In second grade (or thereabouts — it’s been so many years now) I had a wonderful babysitter. Her name was Kris, which was so cool because it was a name for a boy or a girl, a new concept for me.
She taught me how you don’t pronounce the ‘R’s at the end of words in pop songs, and used Bette Midler’s song, ‘The Rose’, as a case study.
She sketched beautiful faces that had eyes drawn in exquisite detail — at least they were to my second grade mind.
When we moved to a new neighborhood too far away to continue seeing her, I wrote letters to Kris. They were long, descriptive letters, probably aimless and for all I know, unintelligible in my eight year old chicken-scratch, smudgy-pencil handwriting. I was enamored with describing the texture of a quilt, the glint of water on a mermaid’s tail when she flicked it and in one movement dove back under the water.
Kris kindly wrote back to me, brief letters but letters I saved, folded in a special box, her drawings hidden behind the cardboard backing of a framed photograph.
Fast forward to high school.
A cranky teacher. He looked more like he belonged on a stereotypical cop show set in Philly, with his bushy black mustache and heavy dark hair. He should have been in uniform, eating donuts and writing tickets for jaywalking.
He was the one stuck with teaching an unwilling class how to diagram sentences, the seventh circle of hell for any teacher, I’m sure.
He told me I was a good writer, that I should write for the school newspaper. I couldn’t hear him. I thought he was just having a hard time finding students to do the job, so I wrote one or two articles, and let it fade away. I dismissed his affirmation even though the idea that I was a good writer made my heart sing.
The world of books and words was one I cherished all through college, our department a place where earnest attempts at poetry were allowed, where experimental-run-on-sentences-were-viewed-as-Virginia-Woolfe-esque and therefore acceptable. I majored in English but didn’t work to know what careers this might offer me, be it a life in academia or a position in publishing. I loved words but thought they need all be directed at lining the path toward God.
I didn’t see they were already infused with His presence, and had no need of my spectacular tour-guide skills.
Even though I was an English major, got to read, analyze and write about literature, my occupational focus shifted to the skills I was learning outside of classes. I held in my mind my love of story and also my assumption that I was called to something other than books. One semester of “Foundations of Education” and a field experience, and I arrogantly declared that I wanted to teach students about things that really mattered, that I didn’t like thought of teaching students in a classroom about literature and not being free to address the way all truth points to God.
What an ass.
As if books and stories hadn’t been the things that fed me along the way, and continued to be my special respite, the way my spirit was replenished. As if I needed to point this out for others when I hadn’t needed anyone to point it out for me.
And now, things come full circle.
Now, to write about the texture of that quilt, the places where it is threadbare and the batting has started to escpae, the life it has had and the stories it has heard, this fills me with great joy.
Now, the flash of sun on the rippling scales, glowing green, blue and golden,
the line of light as that mermaid tail slips silently back into the quiet depths, this fills my mind with songs of fullness and a strong, brave heart.
The echoes of who I was remain as I reach into the shadow to draw them back to me. I pull them in, pet each one, and set it on the windowsill so the light and air can fluff them, help them grow strong again. Even though I did not feed or water them, did not acknowledge their importance, did not trust their purpose, I see now that they had a patience I could not imagine, a longsuffering I could not emulate. They waited, peeked out now and again — never intrusive — just to see if I was still there, until I discovered they’d been there all along.
The girl I once was, the one who saw pictures with words, who knew the power of a word-image, the importance of saying it out loud into the air even when the outcome was unknown, the one who noticed the slant of light and the far-off sound of a train, who had questions which no simple answers could satisfy, she is returning to me now.
I will not put her back in the shadows again.
This post is part of the Story Session link up “The Girls We Once Were” and is part of International Women’s Day. Join us or find out more: http://bit.ly/1hX2mZ1