Fearless used to be my middle name. I was 6. It was summer. There was a library in the town of Astoria, Oregon, and a movie that played at 11am every Thursday morning. There was a piano, an old man named Ed, and people waiting to be entertained before that movie started.
Every time I saw Ed, he was dressed in a wool brown suit, suspenders, and a fedora hat. He reminded me of W.C. Fields, although I have no picture to confirm what he really looked like. He had weathered hands, and the smile and kindness of a saint. When he touched the keyboard, those hands were filled with grace and certainty. Each week I danced.
I didn’t know how to dance. Not properly anyway. I was a fisherman’s daughter so we didn’t have money for that luxury. But that did not stop me. Tap, ballet, jazz—I did them all with zest and finesse. If someone in the audience suggested I didn’t know what I was doing, Ed was the first to say I was the finest dancer he’d ever seen. I’d smile, and continue to dance.
I don’t know what happened to Ed. He’d lived alone in a small apartment above a department store. One Thursday morning, he didn’t show up at the library. I asked around for him. He’d gotten sick. I never saw him again.
I carried Ed’s faith in my ability with me for a few years. Then one day I forgot him. Suddenly it mattered what everybody else thought. The way I dressed, the things I did, the choices I made. I stopped dancing. At least for the public to see. I stopped believing I was good enough.
The journey to re-claiming my creativity has been a bit like the journey of that 6-year old pixie-cut blond haired girl. Like a flailing dancer, making it up as I go along, I wonder if someone will call me out that I don’t know what I’m doing. Each time I write, I feel the anxiety of what will someone else think. Will it be good enough? Will I be good enough?
Despite it all, somehow the work gets done and perhaps I grow a little braver for the next time. I think of Ed. His belief in my artistic abilities still resonates with me today. He saw the fearlessness in me and encouraged it. I wish I could tell him thank you. I’d like to think he knows how much he meant to me.
I miss that unafraid 6-year-old quite often. I search daily for her and sometimes I find her. But I wonder if I will ever fully get her back. For now, I enjoy the small victories. Piece by piece with every new word I write, and send out into the world, my courage returns. Someday fearless may again be my middle name. For now, I’ll take the moments I feel the most fearless and pay homage to that little girl—and to Ed who believed I was the finest dancer he’d ever seen.
My questions for you: What part of you do you long to get back? Did someone believe in that part of you? What can you do today to find that piece again?
P.S. My 6-year-old self. I recently found the picture above. Now I know where my love of deer came from! I’d completely forgotten this trip to a national California park with my family in 1971.