In this dark month of November I have been thinking about our November theme of "courage," and about being scared of the dark, so I want to start today by asking all of you, of any age, to raise your hand and keep holding it up for a minute, if any of you have ever been scared of the dark --? Look around, see who else -- maybe during coffee hour/snack time, you can find one of those folks and tell each other what you did to feel more courageous, and if you have gotten over that fear now . . .
I asked that question to spark some conversations, but I myself am rarely scared of the dark (well, hardly ever!), and when I was a little girl, I think I was pretty brave about the dark, and courageous about going on adventures to unknown places.
BUT there were three things I was scared of, so this is a story of me at ages 6, 7, and 8 ... Some of you are those ages, and others soon will be, while all the rest of you have been, I know....
When I was six, we lived on a farm in the country, and my brother and sisters and I had the daily chore of feeding the chickens in the barn. I hated the job, because as soon as we opened the hen house door, a fierce rooster ran out and chased us, pecking at our feet and legs, and we were terrified of him! However, we outsmarted him -- and using our best thinking is part of being courageous, I'd say --we learned how get an ear of dry corn, shell it and strew some kernels of corn on the doorstep, so he would stop to eat them while we made our getaway. I still felt more nervous than courageous, but it helped to have my siblings for company and support.
Eventually that rooster got turned into chicken stew, and we gladly ate our enemy for our dinner, though he had very tough meat...
We moved away from that farm when I was seven, and went to live in a crowded little house in the woods, where there was an empty chicken shed out back. My parents told us we could make it into a play house, so we swept it out and found some old boards to make into furniture for it. One shiny plank of wood was long enough to prop against the outside of the chicken shed, which was actually shaped like a house, and it made a kind of sloping walkway up to the roof, which was only slightly slanted. I scrambled up behind the others somehow, but then I got scared because I couldn't see how to get down, and the more I looked at that slippery board -- like a playground slide, but with no railings to hold onto -- and the more I saw how far it was to the ground, the more terrified I became. My brother and a friend from next door kept encouraging me, trying to rouse my courage, but I found it hard to let my body relax and slide down, and I was in danger of being stuck up there all day. Finally my friend Nancy solved my dilemma, and went home to ask her Father to come and lift me down. He was very tall, and that worked, tho I felt a bit ashamed to be such a big girl and yet be so frightened, but grateful for my friend's help.
So, being smart, having good companions for support, and asking for help all can contribute to being brave or courageous!
Perhaps that feeling of being so embarrassed on top of the chicken house, helped me to handle the third situation where I felt scared, however -- because I must have resolved to figure out how to trust my body better after that time of literally feeling like such a "chicken."
My third challenge came when I was 8, and we moved again, this time to a suburban Philadelphia house on a street with sidewalks. When we lived in the country, there hadn't been many safe places or smooth paths for children to ride bikes, and I had never learned. But in the town, lots of children rode their bikes on the sidewalks, and I wanted to, too -- tho I was frightened of falling off! Luckily another neighborhood child, not so big as me, had a little two wheel bike with trainer wheels on the back, and I discovered I was tall enough to plant my feet firmly on the ground on either side, if I felt too wobbly -- and I did, trying over and over again to get balanced and ride.
Pretty soon I was able to balance, and push the pedals -- then graduated to a bigger child's bike, and before long I proudly zoomed up and down the street with my friends! I don't recall if I thought it took a lot of courage to learn, but I did persist, and kept trying -- I was determined to succeed. I'm so thankful I did, because riding a bike is something I have loved to do, ever since then.
My bike was was part of my university life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where everyone cycled back and forth between our dorms and classes and the library. Later my bike was an essential part of my life as a young teacher and wife in England where I lived before we emigrated to Canada, and didn't own a car, and I biked four miles to work and back, every day. Then we emigrated, and I have ridden a bike in every Canadian city I have lived in, sometimes in very bad weather or over very bumpy roads (like here in Montreal).
In the 1980s we started wearing helmets in our family to keep our heads safe. I remember my son hated that he had to wear one, because he felt very conspicuous, and I'd say it took courage to keep on wearing his helmet even when his friends teased him.
Now these days I am extremely glad I have the firm habit of wearing a helmet, because last month I had a bad accident falling off my bike on my head, and I am lucky I didn't hurt myself too badly. My brain is still healing from that upset, and sometimes i get tired, or I can't remember what I need to do next ... But I do remember these things about courage-- It is good to think of new solutions to scary problems like that old rooster It helps to have companions like my siblings, so you don't feel so alone with your fears It's important to ask for help, like when I got stuck on the roof -- or borrowed the little bike, And it is important to keep trying, to be determined.
So next spring, when I will get my bike out again, I may be asking YOU to help me be courageous about biking once more -- and to remind me of these points. Will you do that?
And, no question, I'll wear my helmet!