I often joke that my parents conspired to leave me and my siblings with delusions of grandeur. They gave us grand names and made clear the expectation that we would live up to them. They also had us vocalize lofty affirmations.

Every night for the first twelve or so years of my life, my mother would recite prayers (surahs from the Quran) and affirmations with me. I found the practice tiresome at the time, but I complied, repeating sheepishly after my mother:

I am Askia Tariq I am, I am one who commands his rightful place and brings for light out of darkness. I am loving and I am loved I am. I am giving I am, I am helpful I am, I am kind I am. I am respectful and I am respected I am. I am intelligent I am, I am courageous I am, I am able I am, I am powerful I am.

It was these affirmations, I think, that left me with a sense, even in the darker, more uncertain moments of my childhood, that I was meant for some great purpose; that I was to leave the world emphatically more just than I’d found it, and more colorful as well.

On my lowest, most desperate days, and on some more ordinary ones as well, I’ve found myself, eyes closed, head bowed, whispering these affirmations. Perhaps you’ve been there as well? Lying in bed at 7am, alarm blaring in the background, trying to collect yourself, trying to mount the courage to face the day, trying to access a certainty now elusive.

It’s increasingly difficult to get back to that place of renewal my mother used to guide me to. I feel like I’ve been party to so much staleness and mediocrity, my own and others’. I struggle these days to be lifted by good words spoken softly into myself.

When will the public cease to insult the teacher’s calling with empty flattery? When will men who would never for a moment encourage their own sons to enter the work of the public schools cease to tell us that education is the greatest and noblest of all human callings?
—  William C. Bagley