Cardboard Treasure Box

Cardboard Treasure Box

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In a single night, the twisted culmination of all my childhood fears was magnified tenfold when I heard the blood-curdling screams of my mother and sister end with gun fire.  I instantly jumped out of my bed, knowing that I had only seconds before my stepfather Jed got to me.  The pounding of my heart was nearly as loud as the screams of my mother and sister. “Should I hide?” I wondered. No; Jed would find me for sure.  I quickly took the only option I had:  I flung the bedroom door open and ran!  As I reached the top of the carpeted staircase and began to descend, I heard Jed’s heavy steps on the creaking floor behind me.  I missed a couple of the stairs but caught myself on the wooden banister before I tumbled any farther.  I realized my hurried escape from this madman was all in vain when once again I heard the gut- wrenching sound of gun fire.  My lifeless body fell relentlessly to the bottom of the stairs.  

Suddenly, my eyes flew open and I sat straight up in the bed. “You’re okay, Shawn,” I said out loud, calming myself as I’d had to do night after night from this recurring hellish nightmare.  As I looked around the room, I immediately felt a comforting peace flood over me.  “I’m at Grandma’s house!” 

I was safe.  With my tranquilizing realization, I gently fell back to sleep, smiling.

The anticipation and excitement I generally felt before a weekend at Grandma’s was truly on par with Christmas Eve or the night before a coveted trip to an amusement park.  Maybe it was just the simple fact that while spending time with her I got to truly experience, even for a short time, what it felt like just to be a kid.

It seemed as though my Grandma had meticulously prepared for hours before each visit on how she could fashion our limited time together to be the most enjoyable and exciting experience ever.  I’m sure it was just Grandma being Grandma, but to me it was magical.

At one time or another, Grandma must have recognized my artistic abilities and love for creating things. I’m not sure when the tradition began, but I clearly remember running to the hallway closet to peek into the large box of goodies that Grandma had been collecting for me.  Each time I eagerly looked into my cardboard treasure box, I was never disappointed to find newly added items like brass buttons, small cigar boxes, and colored construction paper waiting for me inside.

Creating things with my hands was very therapeutic for me and I would often spend hours on end sprawled out on the green carpeted floor of the guest bedroom cutting, drawing, and formulating some sort of childhood masterpiece.  This creative flow had become an effective way that I comforted myself and steadied my traumatized emotions.

I recall one time in particular while playing in the guest room at Grandma’s, building a single-story house made of paper, Elmer’s glue, and cardboard boxes.  I scrupulously designed and decorated each room, one by one.  Grandma would sometimes come in to sit with me and enthusiastically ask me questions about what I was building.  She would also often have to lovingly prompt me to break long enough from my architectural composition to enjoy a sandwich and chips before continuing with my creative burst of obsession.  Otherwise, I would have stayed in there all day.

In the evening, Grandpa Roy would often head into town to the American Legion or his favorite bar while Grandma and I indulged in a classic movie night with some of her famous homemade chocolate popcorn.  We loved old movies, especially the ones with Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Grandma would sometimes reminisce during the commercial breaks about going to the picture show for a dime when she was a little girl and how much simpler life was then.  Nobody could tell a good ole story like Grandma!

Grandma was so unselfishly affectionate towards me and I drank in her love like the parched summer grass consumes a nourishing rain.  To me, my grandmother was sunshine.  She was the most beautiful song that never gets old, played over and over again. She was a nurturer, a healer, a childhood companion, an inspiring creative teacher.  She was a gift to me.

 

 

Stay On Your Own Mat

Stay On Your Own Mat

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Tom was undeniably smart, and the knowledge he had accumulated in his field was quite impressive. He’d been at the organization from its beginning and had brought in a large number of clients. Unfortunately, as a result, he was basically given the right to do whatever he wanted, and he often showed little to no thought as to how his actions affected those around him. When I began working at this organization, I addressed some of these concerns. Although the management made an attempt to establish some new order, Tom defiantly resisted like a spoiled child.

I was completely appalled by Tom’s arrogant behavior and he knew it. This 33-year-old know-it-all had a masterful way of getting under my skin. He was rude, unkind, and blatantly unprofessional. Tom was a bully, and I would often hear him shaming and belittling others to get what he wanted.

Now I must admit, although I could often see through Tom’s behavior, it didn’t always serve me well. As I mentioned, Tom was a bully.  I happen to be a child-abuse survivor who was raised by a bully. Although I’ve completed years of life-altering therapy, Tom still triggered me.

Over time, I found myself falling into the same pattern I recognized in others: shutting down and not being myself when Tom was around. My smile became nothing more than a front to prop up my strongly held belief that I should remain professional at all times. However, there was no denying the measurable effect this was having on my level of performance. The worst part of this whole experience?  My awareness that I was allowing someone else to have that kind of power over me.

A friend of mine once shared how she often heard her yoga instructor using the phrase “stay your own mat” as a gentle admonition to avoid comparison and judgement. I’ve adopted that phrase as a constant reminder that the only person I have control over is ME.

In a moment of clarity, I realized I had an important decision to make. Would I lean in to my discomfort—the place where the greatest growth comes—or run from it?  I wanted the growth!

From that moment on, I made a conscious decision to stay on my own mat and stop looking at anything Tom did. I tried my best to allow him to be who he was and accept it. If he didn’t care about good people skills and professionalism as I did, I accepted it. If he chose to look the other way when I was talking, that was his choice. I made it my goal to stay completely indifferent toward him, but at the same time continuing to be myself with others.

Now let me tell you, this was not an easy task. There were many times on many days when I had to say, “Shawn, stay on your own mat.” Surprisingly enough, after I made this shift and stuck to it, things did change. But most importantly for my own growth, I changed.

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