There was an agreement. They would
carry only matches and candles. No flashlights. Too easy for their code. They
talked during recess, before the bell summoned them back to their second grade
class. The dreaded Ms. Hagan’s class. The witch. This time, they knew, they
would venture deep into the abyss. This time, they decided, they wouldn’t turn
back until they reached daylight.
According to UNICEF, a child’s brain is most responsive from
birth to eight years. The years when billion’s of neural circuits are
established through genetics, environment and experience. But what is it that
makes us remember things we experienced when we were children? Experiences, it
is said, are not just what happen to us, they are the raw material that we use
to shape our identity, our self.
What are your memories? When you look back to your
childhood, what memories stand out in your mind? Do they tell you something
about who you are? Or why you do the things you do?
They entered the tunnel, like
always, by holding the metal gate open for each other. It was heavy, but swung
open from the bottom with a sturdy pull. They knew matches burned quickly. They
chose to bring candles this time, to give them more reach, more time to move
into the darkness of the underground tunnel.
This week, for the first time ever, I knocked on the door of
the house I grew up in. I ran on the trails I used to run on as a kid. I
crawled into the storm basin where Matt P and I carried our matches and candles
and entered the abyss.
that many of the things we learn - our fears,
insecurities, anxieties, self limitations - our weaknesses
we teach ourselves over a lifetime. But I think it is fair to say that the
other things we learn - our courage, tenacity, steadiness, confidence,
– we also teach ourselves over a lifetime. Our strengths, like our
weaknesses, our nourished by our own imagination.
As we moved further into the
darkness, a sense of calm came over me. I knew we were safe, it was a strange
confidence that could have only come after being two miles into an underground
storm drain. We moved forward step by step with only a small candle to light the
way. Eventually, we climbed up toward a tiny light above us, pushed open a man hole,
and peered into the daylight. We were surrounded by hills, and had no idea where we were.
Why did I enter the abyss when I was seven years old? Was I
trying to escape from something? Was I just looking for adventure? I’ll never
know. Looking back, like it is for a lot of kids, youth for me was a restless time.
I remember standing on top of my desk in Ms. Hagan’s class like a recently un-caged
animal (she was out of the room at that particular moment). To the relief of
the other kids in the class, my mom graciously removed me from that school.
I guess she didn’t like me reporting to the principal’s office everyday.
It didn’t occur to me what I would say before I knocked. But I decided to
knock anyway, knowing that words were
the furthest thing from my mind. When I walked across the front yard, I remembered
it was the same yard I walked across with my sister everyday after school, next to the park where a little poodle chased me after getting off the school bus, and up the street from the greatest playground of trails, tunnels and canyons a kid could ever imagine.
There was no answer. So I left a note.