I have always been told that I am older than my years or that I seem to have the important stuff all figured out. At nineteen I realized that each day carried me a little closer to the end. I came to terms with the idea that if I wanted to do the things I dreamed about then I had to let go of my debilitating self-loathing and handle my anxiety disorder. Eventually, I did. I learned how to love myself, and I felt like I had gotten a grip on what was really important. So what I love are the truly humbling moments: when I find a person younger than me, braver than me, and who’s fought harder than I ever have. Those moments are the great ones when I am reminded that all I have down are the basics. There’s still a lot of ground left to cover, and I can’t ever stop striving.
I had one of those moments today when I watched a clip of The Daily Show where Jon Stewart interviewed Malala Yousafzai, author of I am Malala. This girl, at the age of eleven—that’s right at only eleven-years-old—started speaking out for what she believed in: education. When the Taliban took over Malala’s home, the Swat Valley in Northern Pakistan, they at times banned girls from attending school. Malala wrote under a pseudonym for the BBC around the age of eleven to speak against the theft of an education which she believes is not only each child’s right but is also the means to resolving violence with peace. But Malala didn’t stop with blogging. She kept speaking, and she continued raising her voice on every platform she could reach. In fact Malala so vehemently pursued what she believed in that the Taliban made threats on her and her father’s lives. But even that wasn’t enough to intimidate her, and I have to say that is damned inspiring.
At age fourteen, Malala had so infuriated the Taliban with her demand of education for all children that an agent of the Taliban shot her at point blank rage while she was coming home from school on a bus. We’ll never know it was divine intervention, sheer dumb luck, or her own fierce will to keep going, but Malala survived and eventually recovered. Today, at age sixteen, Malala has published her autobiography, I am Malala, and she has become the youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In terms of humbling moments, that’s a pretty big one. In terms of reminders, it’s pretty crystal clear: speak up for what you believe in, use your education to benefit others, protest violence with peace, and don’t ever let anyone intimidate you into backing down or shutting up. If an eleven-year-old can speak up, if a fourteen-year-old can survive an assassination, and if a sixteen-year-old can still fearlessly crusade for her beliefs after all of that, then there really is no reason you and I can’t be just as courageous.