When I was a little girl I used to spread out on my back under trees and watch the sunlight tickle the tips of the leaves. Their shadows would flutter across my face and ripple down my arms in a flurry of fantastic patterns. And then, as the sun slowly arced and bent, my eyes would glaze over, just so, and I would marvel as the light blurred like molten gold.
That change in light was magical, surely. It was also a portal—to my wild and vivid imagination.
The places I would visit in my mind’s eye were beautiful and grand, yes. But they were also grounded in truths I held dear and laced with genuine hopes for what could be. I conjured up down-to-earth heroines and mud-caked heroes who reveled in their conquests yet always yearned for home.
I often revisited previously imagined stories because, in my mind, the players were working at getting things right and, honestly, that takes practice. My imagination was always a safe place to try out new possibilities. In my head, I didn’t have to worry about what might go wrong. I just needed to give myself permission to dream.
I often got reprimanded in school for my daydreaming. But how could one ignore the way the warm afternoon sunlight pooled across the room, illuminating every speck of dust that hung, suspended and glowing? It was nearly impossible to turn away from the expansive windows of my classroom that opened out onto a canopy of trees and blue sky and swirling clouds. My imagination was the place that I ran to when I needed to feel most like myself. I liked being myself.
But, over the years, as I grew and matured, there seemed to be less room in my head for all of that imagining. I know now, in a way that I couldn’t have known then, that my desire to get older already and shoulder more and more responsibility, came at a cost.
Standing at the edge of childhood and teetering on the cusp of adolescence meant I had to let go of so much. That golden light that so often carried me, needed to give way to the realities of the actual world. Growing up meant engaging in what was actually happening. I needed to start showing up more for my flesh-and-bone life.
Or, at least, that’s what I was led to believe.
Because, thirty or so years later, I sat in a room with 99 other women at the Rise Up, Sister gathering and listened to Kelley Nikondeha preach about prophetic imagination and building the New City and all of the ways that women have been laying the framework for resistance all of these years. And, in that moment, it felt like someone pulled the roof off the tabernacle and all the golden light that had been pulsing since I had closed that portal way back when, flooded into my deepest corners.
The idea that my imagination might hold space for what could really be, broke me wide open.
Like a leg that has been crouched in one position too long begins to feel the circulation returning as it slowly turns one way, then another, I felt myself flushing with new blood. I began to remember that I always felt most alive, most myself, when I was given space to dream and imagine. The idea that the hallowed ground of my mind’s eye might hold keys to my actual, walking around life and that I could very well birth change within it—well, it was revolutionary.
And we all know that a woman’s place is in the revolution.
Suddenly, the ways in which my heart always caught when it heard of maternal mortality or the turning away of refugees, felt inexplicably connected to the ways my soul bleeds poetry or the way I frame faces in my camera lens. I had to trust that all of these things were mixing together for some holy and sacred reason.
It was as if all the things that I had ever cared about or ever longed to create were being spun together in one lustrous thread. I was being invited to weave a new story from the fibers of all that I was and all that I longed to be and it felt good and right and true.
This is the power of imagination. It is personal and unique. It is active and contemplative. It is alive and on fire and revolutionary. It is now and forever shall be.
I can’t shake the ways in which this is transforming me from the inside out. This is what it means to live inside of hope, because my imagination is safe from ridicule and judgment. I believe, now, that my imagination is allowed to spill over into my actual, walking around life and, therein, lies its power.
Because that little girl that used to lie under dappled trees believed in what she imagined. She could see it clear as day, all golden and shimmering. And even though that little girl has grown up, she remembers.