My backpack was filled with fresh new school supplies that I was embarrassed to use.
I didn’t know where to put them. My desk? My cubby hole along the wall that had a blank space where everyone else had a colorful name tag? What about that box of Kleenex? No one else had one sitting on their desks. Surely, the teacher had collected those on the first day of school—for those kids anyway—months ago.
One thing I knew. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
I stole glances around the classroom, trying to figure out my new school in Virginia. Did most people bring their lunch? Use a lunch box? A brown paper sack? Buy from the cafeteria? What did the kids here wear? Were jean jackets cool here?
For a couple of weeks, I kept my stuff in my backpack, afraid to commit to my guesses at how things worked here. I tried to shrink, hoping whatever I did would go unnoticed, because it was probably all wrong.
I was 8. This was my fifth state and my fourth school. It was February. And I was the new kid. Again. Only this time, it was worse because I’d missed most of the year at this Virginia school going to the first new school of my second grade year in Kansas.
The daughter of an Army soldier, I moved a lot as a kid. A scared kid. At least that’s how I saw it. Still sometimes do.
Fastforward to adulthood and the letter my mom sent one hot tropical day after I moved to Indonesia. She’s a prolific writer who puts her heart into words. And in that particular letter, she put my heart into a sentence I never want to forget.
“You are brave.”
Always had been, she wrote.
Me? Brave? Did she know I didn’t even want to unpack my backpack? Never felt –no, feel—like I know what I’m doing? Did she know that I walked to each new school with my head down, telling myself to take each step because that’s all I could do?
I love good words like I love chocolate mousse. If a book uses language that rolls around its meaning, I’m a happy reader. If a movie uses a line that makes their world my own, I watch again and again. And if someone I know says something that reaches past all the negative words in my head, I remember and relish them, coming back to them again and again, indulging in their rich, life-giving messages.
My mom’s words are like that, reminding me again and again that I am something I never believe myself to be. Brave.
And as I take each step through this life, I say the word over and over. I am brave. I am brave. I am brave. My head rising as the words sink its power into my soul.
So, in these next few posts, I want to highlight some of the other words that have changed my life over the years. What about you? What words have changed you, have rewritten the history--and the future--of your life?
photo credit, latteda