Strength

Child:

 

She would be pleased

I think

eyes wide at some of it

beyond the circle

of childish knowing

but not beyond imagining

at least in some shadow

or play of light

part of her knew

and stayed

a witness and a reminder

calling me home

to myself

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 I came across an old memory a few days ago. I’ve always thought of it as one of those moments that define me. It’s a memory of the first time I went to the school library by myself and checked out a book. I was in Grade 1 and must have been just 7 years old. I don’t remember whether it was a class outing or a break time. I had searched the shelves and chosen a book. (I should say the book had chosen me. Books do that; they call to you.) I made my way to the librarian at the counter. I remember the desk being a bit higher than my nose and I had to reach my arms up quite high to get the book onto it. The librarian towered over me, or at least that’s how it seemed at the time. I was scared and intimidated, both by the person behind the desk and by the newness of the environment and the experience. I was so fearful of doing something wrong, getting some detail of the process confused, and being told that I couldn’t have the book. And I desperately wanted that book. The librarian asked for my name and I said it. She began to write it down on the card, pronouncing each syllable out loud. And that’s when I started to panic, because she was getting my name wrong. Part of me wanted to tell her, to correct her so that it would be written down right. But I was afraid that she would be angry and yell at me so I kept quiet. Then a new fear asserted itself: what if I got into trouble for not correcting her? What if the school found out that my name was misspelt on the card and I was punished? Now all of this distress may seem silly, unnecessary and even unbelievable, but it was very real to me. I was a sensitive child, easily frightened and very unsure of myself. I was in agony, and the only thing that kept me from dropping the book and bolting out the door, was the fact that I really wanted to read that story. The desire for it created in me a determination to stay put, so I remained rooted to the spot. The relief I experienced walking out of the library was immense, and so was the delight at having made away with the book. I couldn’t wait to get home and open it up, to discover the treasure of words hidden inside. (I still remember the book, and some of the illustrations.)

Together with many other experiences, this incident created a particular narrative that I carried with me for a very long time. My focus in this memory has always been on my timidity, my fear, my indecision. For years I believed that I am by nature fearful, anxious and uncertain. I told myself that every time I behaved in ways that were determined, strong and purposeful, every time I took initiative, that I was somehow transcending my essential nature.

Over the last several years, particularly since having children, I have found myself increasingly moving into areas outside my comfort zone. I have educated my children at home, climbed Kilimanjaro, started horse riding and yoga, forged new relationships, served as a volunteer counsellor and now recently (as my sons move into young adulthood) I have begun to pursue my writing with greater intention and discipline. In all these areas I have found resistance and challenge, and I have persevered. I have experienced struggle and failure, as well as enjoyment and success. I have made unexpected discoveries about myself and met many beautiful people along the way. I started noticing that I enjoyed challenge, that I was often quite happy with uncertainty and with moving into new territories of change and capacity. All this has made me realise that  strength and tenacity are as much part of me as fear and anxiety. And it is the determination and courage that often win out. I uncovered a long lost delight in the experience of being stretched and tested.

When I thought again about that day in the library, more than 35 years ago, I came to a realisation: I walked out of there with what I wanted. I took the book home. The heart of that story is not about a scared little girl who goes through life timid and afraid. It’s about a little girl who, in spite of fear, stood her ground and achieved her goal. That’s the deeper truth. It was hidden away under layers of self-doubt. I don’t think my story is unique. I am guessing that many of us need to remember who we really are, to be empowered by that knowledge. To be called home to ourselves.

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