Reflection given by Chelle Wabrek, Head of Middle School
I think we start with Buzz Lightyear. On Andy’s birthday, his parents give him a brand new action figure — a spaceman. Until that very day, there is not a toy in his room that Andy loves more than Sheriff Woody — the old-fashioned, tried and true cowboy doll. Buzz, the new toy, is flashy, muscular, can leap tall buildings in a single bound and rushes around the playroom boldly shouting, “To infinity and beyond!” He is brash, the would-be hero and self-proclaimed savior of the planet. And did I mention that he has no idea he is a toy? He is certain that he comes from a distant planet here to save the Earth. In fact he often radios to the mother ship and, hearing nothing, concludes she must be just out of range.
When Andy is told he can only take one toy to Pizza Planet, Woody, in an attempt to be chosen, accidentally pushes Buzz out the window and so begins the hero’s journey. Buzz, because he was not able to actually FLY when falling into the bushes and because he sees an ad for himself on television, realizes that he is “just a toy” and that all his boasting has been an illusion.
But that was not the end of the story — Buzz does save the day, by being EXACTLY what he was made to be — a toy. Sid, the rowdy next-door-neighbor who likes to take his toys apart and put them back together again like monsters from a bad dream, attaches a rocket to Buzz (not for the powers of good but for sport and destruction) and THAT enables Buzz to fly and save the day, with Woody, at the crucial moment. Buzz’s humiliation enabled him to conquer his pride and embrace himself for who he was……and that was his heroism.
In Middle School I had 5 close friends: Chrissy Babb, Paulette Fiorentino, Michelle Midkiff, Julie Ferguson and Holly Wood (really, her name was Holly Wood). Because it was the 80s we had feathered hair, fingerless lace gloves, jelly shoes, thought it was hilarious to talk like Valley Girls and played a lot of Ms. Pac Man at the local Putt-Putt golf. We worked hard at school, learning to program computers on a TRS-80 the size of a gym locker, clapping erasers outside for Mrs. Haynes, our math teacher, making ashtrays in art (what were they thinking??), and staying on the good side of Mrs. Elmore, our history teacher, who had a wooden paddle on her desk with the words “heat the seat” written on it. We tried to be thoughtful when we had to pick sides for teams in P.E. class and at lunchtime, when we ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate milkshakes that were widely available, we made sure no one was sitting alone.
In October of my 6th grade year it was announced that a student talent show was in the works and those who wanted to try out had to fill out an application and schedule an audition. My friends and I immediately began to brainstorm what our talent would be. We agreed that the only way we would be brave enough to do it, was if we did it together. After days of debate, over the countless milkshakes, it was decided that we would do a gymnastics routine. Chrissy, Paulette, Michelle, Julie and Holly had been taking gymnastics lessons practically since birth and they were really good. I was built very much like I am now and lifting my hindquarters lithely into the air had never been easy for me. I played the piano and clarinet, ice skated every morning at 5:00 a.m. and was good at math, but gymnastics…..no way.
The fact that I could not perform a cartwheel did not deter me. Actually it did not even cross my mind. The plan was to have Olivia Newton John and Survivor playing in the background, as each of us did a pass across the stage — the first time just on the mats, next on the parallel bars and finally on the vault. My role, because I had no idea how to do any of those things, was to be the comic relief — the rodeo clown, the laugh. As Chrissy, Paulette, Michelle, Julie and Holly prepared their sequined leotards and makeup for our audition, I had my mother sewing me a clown costume. At the end of each pass across the stage, I would follow, rolling and jumping, getting stuck on the vault, tripping on the mat, generally attempting (and failing) to mimic my friends moves and getting the audience to laugh.
When I hear my adult self tell this story I cringe and scenes from Dumbo flash through my mind: Little Dumbo kept messing up the elephant pyramid, so he is cast as the clown, complete with face paint and a ruffled collar and sent to the top of the burning building from which he throws himself into a creme filled pie to the delight of the big top audience. And while I was slightly envious of the sequined costumes, I didn’t give my casting as “clown” much thought. I wanted to be part of my “friend group” and this seemed like the only way to do that.
Every night, for years, my dad and I would go on a bike ride together before or after dinner. There were some fun bike paths through the city, with bridge over the main roads, and we would ride side by side and talk about nothing. And sometimes we talked about something. A few weeks after the talent show, we were riding and I mentioned how itchy the clown make-up I had worn was. My dad was quiet for a few minutes and he said, almost so softly that I couldn’t hear him, “You have so many talents, I didn’t love that you were the clown.”
I faded into line behind his bike and said nothing. After riding a few minutes in silence, big tears started rolling down my 6th grade cheeks. When we got back to the house, my dad hugged me while I wiped my dripping face and he said, “You are no clown.”
I had allowed myself to be cast, through absolutely no malice or evil in the hearts of anyone, into a role that was not mine. My friends weren’t being MEAN to me….they wanted to include me……but I was doing something that wasn’t me. I did not mind being the comic relief because it meant I was with my friends and that power was so strong that I did not allot a single volt of psychic energy to deeply or superficially reflect on what I was doing. But I was not embracing who I was. My pride, in my friend group, in being associated with my really kind (and popular) friends was more important than me embracing who I was. Buzz was a toy and when he lived into that, and didn’t try to be something he wasn’t, THEN came his heroism. I was trying out someone else’s identity…..not my own…..and my own heroism can only come from being me.
I started the school year saying, “Don’t be a sheep!” I spoke from experience….I had been one. It’s important to think carefully about the choices we make and the way we represent ourselves. But there is a second part to the sheep thing is — don’t try to make other people into sheep. Sometimes, groups of people (or fashion magazine, or reality TV shows) decide what is “normal” and then we try to squeeze everyone into the “normal” box. There is no “normal”. Each of you is unique and awesome. “Don’t be a sheep and don’t make other people into sheep!”
A word that is similar to humility, our virtue this month, is “humble” and it comes from a French word that means “ground.” God made Adam from the dust from the ground….he made him unique and good. My favorite bible verse is Micah 6:8. It says, “What does God require of me but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” We are each made in the image of that loving God, instilled with dignity and worth. God does not need us to pretend to be something we are not and he doesn’t need us to make people into things we think they should be. What God wants is for us to be exactly what He made us to be. In our differences and our weakness God is able to do His greatest work and we find our greatest strength.
Please stand for prayer.