I believe that all of us are born poets and artists and scientists and explorers. I believe that we come into this world brave and ready to tackle life. I came to this conclusion after 27 years of teaching elementary students. A lot of my job was imparting knowledge and honing skills but it also required me to be a cheerleader, convincing young kids that they could draw, write, and create new ideas and that they were strong and capable. Society, the media, parents, and, yes, teachers sometimes extinguish the light of potential in the souls of children and adults. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get those gifts back, sometimes this never happens.
My first recollection of fear being used to subdue my spirit was at the age of three, waiting for the “monster” to come through my bedroom window. I would not go to sleep so my mother used a powerful visual to get me to comply, an editorial cartoon of Atlas holding the earth.
Fear was a disciplinary tool of choice in my family. A traditional approach most likely passed down from generation to generation, its roots in our Polish ancestry where pessimism and violation in a country with no natural boundaries was the norm. The Moguls, the Huns, Nazis, and Communists always peering through windows and finally breaking through to conquer and dominate. The use of terror in my family was for “our own good” to keep us safe, nice, and polite. It was the antidote for too much self-esteem or an unwanted pregnancy (birth control of the mind).
How irrational my childish logic was believing a creature holding a planet would be able to come and get me. I shivered in my bed watching a long slit of yellow-green from the street lights below gaping between my curtains. Would I see his eyeball first? Or would be just thump me with the tip of his finger? A giant sent only to me because I didn’t want to go to sleep. I pondered what a terrible child I was.
But along with this memory is another one filled with hope. In the 1950’s, many stuffed animals were equipped with plastic whiskers that scratched the faces and arms of children who loved them. I told my mom about my problem and got the “deal with it” answer I would hear so many times in the next few decades. That wasn’t good enough for me. I proceeded to violate the supreme rule of toddlerhood. I not only touched my mother’s sharp scissors but removed them from her sewing drawer. I carried them into my parents’ room, lined up all my offending animals on the bed and holding their fuzzy little heads cut off their whiskers. It was my first recollection of my personal courage and the power to direct my own life.
All through my life, step by step, I have been nurturing the gift of courage. Many of my fears are gone especially monsters at windows.