The Shadow Knows
With every light, shadow forms. When telling our stories we want to paint our picture in the best light possible, but it’s in the shadow of our story we find definition.
Growing up I was afraid of many things; butterflies, birds, bees, cats, dogs. Anything that moved - even my shadow my mom would tell me. But as I reflect back on it now, I think I was more afraid of my light. It was in the shadows I would hide.
When I was a little girl entering the first grade my mother signed me up for a new pilot program. The plan of action was to provide a classroom that would accommodate all the quirky kids, although I don’t think this was the official pitch and strategy. I was assigned to this room because of extreme shyness and said fears.
There was also a little girl from China, who didn’t speak much English. She became one of my best friends. When my mother told me later in life that she didn’t speak much English, I was surprised. I couldn’t remember an accent or a struggle to understand her, or vice versa. We communicated just fine, especially when we went to her family’s restaurant and would order Shirley Temples at the bar, and feast on the maraschino cherries sitting in a bowl next to the shiny clear bar glasses.
Then there was the little boy, who was so angry all the time. He would go around punching kids. I caught it in the stomach a couple of times. He didn’t last the year. Too many kids were getting hurt. I remember my teacher being bummed about this. I must confess I was not. I was a bit terrified of him. But I do wonder what the boy’s story was. I remember finding courage one day and asked him, before he had to leave, why he was so mad all time? He just grumbled back at me and kept his head down. This ended our brief moment and I was grateful he didn’t hit me.
There was another little girl who shared space with us. Her mom was dying from complications of diabetes. She would get so sad sometimes. I didn’t understand what she was going through, but I could feel her sad. I remember her crying a lot after her mom passed. My heart would feel hers and I would wait for her to come around again from time to time, in the midst of her grief. She did, but her sad stayed. It was heartbreaking.
There was also my first crush in this classroom of quirks. His name was Michael and he was quiet, like me. My heart would beat so fast whenever I was around him. I had no idea why, and so in my extreme shyness, I’d be like a deer in the headlights and just stare at him. He would promptly move away. I picked his name out of a hat at Christmas when choosing Secret Santas. I remember my mom taking me to pick out a present for him. We bought a small pack of matchbox cars. I think there were five or six of them in a pack. I watched him open his present and could tell he liked them. I was so pleased. I found courage again and asked if he liked the cars. He gave me a sideways glance and a quiet "uh huh"and moved away from me, again. I think it was my signature deer in the headlight stare. That was the extent of our relationship. Me staring, and him moving away.
So there we were, along with a few others, like the toys on the Isle of Misfits, shining our lights and playing in theshadows. I wasn’t afraid in this classroom. We all knew each other and liked each other very much. There was no miss in our fit in our little first-grade classroom of quirks at Underwood School in Milwaukee Wisconsin.
It was in this classroom I decided I wanted to be a first-grade teacher because our teacher fit too. She was one of us and modeled what she expected. It was the place we started to get to know our shadows.
My tendency is to still go into the shadows and hide, but I know the light won’t be denied, so I find the courage time and again to stand there instead, feel its warm and hold hands with the darkness that defines it. It belongs too.