As I laid next to her, I studied the small necklace that held a single band that dangled from her neck. The sunlight reflected off of it drawing subtle attention to its beautiful simplicity, but there was so much more meaning it held behind its surface. I looked up into her eyes, and I was embraced by the familiar, strong smile that she always welcomed me with. I could hear the calming beat of the music that she always had playing around her in the background, alongside the lapping water from underneath the boat.

We swayed next to one another, listening to the harmonizing sounds of our environment. As I sat in her presence, I took in all of who she was. Like her necklace, and like the music she carried with her, I saw behind her outward appearance to the world. I saw underneath her surface. It is in these moments in time that these things develop a deep meaning behind their outward appearance. In that moment, I was able to I look at her and really see her. She wears strength, she wears her story and she wears it with her own grace. She is one to be read.

I believe in the power of literacy. I have used literacy to unfold my own story and the story of others around me. It has been the process of becoming literate with myself, discovering my own heart and the ways in which God has created me that has changed my life and how I see the world around me. Like the necklace worn by my mom or the music that always accompanies her on the boat during those summer days on the lake, there are stories created by simple moments that accompany those things. These stories give them a whole new meaning and value that only the person who witnessed these moments could appreciate.

Through the experience of losing my father at the age of 15 years old, I have discovered what it means to become literate in a story I never thought I would find myself in. It has been through my personal use of literature that I have also come to see the beauty that lies within each person in my own story. While in the process of uncovering my own story, I discovered the beauty behind others as their own stories unfolded in front of me.

Throughout these past 15 years, no presence in my life has left me in awe like my mother’s. Ever since I could remember, I was enticed by the love she shared with my dad. They built a family that worked as a team, naming it “Team Harper.” It was after my dad passed that all of who she was inspired me the most. I watched as every Sunday she would continue to go to church, lift her hands up to God and continue to smile for she was still blessed. It was that strong energy, all the time. But she was also real. She was authentic. She felt her emotions in the waves they would come in, she felt them with grace, but she still felt them.

I felt compelled to write about how I have seen God in his purest form in her. I wrote about the deep effect she has left in my life. While writing about her, her own stories she had shared with me throughout my childhood began to surface. As I wrote, I viewed her not only as my mother, but a daughter to her parents, a role model to her children, a rock to her friends and family, and even a simple, kind smile on the street to someone. The smile these people see on the street doesn't show them all of who she is, not even close. It would be those who experienced true love, heartbreak, and life with her that would be able to see beyond the simple, warm smile she carried.

It was after writing, discovering and rediscovering new parts of my mom and her story that led me to moments like the one of my mom and I swaying side by side on our boat “No Worries.” In that beautiful moment, as I stared at the band that was my father’s wedding ring, I saw that she not only wore her strength around her neck, but throughout her own life, and therefore my own. Writing about others I love transformed my heart to see everyone as someone’s essential presence in their lives, and in their stories. I was granted the gift to value each life, and each person as a piece of work, and as a story that is waiting to be read.

I want to see beyond the simple smile on the street. I want to be literate in reading the truest pieces of literature that exist all around me. There are roughly seven billion walking, breathing, capable-of-loving stories that can be labeled as our mothers, fathers, friends, or even a stranger on a bus. All stories that are waiting to be read. There are seven billion lives that I can continue to touch with my own story as well.

It is because of literature that I have found myself and others. It is because of literature that I have developed the deep desire to become completely literate with reading and understanding those around me who have stories, powerful stories, that they spend their whole lives writing.