Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
~ Marianne Williamson
For several summers now, I’ve spent a few weeks leading young minds around the Frederik Meijer Gardens and teaching about everything from rocks and minerals to architectural design. The day camps focus on letting kids explore nature, science, art, music, dance, and everything excellent the Gardens have to offer.
Every day, regardless of the camp’s theme or length, we journey outside our basement classroom into the 125 acres of paths, sculpture, wetlands, farm, and curated Japanese garden the premises has to offer. It’s my favorite part of each day because nothing (nothing, you hear me temperate-climated friends?) beats a Michigan summer at 10 a.m. when the dew is just evaporating and it’s sunny and seventy degrees and the littlest bit humid so that everything feels languid and it’s so easy and natural to run or tiptoe or skip down the path playing follow the leader.
The Gardens are a big hangout for moms and kids looking for a summer boredom-buster, so the children’s garden area hosts a different recurring activity each day of the month. On Mondays, say, we might play with a bucket full of earthworms and play a sorting game to learn what earthworms eat. Tuesdays we meet a local farmer who sheers her own sheep then washes, cards, spins, and weaves her own wool into fabric.
And Thursdays—Thursdays are music days. A little family band of fifty-somethings sets up an amp, a guitar, and a violin down in the storytelling garden among the cattails and the overly-protective red-winged blackbirds that call them home. We sing “The Dinosaur Stomp” and clomp around on the boardwalk pretending to be T-Rexes and Triceratopses. We sing Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” complete with boat, pony, and ocean motions. We sing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Day camps of six- or seven-year-olds love every second of it. But occasionally I’ll take a group of tens and elevens, and it can be hit or miss. Some of them are suddenly too cool to dance around like fools. They sit sullenly on the rock wall, sighing and perfecting the eye roll their parents and teachers will be all too familiar with in the coming years. Don’t waste this I want to say to them. You’re only ten once. Take the plunge and dance around like a T-Rex.
These kids are my mission every Thursday. Deep down, I think they still want to dance. Sometimes I have to get out my best stubby T-Rex arms and stomp directly toward them with all the dinosaur growl I can muster. Sometimes I have to hand them a güiro or a triangle and get them to reluctantly play while the littler kids jump and sing. Sometimes I have to roll my eyes right back and give a sarcastic clap when the singer asks whether I’m happy and know it just to say Hey, I get it. This is silly. But they almost always come around. I’ll spy them boogie-ing to quick fiddle tunes over in the corner of the garden or hear them humming about Jazzy the wig-wagging puppy while we make caterpillar crafts later in the day.
Back at my day job, which should be similar but somehow is so different, I’m failing, too. It’s not that I demand to be the best at it—I’m okay with good enough. I’m new. It’s a hard job. But what scares me is the power that rests in my hands every day I step into my classroom. To feel the potential I have to be great. And it’s discouraging to feel that, yeah, I’m inadequate. That I could be so much more. That it’s taking so long to get good at this unforgiving—and honestly, most days, unrewarding—job. That I can’t win over every sullen fourteen-year-old with no motivation or interest in being successful in school. That not everyone can be transformed with a good dinosaur stomp.
Back in the garden, we always end our song sessions with “This Little Light of Mine.” I grew up singing it in Sunday school, but we leave out the lyric about Satan phhhing it out. We pull out our finger candles, and even the reluctant older kids will join in. There in the garden, I learn that when we let our lights shine, we give others permission to do the same. I learn that it’s normal, and okay, even, to feel simultaneously inadequate and all-too-powerful. I go back there in my mind on winter Tuesdays when no one will sit still and we’re about to fail a test and I’m paralyzed.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.