It was approximately a million years ago when I first picked up All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.
Years later I would discover that it had been written by a UU minister (Robert Fulghum), that it had started as a newsletter column in a kid’s backpack, that there were other books.
But when I was in eighth or ninth grade all I knew was that there was this sweet pithy book of essays that made me laugh and cry and nod, even as my own experience of church was at best a mixed bag–I loved youth group but struggled to find meaning in the services and sermons upstairs, even though I knew we professed the same things.
As an adult, as clergy, and currently on extended sabbatical from congregational engagement, I have a much better understanding of the gap that I felt all those years ago–perhaps that is food for another essay, some other time.
But back to that book.
It has lots of amazing essays, written back in the days when newsletters were mostly produced by photocopying pages that came out of typewriters or dot matrix printers. There’s the one about the box of 64 crayons with the sharpener built right in, and the one about polishing a stick…but the one I’m thinking of this morning is the one about playing hide and seek only the kid hides too well, and the other kids give up and go in to dinner.
And what happens to the kid who is good and right but not found?
That kid gets cold and lonely and misses out on what happens next.
I have so fucking often been that kid. If there’s a thing to do, I want to do it right. Completely right. The rightest it can be. Circles and arrows on the back of each one (thank you, Arlo Guthrie) because somehow, if I get it right enough, if I hide well enough, then I will be loved.
And I want that more than anything. I want to know that I didn’t do anything that could have contributed to my unloveability–that if no one loves me, at least it wasn’t my mistakes that caused it.
But when I get caught in the be-exactly-right loop, here’s what happens:
1) I get totally attached to being right. The validity of my existence depends on it.
2) I don’t get found. Because I’m really good at being right most of the time. Technically, intellectually, if there’s a recipe for “right” I can probably follow it. But when you’re that right you end up tucked .behind. the garbage dumpster in the alley where nobody goes, hungry and cold and too far away to hear them calling olly-olly-in-free when it’s time for dinner. By being flawless, even momentarily, you can take yourself completely out of the game.
Which is not to say that excellence is in any way, shape, or form, bad.
Excellence is that wonderful, beautiful, trust-creating gossamer stuff of which miracles are often built.
The key is to play with the other kids, and be excellent. To know that excellence can include playing well with others. And not to claim that you are not as good as you are. If you are good and you know you are good; if you are, in fact, better at something than someone else, claim it.
Because only if you claim it can you make appropriate choices about how to use it. Admit that you are powerful, brilliant, able to change the world in some ways, some places, some times…admit that Marianne Williamson was right, that,
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, 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 won’t 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’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Take full ownership of your power, and then you will know when to unleash its full breadth and depth and when to use only part of it, to recognize that to play with others you need to make space for the differences between you. Play softer, gentler, easier if you need to. Hide where you will be found. Or if you made a mistake, cough, laugh, or move. Be falliable, even if you don’t have to be.
Get found, kid. You belong.
Tell me, do you tend to hide too much?