You Can Call Me "Ali"

Dear Folx,

I invite you into a new space that has provided me comfort. About six (6) months ago, I wrote my last blog as a writer without tenure. During that time, I asked people to start calling me "Ali", which is an Arabic root that means, "high", "elevated", "champion". People must have thought me completely obnoxious. "Call me `Ali' Muhammad Ali," I offer. Oh, ohhh, ok: "Ali?!?" "Yeah, Ali," I respond. There is a soft rhyme in the name, "Abigail Ali"..."A.Ali"..."Dr. Ali". Call me "Ali".

Ali, for me, is short for Alyasah, so you can know how to pronounce the name properly: Ahh--lee--ah--sah. Not, Al-Ya-Sah. Not, A-lish-a. Not, Ally-as-ah. Not, Ally, Al-lie. Call me, "Ali". Derived from "Aliaxa", my champion for infinity. How I got here from Abigail is a hard story to tell. It is a story of love, of grief, of misdiagnosis, of asylums, of passing through, of roads less traveled. It is not a story of bows and berries. There is nothing pretty or sweet here. Except for maybe the fact that I am now known as "Ali".

Ali is sweet and pretty. I can accept that because it is the root of all things. My nephew's best friend was named Aliasa. My sister chose my niece's middle name to be Aliasa. Because my nephew joined the ancestors two decades ago, I could not steal his name. It was not my name to take. I told my sister during a manic episode that I was taking the name Alyasah to hold my nephew close to me at all times. She acknowledged my need to be connected. Still, it is a form of violence to sleep with your grief, lay your head on it, cuddle it at night, put hope in it, raise it above your shoulders with pride. Ali.

And, in that violence, that cutting of heart, I heal. Each wound less infected than the last. Only by embracing the one thing that knows how to kill me was I able to reach a place where my shoulders could bear the weight of loss. Now, everyone gets cancer, and I do not fall apart. But there was a time when cancer killed me without piercing my body. I fell to my knees and prayed to the only god I knew: Please, bring him back. It is a prayer that I still pray, still feel, still anguish within the dark of my mind. And, it hurts the same way now as it did then. They lie. Grief never wanes away. I hurt for my nephew today as I did decades ago. I have never been able to think about him as an ancestor without experiencing pain. My tears, however, remain at the bottom of a 16 year old's pool. I cried all summer. I blanked out my junior year. I cannot recall Physics.

So, today, I take him into me in a way that can never be associated with death. Alyasah, Al-Yasa, Elisha, is a prophet who went about the land preaching the gospel of his god. Alyasah had no meaning until he followed Elijah and Elijah created him and until Elijah ascended into the heavens and then Elisha's missionary work began. So too mine. Alyasah/Elisha for me means, "my god is my salvation" but really stands for "my god is salvation". But god had to save me before I could accept death. And so I found Alyasah -- the African spelling of the Arabic Al-Yasa, which reflects the Hebrew Elisha.

I first shortened it to "Aly", but realized that people thought I meant, "ally". Instead, I treated Ah-lee as a proper noun -- for instance, like the Ali language of the Gbaya language of southwestern Central African Republic. Proper, remember, like Muhammad Ali. Or, whole, like the Yakamul language synonym, "Ali", an Austronesian language spoken by the people of the Sanduan province in Papau New Guineau. Also known as Kap, like Kaepernick, like elevated, like champion for justice, like Ali.

Sincerely Yours,

A. Ali Sewell


Doc said…
Dr. Sewell, will miss the U of F presentation as I'm in GA but thank you for sharing the struggles and victories so candidly in your blog and especially for setting the example of perseverance through all the distractions. Would be nice to have an accessible video of the upcoming U of F event for online students who cannot attend. We need more Voices like yours. Congratulations.
I will look for a way for a video to be posted on online.

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