I Can't

by Sylvia Malilwe

What we tell the mind is what the mind does.

I was the quintessential "I can't" child -- the poster child for the Advancement of the word "can't."

Whatever my mother told or asked me to do was immediately followed by my whining, "I caaaaan't." Consequently, very few tasks or goals that I set out to accomplished were ever completed.

One evening, my mother called me into the family room where she was reading an article in the TV Guide. On the cover was a photo of Marlo Thomas, currently starring in the popular sitcom, That Girl. Mother knew that the show was one of my favorites and Marlo one of my show biz idols.

"I want you to read this article," Mother began. "It's about Marlo Thomas. She tells how a simple poem that she was forced to learn by her father changed her life. She went from saying, "I can't" to "I can!" According to this article, she was able to restructure her life, and eventually her career, by learning the principles in the poem."

Sensing a conspiracy between Marlo Thomas and my mother, I took the small magazine from Mother and looked down at the glossy pages. There was Marlo, looking perky and adorable. Her smile was radiant and her trademark shoulder-flip hair was styled to perfection. I thought it must be grand to be Marlo! Beside her photo was the poem my mother had spoken of; a simple poem entitled, "I Can."

"I want you to memorize that poem," Mother said firmly.

"Mamaaaaa," I belly-ached. "I can't learn that poem. It's too loooong."

"It's not too long and yes, you can learn it. I want you to know it perfectly by this time tomorrow."

One does not say "no" to my mother. She coined the phrase: "When I tell you to jump you ask how high." She was the Queen of No nosense to elders. I adored her, but this was going too far!

I slumped my shoulders, turned and trudged my way back to my bedroom with the magazine loosely held in my small right hand. With a heavy heart, I plopped on my bed, fell back against the cotton spread and began my task.

"Can't is a word that is foe to ambition," I began. I repeated the line. I repeated it again and again until it held firm in my heart. "An enemy ambush to shatter your will..." I continued the process until the following evening, when I proudly recited the poem that has continued to be my motto.

Not long after,in my sixth grade i emerged as a top high jumper and a good reader in the school.

Ms. Thomas did not know me, but her story forever changed my life.

Saying, "I can," helped me to survive the worst moments of my life. Saying "I can" encouraged me to accomplish things I would have otherwise seen as out of my reach. A simple poem learned at seven is a poem that has sustained me to 22 years and will sustain me to seventy-seven. Maybe even longer.


Can't is a word that is foe to ambition;
An enemy ambush to shatter your will.
It's prey forever to a man with a mission;
And bows only to courage, and patience, and skill.

So hate it with hatred that's deep and undying,
For once it is welcomed twill break any man.
And whatever the goal you are seeking, Keep trying!
And answer this demon by saying, "I Can!"

By Sylvia malilwe

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