Last night was my granddaughter Madison’s end-of-the-school-year program. Madi is in the middle class at the BeBe Language Academy, and thus she was not yet one of the little purple-robed and capped graduates who were the primary focus of the program. Still, her class of about 15 four-year-olds had an important part to play, and they stood proudly in a single line on the second row of the silver risers as they recited, in Spanish and to musical accompaniment, the long tale of the little monkeys jumping on the bed. While a couple of the performers exhibited some shyness and self-consciousness, most – Madi among them – belted out their lyrics with great gusto and sailed through their choreographed movements with joyful abandon.
And then, suddenly – horrors! – Madi missed her footing and toppled forward, face first across the riser row below and onto the floor, one little glittery silver slipper shooting off her foot below and behind the bleachers. The collective gasp of the audience could easily be heard above the music and voices of the other children, and one could feel a hundred parents and grandparents in the audience tensing, wanting to rush up and help her. For a long moment no one moved, and then Madi, with a look that clearly combined confusion, embarrassment, and sadness, but with bravery and aplomb far beyond her years, stood up, smoothed her dress, looked around for her shoe, and not seeing it, climbed back to the second riser. With her movement, the spell on the audience was broken, and one of the teachers rescued her shoe and returned it to her; Madi calmly replaced it and, after just a moment of hesitation, resumed her performance. Afterwards, an old friend of mine, grandmother to one of this year’s graduates, said, “I was holding my breath and praying for her – ‘don’t cry, don’t cry – just keep going’. How wonderful and amazing that she was able to do it, all on her own!”
Wonderful and amazing, indeed – as I reflect on it this morning, I am in awe of this tiny being’s courage and resiliency. I know I didn’t have it at her age! One of my strongest childhood memories is from when I was a year older than Madison is now, in Kindergarten at age five. Preschool didn’t exist back then (at least, not in my world) and Kindergarten was only half day, so it was my first year spending any significant time away from the shelter of my family. For the most part I loved it and felt very secure, but for some reason I can’t recall now (and probably didn’t know then), I was always a little nervous about the bus ride to and from. One day I got distracted chattering with a friend and missed getting off at my stop. Looking back with some degree of puzzlement, I know that it was no big deal – the next stop was just a very short block further and only required me to walk a small number of additional steps. But my reaction was nothing like Madi’s. I can only guess that it was the result of a moment of panic, followed by a rush of adrenalin that I couldn’t process, but I began to cry as I stepped off the bus, and by the time I reached home, I was sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t even manage to open the door of our house, but just rang the doorbell and stood there. I can only begin to imagine what my mother must have felt when she opened the door and found me in such a state!
Where does the type of courage, self-confidence, and composure that Madison exhibited come from? Is it something she was born with? Have her parents inspired it? I am reminded of actress Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her gown as she climbed the steps to receive her Oscar – and the amazing way she has turned that fall into an asset that has garnered admiration rather than the derision that would have followed most of us in such a situation.
The ability to turn a trip into a triumph – to inspire empathetic support rather than contemptuous ridicule – is a gift of no small worth. Last night Madison demonstrated the beginnings of this gift. This morning it is my prayer that all of us who love her will find ways to nurture it.