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Annotated captions of Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter ... in English

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If I should have a daughter,

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instead of "Mom,"

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she's gonna call me "Point B,"

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because that way she knows that no matter what happens,

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at least she can always find her way to me.

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And I'm going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands

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so she has to learn the entire universe

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before she can say, "Oh, I know that like the back of my hand."

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And she's going to learn

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that this life will hit you hard in the face,

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wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach.

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But getting the wind knocked out of you

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is the only way to remind your lungs

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how much they like the taste of air.

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There is hurt, here,

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that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry.

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So the first time she realizes

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that Wonder Woman isn't coming,

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I'll make sure she knows

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she doesn't have to wear the cape all by herself

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because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers,

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your hands will always be too small

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to catch all the pain you want to heal.

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Believe me, I've tried.

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"And, baby," I'll tell her,

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don't keep your nose up in the air like that.

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I know that trick; I've done it a million times.

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You're just smelling for smoke

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so you can follow the trail back to a burning house,

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so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire

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to see if you can save him.

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Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place,

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to see if you can change him."

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But I know she will anyway,

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so instead I'll always keep an extra supply

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of chocolate and rain boots nearby,

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because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can't fix.

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Okay, there's a few heartbreaks that chocolate can't fix.

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But that's what the rain boots are for,

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because rain will wash away everything, if you let it.

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I want her to look at the world

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through the underside of a glass-bottom boat,

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to look through a microscope

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at the galaxies that exist

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on the pinpoint of a human mind,

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because that's the way my mom taught me.

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That there'll be days like this.

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♫ There'll be days like this, my momma said. ♫

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When you open your hands to catch

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and wind up with only blisters and bruises;

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when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly

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and the very people you want to save

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are the ones standing on your cape;

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when your boots will fill with rain,

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and you'll be up to your knees in disappointment.

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And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you.

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Because there's nothing more beautiful

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than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline,

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no matter how many times it's sent away.

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You will put the wind in winsome, lose some.

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You will put the star

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in starting over, and over.

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And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute,

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be sure your mind lands

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on the beauty of this funny place called life.

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And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting,

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I am pretty damn naive.

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But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar.

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It can crumble so easily,

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but don't be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

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"Baby," I'll tell her, "remember, your momma is a worrier,

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and your poppa is a warrior,

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and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes

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who never stops asking for more."

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Remember that good things come in threes

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and so do bad things.

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And always apologize when you've done something wrong,

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but don't you ever apologize

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for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.

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Your voice is small, but don't ever stop singing.

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And when they finally hand you heartache,

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when they slip war and hatred under your door

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and offer you handouts on street-corners

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of cynicism and defeat,

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you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

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Thank you. Thank you.

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(Applause)

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Thank you.

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(Applause)

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Thanks.

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(Applause)

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Thank you.

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(Applause)

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All right, so I want you to take a moment,

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and I want you to think of three things

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that you know to be true.

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They can be about whatever you want --

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technology, entertainment, design,

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your family, what you had for breakfast.

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The only rule is don't think too hard.

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Okay, ready? Go.

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Okay.

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So here are three things I know to be true.

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I know that Jean-Luc Godard was right

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when he said that, "a good story

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has a beginning, a middle and an end,

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although not necessarily in that order."

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I know that I'm incredibly nervous and excited to be up here,

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which is greatly inhibiting my ability to keep it cool.

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(Laughter)

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And I know

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that I have been waiting all week to tell this joke.

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(Laughter)

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Why was the scarecrow invited to TED?

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Because he was out standing in his field.

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(Laughter)

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I'm sorry.

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Okay, so these are three things I know to be true.

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But there are plenty of things I have trouble understanding.

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So I write poems to figure things out.

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Sometimes the only way I know how to work through something

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is by writing a poem.

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And sometimes I get to the end of the poem

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and look back and go, "Oh, that's what this is all about,"

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and sometimes I get to the end of the poem

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and haven't solved anything,

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but at least I have a new poem out of it.

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Spoken word poetry is the art of performance poetry.

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I tell people it involves creating poetry

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that doesn't just want to sit on paper,

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that something about it demands it be heard out loud

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or witnessed in person.

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When I was a freshman in high school,

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I was a live wire of nervous hormones.

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And I was underdeveloped

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and over-excitable.

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And despite my fear

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of ever being looked at for too long,

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I was fascinated by the idea of spoken word poetry.

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I felt that my two secret loves, poetry and theatre,

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had come together, had a baby,

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a baby I needed to get to know.

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So I decided to give it a try.

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My first spoken word poem,

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packed with all the wisdom of a 14-year-old,

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was about the injustice

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of being seen as unfeminine.

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The poem was very indignant,

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and mainly exaggerated,

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but the only spoken word poetry that I had seen up until that point

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was mainly indignant,

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so I thought that that's what was expected of me.

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The first time that I performed,

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the audience of teenagers hooted and hollered their sympathy,

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and when I came off the stage I was shaking.

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I felt this tap on my shoulder,

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and I turned around to see

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this giant girl in a hoodie sweatshirt emerge from the crowd.

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She was maybe eight feet tall

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and looked like she could beat me up with one hand,

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but instead she just nodded at me

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and said, "Hey, I really felt that. Thanks."

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And lightning struck.

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I was hooked.

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I discovered this bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side

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that hosted a weekly poetry open mic,

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and my bewildered, but supportive, parents took me

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to soak in every ounce of spoken word that I could.

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I was the youngest by at least a decade,

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but somehow the poets at the Bowery Poetry Club

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didn't seem bothered by the 14-year-old wandering about --

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if fact, they welcomed me.

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And it was here, listening to these poets share their stories,

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that I learned that spoken word poetry didn't have to be indignant,

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it could be fun or painful

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or serious or silly.

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The Bowery Poetry Club became my classroom and my home,

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and the poets who performed

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encouraged me to share my stories as well.

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Never mind the fact that I was 14 --

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they told me, "Write about being 14."

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So I did and stood amazed every week

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when these brilliant, grown-up poets

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laughed with me and groaned their sympathy

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and clapped and told me, "Hey, I really felt that too."

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Now I can divide my spoken word journey

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into three steps.

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Step one was the moment I said,

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"I can. I can do this."

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And that was thanks to a girl in a hoodie.

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Step two was the moment I said,

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"I will. I will continue.

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I love spoken word. I will keep coming back week after week."

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And step three began

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when I realized that I didn't have to write poems that were indignant,

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if that's not what I was.

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There were things that were specific to me,

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and the more that I focused on those things,

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the weirder my poetry got,

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but the more that it felt like mine.

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It's not just the adage "write what you know."

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It's about gathering up all of the knowledge and experience

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you've collected up to now

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to help you dive into the things you don't know.

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I use poetry to help me work through what I don't understand,

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but I show up to each new poem

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with a backpack full

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of everywhere else that I've been.

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When I got to university, I met a fellow poet

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who shared my belief in the magic of spoken word poetry.

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And actually, Phil Kaye and I

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coincidentally also share the same last name.

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When I was in high school I had created Project V.O.I.C.E.

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as a way to encourage my friends to do spoken word with me.

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But Phil and I decided to reinvent Project V.O.I.C.E. --

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this time changing the mission

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to using spoken word poetry as a way to entertain,

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educate and inspire.

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We stayed full-time students, but in between we traveled,

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performing and teaching

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nine-year-olds to MFA candidates,

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from California to Indiana to India

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to a public high school just up the street from campus.

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And we saw over and over

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the way that spoken word poetry

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cracks open locks.

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But it turns out sometimes,

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poetry can be really scary.

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Turns out sometimes,

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you have to trick teenagers into writing poetry.

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So I came up with lists. Everyone can write lists.

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And the first list that I assign

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is "10 Things I Know to be True."

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And here's what happens, and here's what you would discover too

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if we all started sharing our lists out loud.

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At a certain point, you would realize

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that someone has the exact same thing,

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or one thing very similar,

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to something on your list.

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And then someone else

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has something the complete opposite of yours.

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Third, someone has something you've never even heard of before.

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And fourth, someone has something you thought you knew everything about,

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but they're introducing a new angle of looking at it.

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And I tell people that this is where great stories start from --

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these four intersections

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of what you're passionate about

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and what others might be invested in.

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And most people respond really well to this exercise.

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But one of my students, a freshman named Charlotte,

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was not convinced.

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Charlotte was very good at writing lists, but she refused to write any poems.

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"Miss," she'd say, "I'm just not interesting.

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I don't have anything interesting to say."

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So I assigned her list after list,

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and one day I assigned the list

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"10 Things I Should Have Learned by Now."

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Number three on Charlotte's list was,

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"I should have learned not to crush on guys

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three times my age."

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I asked her what that meant,

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and she said, "Miss, it's kind of a long story."

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And I said, "Charlotte, it sounds pretty interesting to me."

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And so she wrote her first poem,

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a love poem unlike any I had ever heard before.

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And the poem began,

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"Anderson Cooper is a gorgeous man."

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(Laughter)

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"Did you see him on 60 Minutes,

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racing Michael Phelps in a pool --

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nothing but swim trunks on --

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diving in the water, determined to beat this swimming champion?

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After the race, he tossed his wet, cloud-white hair

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and said, 'You're a god.'

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No, Anderson, you're the god."

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(Laughter)

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(Applause)

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Now I know that the number one rule to being cool

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is to seem unfazed,

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to never admit that anything scares you

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or impresses you or excites you.

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Somebody once told me

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it's like walking through life like this.

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You protect yourself

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from all the unexpected miseries or hurt that might show up.

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But I try to walk through life like this.

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And yes, that means catching all of those miseries and hurt,

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but it also means that when beautiful, amazing things

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just fall out of the sky,

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I'm ready to catch them.

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I use spoken word to help my students

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rediscover wonder,

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to fight their instincts to be cool and unfazed

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and, instead, actively pursue being engaged with what goes on around them,

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so that they can reinterpret and create something from it.

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It's not that I think that spoken word poetry

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is the ideal art form.

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I'm always trying to find the best way to tell each story.

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I write musicals; I make short films alongside my poems.

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But I teach spoken word poetry

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because it's accessible.

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Not everyone can read music

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or owns a camera,

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but everyone can communicate in some way,

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and everyone has stories

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that the rest of us can learn from.

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Plus, spoken word poetry allows for immediate connections.

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It's not uncommon for people to feel like they're alone

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or that nobody understands them,

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but spoken word teaches

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that if you have the ability to express yourself

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and the courage to present those stories and opinions,

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you could be rewarded

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with a room full of your peers,

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or your community, who will listen.

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And maybe even a giant girl in a hoodie

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will connect with what you've shared.

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And that is an amazing realization to have,

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especially when you're 14.

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Plus, now with YouTube,

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that connection's not even limited to the room we're in.

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I'm so lucky that there's this archive of performances

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that I can share with my students.

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It allows for even more opportunities

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for them to find a poet or a poem

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that they connect to.

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It is tempting -- once you've figured this out --

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it is tempting to keep writing the same poem,

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or keep telling the same story, over and over,

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once you've figured out that it will gain you applause.

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It's not enough to just teach that you can express yourself.

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You have to grow and explore

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and take risks and challenge yourself.

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And that is step three:

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infusing the work you're doing

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with the specific things that make you you,

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even while those things are always changing.

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Because step three never ends.

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13:38

But you don't get to start on step three,

tedtalks 13:38
13:41

until you take step one first: I can.

tedtalks 13:41
13:43

I travel a lot while I'm teaching,

tedtalks 13:43
13:46

and I don't always get to watch all of my students reach their step three,

tedtalks 13:46
13:48

but I was very lucky with Charlotte,

tedtalks 13:48
13:51

that I got to watch her journey unfold the way it did.

tedtalks 13:51
13:53

I watched her realize

tedtalks 13:53
13:56

that, by putting the things that she knows to be true into the work she's doing,

tedtalks 13:56
13:59

she can create poems that only Charlotte can write --

tedtalks 13:59
14:02

about eyeballs and elevators and Dora the Explorer.

tedtalks 14:02
14:04

And I'm trying to tell stories only I can tell --

tedtalks 14:04
14:06

like this story.

tedtalks 14:06
14:09

I spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to tell this story,

tedtalks 14:09
14:11

and I wondered if the best way

tedtalks 14:11
14:13

was going to be a PowerPoint or a short film --

tedtalks 14:13
14:15

and where exactly was the beginning or the middle or the end?

tedtalks 14:15
14:18

And I wondered whether I'd get to the end of this talk

tedtalks 14:18
14:21

and finally have figured it all out, or not.

tedtalks 14:21
14:23

And I always thought that my beginning was at the Bowery Poetry Club,

tedtalks 14:23
14:26

but it's possible that it was much earlier.

tedtalks 14:26
14:28

In preparing for TED,

tedtalks 14:28
14:30

I discovered this diary page in an old journal.

tedtalks 14:30
14:34

I think December 54th was probably supposed to be 24th.

tedtalks 14:34
14:36

It's clear that when I was a child,

tedtalks 14:36
14:38

I definitely walked through life like this.

tedtalks 14:38
14:40

I think that we all did.

tedtalks 14:40
14:43

I would like to help others rediscover that wonder --

tedtalks 14:43
14:45

to want to engage with it, to want to learn,

tedtalks 14:45
14:47

to want to share what they've learned,

tedtalks 14:47
14:49

what they've figured out to be true

tedtalks 14:49
14:51

and what they're still figuring out.

tedtalks 14:51
14:54

So I'd like to close with this poem.

tedtalks 14:54
14:57

When they bombed Hiroshima,

tedtalks 14:57
15:00

the explosion formed a mini-supernova

tedtalks 15:00
15:03

so every living animal, human or plant

tedtalks 15:03
15:05

that received direct contact

tedtalks 15:05
15:07

with the rays from that sun

tedtalks 15:07
15:09

was instantly turned to ash.

tedtalks 15:09
15:11

And what was left of the city soon followed.

tedtalks 15:11
15:13

The long-lasting damage of nuclear radiation

tedtalks 15:13
15:16

caused an entire city and its population

tedtalks 15:16
15:19

to turn into powder.

tedtalks 15:19
15:22

When I was born, my mom says I looked around the whole hospital room

tedtalks 15:22
15:26

with a stare that said, "This? I've done this before."

tedtalks 15:26
15:28

She says I have old eyes.

tedtalks 15:28
15:31

When my Grandpa Genji died, I was only five years old,

tedtalks 15:31
15:33

but I took my mom by the hand and told her,

tedtalks 15:33
15:36

"Don't worry, he'll come back as a baby."

tedtalks 15:36
15:39

And yet, for someone who's apparently done this already,

tedtalks 15:39
15:42

I still haven't figured anything out yet.

tedtalks 15:42
15:45

My knees still buckle every time I get on a stage.

tedtalks 15:45
15:47

My self-confidence can be measured out

tedtalks 15:47
15:49

in teaspoons mixed into my poetry,

tedtalks 15:49
15:52

and it still always tastes funny in my mouth.

tedtalks 15:52
15:55

But in Hiroshima, some people were wiped clean away,

tedtalks 15:55
15:58

leaving only a wristwatch or a diary page.

tedtalks 15:58
16:01

So no matter that I have inhibitions to fill all my pockets,

tedtalks 16:01
16:03

I keep trying,

tedtalks 16:03
16:05

hoping that one day I'll write a poem

tedtalks 16:05
16:07

I can be proud to let sit in a museum exhibit

tedtalks 16:07
16:09

as the only proof I existed.

tedtalks 16:09
16:11

My parents named me Sarah,

tedtalks 16:11
16:13

which is a biblical name.

tedtalks 16:13
16:16

In the original story, God told Sarah she could do something impossible

tedtalks 16:16
16:19

and she laughed,

tedtalks 16:19
16:21

because the first Sarah,

tedtalks 16:21
16:23

she didn't know what to do with impossible.

tedtalks 16:23
16:26

And me? Well, neither do I,

tedtalks 16:26
16:28

but I see the impossible every day.

tedtalks 16:28
16:31

Impossible is trying to connect in this world,

tedtalks 16:31
16:33

trying to hold onto others while things are blowing up around you,

tedtalks 16:33
16:35

knowing that while you're speaking,

tedtalks 16:35
16:38

they aren't just waiting for their turn to talk -- they hear you.

tedtalks 16:38
16:40

They feel exactly what you feel

tedtalks 16:40
16:42

at the same time that you feel it.

tedtalks 16:42
16:44

It's what I strive for every time I open my mouth --

tedtalks 16:44
16:46

that impossible connection.

tedtalks 16:46
16:49

There's this piece of wall in Hiroshima

tedtalks 16:49
16:52

that was completely burnt black by the radiation.

tedtalks 16:52
16:54

But on the front step, a person who was sitting there

tedtalks 16:54
16:56

blocked the rays from hitting the stone.

tedtalks 16:56
16:58

The only thing left now

tedtalks 16:58
17:00

is a permanent shadow of positive light.

tedtalks 17:00
17:02

After the A-bomb,

tedtalks 17:02
17:04

specialists said it would take 75 years

tedtalks 17:04
17:07

for the radiation-damaged soil of Hiroshima City

tedtalks 17:07
17:09

to ever grow anything again.

tedtalks 17:09
17:12

But that spring, there were new buds popping up from the earth.

tedtalks 17:12
17:14

When I meet you, in that moment,

tedtalks 17:14
17:16

I'm no longer a part of your future.

tedtalks 17:16
17:18

I start quickly becoming part of your past.

tedtalks 17:18
17:21

But in that instant, I get to share your present.

tedtalks 17:21
17:23

And you, you get to share mine.

tedtalks 17:23
17:25

And that is the greatest present of all.

tedtalks 17:25
17:27

So if you tell me I can do the impossible,

tedtalks 17:27
17:29

I'll probably laugh at you.

tedtalks 17:29
17:31

I don't know if I can change the world yet,

tedtalks 17:31
17:33

because I don't know that much about it --

tedtalks 17:33
17:35

and I don't know that much about reincarnation either,

tedtalks 17:35
17:37

but if you make me laugh hard enough,

tedtalks 17:37
17:40

sometimes I forget what century I'm in.

tedtalks 17:40
17:43

This isn't my first time here. This isn't my last time here.

tedtalks 17:43
17:45

These aren't the last words I'll share.

tedtalks 17:45
17:48

But just in case, I'm trying my hardest

tedtalks 17:48
17:51

to get it right this time around.

tedtalks 17:51
17:53

Thank you.

tedtalks 17:53
17:57

(Applause)

tedtalks 17:57
17:59

Thank you.

tedtalks 17:59
18:01

(Applause)

tedtalks 18:01
18:03

Thank you.

tedtalks 18:03
18:07

(Applause)