and to leave a mark on the earth, which is funny ’cause the level of matter in the universe has been constant since the beginning of time. And it doesn’t matter if no one remembers us. We are a collection of molecules, comets and stardust of all that has come before, which means we existed — that we exist in death — and that we will even exist after death.

2.

I know twenty-one is just a number, a small number indeed. I haven’t seen the world, at least not as much as I would have loved. In fact, I have travelled to 19 countries, and in 16 of them, I was sick. So, yes, I didn’t see the world. You cannot fight for life and see life at the same time. The few days I lived, I spent half of it creating a fictionalised version of me on social media, posting hundreds of gifts I received on my birthdays only to end up composing poetry about if it is okay to be lonely past mid-nights. I have stayed in many cities, but I haven’t seen the world. Being in a wheelchair means that you live in a world that’s out of your reach. It feels like there is enough petrol you could smell it with your lungs, but there is never a single fire match to lit up your world. I have lived — in books; the only world I know is full of dreams, stars sing at night, and everyone speaks in poetry.

3.

I am just twenty-one, and I don’t know much, but I know this much is true: water can be scary, not only in thunderstorms that brood for heavy hours but also in its stillness. Water can be cold enough to make you tremble, for you to drown when you cannot find something to hold on to. I know because this earth is full of arms, but it cannot hold me. Alone, I lit up cigarettes because everyone needs some warmth sometimes. I write, my poetry is still a shadow of deep hues, and that is why it doesn’t rhyme like others’ does. Most days, it delivers the dying. My poetry is poetry. My poetry is sad, but it doesn’t romanticise pain. I feel. That’s how I know there is nothing beautiful about suffering and that pain demands to be felt. I slept with death, it split me through, and I bled moons. So, I know. Sometimes when it hurts the most, we feel alive the most. It is sad. My happy memories come in a blur like kodak memories shot under a full moon.

4.

I know twenty-one is a green-light number, but I have had fun before, with tequila shots all nights, shouting to some sexist Lil Wayne songs that I didn’t even like. I wrote good poems, those poems that begin like an entrance of hell in the throat, a sense of madness, a vulnerability, a love. I spent hours at karaoke nights, singing like I was in heaven, and maybe I was. After all, the best way to go to heaven is to carry it with you. I brought good people with me, and that equals heaven: the kind of people that love your entire existence without asking you to justify why you are worthy of their love because there is nothing justifiable about love except that it is love. I witnessed miracles on altars, I don’t know if they were real, but I hope they were because hope is the only thing that still reminds me of the difference between wanting to die and wanting to go home. I want to go home.

5.

I am twenty-one. I have done stupid things kids my age do, like sharing this body with a random beau I just met on the blockbuster at the Oden in Birmingham. Besides that, I have been writing myself to life, but I know burying myself in poems is not a good way to live. So, I am learning to accept the ‘I love yous’ without fringing and say it back without whispering because there’s nothing more beautiful than loving and being loved. Honestly, these are just random thoughts, and some sentences are pure poetry and metaphors, a collection of molecules, stardust and comets that make me. It doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t remember me, the me you see. I will remember the world — forever and in past infinities because I am, I was, and I will be. It doesn’t make sense, and that’s okay; I don’t want to understand things children fail to fathom. I am still a small matter in the universe like I was from the beginning of time.

6.

“I just want to love and to be loved because beyond me, who was — who is — and who will be, love is all there was, love is all there is, and love is all there will be.”

I am twenty-one now. Happy birthday to me.
To more life filled with love and poetry.


May 30, 2021

Three questions to consider:

  1. Does turning 21 years old have special meaning in your country?
  2. What does the author mean when she writes, “The best way to go to heaven is to carry it with you”?
  3. What is the significance of “molecules, comets and stardust” in the poem?
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Ange Theonastine Ashimwe is a 21-year-old student at Kepler in Rwanda, studying Communication with a Business Concentration, in association with Southern New Hampshire University. She has a degree in History from Liberty University in the United States. Currently she is working as a grant associate at EarthEnable, which provides affordable housing in rural areas. She is an editorial intern with the Kenyan online magazine Lolwe and a News Decoder Student Ambassador. She has performed her poetry on different stages, including the Ubumuntu Art Festival in Rwanda and Slam Africa in Kenya, and has been published in an anthology called Poetry & Ethics.

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WorldAfricaI am 21 and small matter. Beyond me, love is all there was.