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The Hidden Gift

by Fatima Hairane

When I was a child, I had the privilege of being bilingual, and as a teen I spoke and wrote five languages. But the English language was the hardest by far. Unlike Arabic, French, Spanish, and Italian, which are spelled as they are pronounced, the English language spelling depends on memorization. When I finally decided to go back to school to learn to write English, I expected to start from the basics and work myself up. However, I was forced to start with English Composition instead. The challenge was debilitating. But how could I run my home-based business, write notes for my daughters’ teachers, and fill out medical forms?

Once I was in class, the professor explained how to write essays. He said, “As your reader, I expect to see imagery, feelings, and emotions. I don’t want you to tell me you have a headache, but show me instead; if you are sad, in pain, or happy, show me so I will feel exactly how you feel.” Then, he asked the class to start writing two pages about any subject we chose.

An hour later, the professor asked, “Who had any trouble writing the essay?” I could not help but raise my hand. Then he said, “Good, bring your chair by my desk, face the class and read your paper loudly!” Suddenly, I felt like I was hit by a train and unable to move. At that point I knew I had no choice but to obey.

I dragged my chair beside the professor’s desk and sat down. While I was reading, I could hear my trembling crying voice; my head felt hot as if someone poured a bucket of boiling water over it, and my hands were shaking the essay paper. When I finished reading, the students started to clap and whisper to each other. I thought it was the college tradition just like at my daughters’ elementary school: whenever they do something, everyone claps for encouragement.

Suddenly, I heard “Stop! I have been teaching for thirty-five years, and I have never witnessed this. So please, I want each one of you to tell me what made you clap.”

Several students replied that they were moved by the story, some said that they felt like they were watching a movie, and others said that they felt as if they were reading a story out of Time magazine.

“Now, you just witnessed the perfect example of how to write your essays from now on.” Then he looked at me smiling and said, “Do you realize that this kind of writing is publishable?” And just like that the class ended.

During that semester I had A’s on all my essays and was encouraged to publish my writing. I am glad that I finally recognized that writing was my hidden gift that I never knew I had until I tried it.

Author’s Note: Fatima Hairane was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. She came to the United States in May 1992 and has been living here ever since.