“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
— Attributed to Goethe
When moving to this island, I knew that we would have to shift our preconceptions of how the world works. I knew we had to be open to new ways of doing things and let go of our attachments and privileges of our comfortable American lives. As an adult, my viewpoint has been sculpted and mitered by my experiences. Life becomes habitual, we create patterns on how we should operate and do things. Soon, our habits and patterns get robotic and dare I say, mundane. We get caught up with our trappings and fears and anxieties that we can’t see a bigger picture. We get “boxed in”. That’s what is so enchanting about seeing children playing, imagining and exploring. They haven’t yet been sculpted by society and the preformed rituals and rules to encumber their curiosity.
I knew that I was going to have to “learn again” and I decided I would let my child, Wolfgang, take the lead. His imagination and curiosity is still fresh and he knows how to measure situations by intuition and logic but not by rules or preconceptions. His personality is ripe for a situation like starting fresh and I had great hopes for what a move like this would do for his trajectory.
The night before Wolfgang started the 4th grade at his new school, he came into our bedroom and announced “I have anxiety”. Wow. The fact he could articulate what he was feeling was important. Starting a new school, in a new country, with strange transportation would rattle anyone. So I took it very seriously that he was unnerved. We talked about what he was nervous about and broke it down to small parts and discussed how he can manage each situation as it presents itself. Someone once told me that FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. We can get anxious if we begin building stories about what “might happen”. And then, more importantly, we begin to BELIEVE those stories and we get paralyzed, stifled and anxious. I knew it was important to acknowledge the worries, but also to remember that we have no idea what tomorrow was going to bring. All we have is “now”. Let tomorrow unfold as it will.
It was a full moon that night. The moon was large and hanging over the ocean like an orange orb. We stood on our deck and marveled how the moon glowed, casting pretty shadows and lighting the sky like a lantern in the dark night. Because of his name, Wolfgang, Wolfi has always felt a kinship to wolves so I reminded him, he has the same traits a wolf does. A wolf is a pack animal. So Wolfgang will find his wolfpack at his new school. I told him that it may take a bit of time but he will be invited to be part of a pack and his new friends will need his courage and leadership. Wolves are brave, curious, agile and strong and Wolfi needed to harness that energy the next day when he enters his new school. We howled at the moon to show our reverence for that courage and for the moon. 🌝 Just as we howled, the moon was surrounded by a halo of clouds, the light of the moon refracted light into the clouds and it cast a rainbow halo around the moon. It was magic. It was beautiful and so unbelievably rare, as I have never seen moon rainbow before! We both took it as a sign that this new beginning for Wolfi will be welcomed and beautiful.
The next morning we suited up for the new routine of mornings on Guana Cay. Wolfi put on his school uniform, freshly pressed and complete with a neck tie. We enjoyed our breakfast, while watching the beautiful sunrise over the ocean. I packed his lunch and snuck a note of encouragement into his lunch box. We combed his hair and took the obligatory 100 first day of school photographs. He hates that part.😉
We hopped into our golf cart and made our way to the ferry dock. We said goodbye to Dad and Wolfi and I climbed aboard the ferry for the 30 minute ferry ride across the Abaco Sea to Marsh Harbour where he attends school. I accompanied him on his first day on the ferry. We had huge, heavy bags full of school supplies for the school year and secretly, I wanted to see how this was all going to work out. Children of our island have been doing this for many years, traveling by ferry without supervising adults, but still, it is quite unnerving for Mom. Instead of sitting next to me, Wolfi made his way to the back of the boat. He sat there for the duration, alone with a quiet, contemplative gaze into the water. I wish I knew what was going on his little brain. I know he felt scared, nervous, excited and trepidation. But you could see he was quietly mustering his courage, his Wolf spirit.
We were greeted at the ferry dock by the warmth of our Island Mama, Donna. We met her in the first weeks of arriving to the islands and instantly became bonded to her humor, loving warmth, and forthright way. I just love her Bahamian dialect and insight. Her vibe and energy is like a warm hug. She volunteered to be Wolfgang’s keeper, escort and taxi driver to his school everyday and EVERY DAY I say a prayer of gratitude that God sent her into our lives. I feel she is capable and loving and nurturing and will look after Wolfi as one of her own. It is very hard to be separated by a gigantic sea from your young child during the day, but she helped me feel confident that he will be looked after.
Donna ushered us into her air conditioned taxi and drove us 15 minutes to St Francis De Sales Catholic School (yes… that is a total of a one hour commute… golf cart>ferry>taxi for Wolfi everyday). Upon arriving, we hauled the school supplies out of the taxi and walked through the open air towards Wolfgang’s 4th grade classroom. His heavy book bag in tow, Wolfi marched towards his class, I don’t think he even realized that the art teacher was playing DJ and blasting Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Funk” over the the speakers. It was if he was marching towards war, with a look of focused determination and courage.
We arrived into the hot classroom, all the kids were sitting at their desks silent and respectful. All you could hear is the whirring of the oscillating fans and desk chairs shifting against the linoleum floor. As we entered the classroom, the gazes and curious stares landed directly on Wolfi’s small frame. My heart clenched a bit as I knew that must be intimidating for a nine year old. He felt so young, small and vulnerable in that moment. I had to catch my breath.
I walked over to the teachers desk and delivered the heavy bags of school supplies. She didn’t stand to greet me, as what would be customary in an American classroom. Instead, she politely thanked me for the donation of classroom supplies. She didn’t announce her new student and you could still hear a pin drop… the silence was deafening. The oppressive heat in the classroom seemed to suck all the air out of the room, and I told Wolfi to pick out a desk. The thirteen pairs of eyes followed him intently, but no one offered a free desk by them. I suggested a spot near the fan. Again, that heat! It could strangle you!
I helped Wolfi unpack his belongings from his overweight backpack into the small wooden desk. And I thought, well, I guess I have to take matters into my own hands! I loudly announced, “This is Wolfgang Snyder. He is brand new to your country and is from Chicago. He would love if you introduced yourself to him and make him feel welcomed in your classroom.” I implored, “PLEASE be his friend and show him around, and be kind.” And with a tearful kiss on his forehead, I left him to carry on, on his own.
I couldn’t make it to Donna’s taxi fast enough, so that I could let out my tears. In her air-conditioned car I felt relief, as I cried openly to her. I blubbered out, “I think I should go back and get him. It’s just so hot in there. I don’t think he is going to be okay. It was so hot and the kids just STARED at him. It’s so hot in there… I’m going back in…” Just like you don’t leave a man behind in battle, I started to look for the handle for the door. I needed to go recuse my vulnerable, tiny wolf pup. The heat alone was going to destroy him!
Donna stopped me and grabbed my arm. She said in her Bahamian lilt, “No child, he will be just fine. He gonna make it work, You go home and fix up a nice dinner for your husband today, I will fetch him at the end of the day and get him back on the ferry. You gotta to let him go. He’ll be fine.”
I wiped away my tears and upon her advice, I took the ferry back to Guana Cay. On the ferry ride home, I recounted the day I dropped Wolfi off at day care at the gym, leaving him wailing as a baby, how it was just so hard to abandon him, even if it was for just one hour. Then to the first day of pre-school as he looked at me longingly not wanting to be separated from me, and then once more dropping him off at full day Kindergarten it just seemed like such a long day for such a little guy to endure a full day in a classroom. How uncomfortable all those moments were for a mom. It goes against your motherly instincts to push them out of the nest. To separate yourself from your own beating heart living outside of your body. I took a deep inhale and exhale and trusted that he will survive this too.
The day seemed an ETERNITY. Jimbo called to check in with me at lunch and offer reassurance. I told him how bloody HOT that classroom was and how I think I just abandoned him to a completely foreign scenario and it was like dropping him off on the frontlines of a battle. Jim in his calm presence reassured me that we chose this school because it had a loving and welcoming atmosphere, that the Catholic thread will give him comfort and familiarity. That he will NO DOUBT make friends. He is our Wolfi after all!
Finally, it was 4 o’clock and I could go retrieve my little baby at the ferry dock. Did he survive? The bustle at the ferry dock was in full effect, one by one the passengers exited the ferry. There is always a frenzy of people coming and going.
Where was Wolfi? He wasn’t among them. Panic almost set in, when the ferry boat Captain said to me, “He is asleep, I can’t wake him!” I climbed aboard. And there he was, using his back pack as a pillow. Sweaty and faraway in dream land. I nudged him awake. All my fears gripped me, he was entirely wiped out from the most grueling, cruel day of his life. A day on the battlefront. We woke up dazed and confused. I told him he was home, home on Guana Cay…
After some fresh air hit his face and a refuel of water and a snack. He looked at me and exclaimed, “I had a great day!” Oh! I cannot tell you how my heart swelled and almost exploded with relief and pride. He recounted his day, how he met new friends, but can’t remember any of their names (they do have unique names here in the Bahamas), how he managed to get the whole class laughing, even the teacher, with his jokes, how at opening mass at church they had a dance party and how at recess the kids begged for him to play soccer on and fought over him as to which team he would play on. He didn’t pick a team and instead chose to play referee. Ever the diplomat, this child! He said learning at this school is really fun and that the Math teacher makes up raps to engage the kids and make mundane mathematical problems fun! The kids were curious what American life is like and wanted him to describe what living in a big city is like. He did say it was awfully hot but he can’t wait to go back to school tomorrow, but for now, can we go swimming? Yes, son! You can swim to your hearts desire!
Courage can be demonstrated through powerful acts that are visible to others, such as standing one’s ground in the face of difficulty and fear. Yet, courage can also be revealed through our own internal, private reflections. When we take a close look at our motivations, and lives we lead, courage helps us to engage honestly. Personal courage is the way of one’s heart. It is a blending of heart and essence combined with the commitment to hold ourselves completely accountable for our actions. Applying courage consciousness, we must recognize that our spirit is the author of our fate.
Fear seems more powerful in times of doubt, tempting us to resort to blame as a defense mechanism, but as you develop a courageous mindset, you become more cognizant of the mental chatter that triggers your fears and the subtle cascades of blame that pollute your thoughts. And thus, preventing us from personal growth.
There is only one thing that thwarts people’s ability to display courage, and that is fear. Cowardice is fear, jealousy is fear, anger is fear, self-doubt is fear, lack of faith is fear, narrow-mindedness is fear, racism is fear, hate is fear. Fear is the antithesis of courage, no matter what form it takes.
I got to bear witness to the courage my son showed on that first day of school. The fear could have paralyzed him, but instead he made the conscious decision to face an uncomfortable situation and lean into it. What he gained from doing that, is to find that his fears were unsubstantiated and that stepping out of the comfort zone allowed him a breakthrough. Instead of resisting it and following the story he had built that he wouldn’t belong, he found friendship, laughter and growth and acceptance. What a beautiful gift.
I hope that his small example of courage shines light, like that of the full moon, for all of us to embrace small acts of courage.
Four questions to ask yourself:
Have you stepped up in your level of courage consciousness?
What “insurmountable” obstacle has you stuck right now?
How can I reshape a pre-conceived fear story and shift my thoughts to more engaging in life?
What is a time that you displayed courage and what was the result?
It must be understood that you can have total love and still be firm with courage. Consider the lives of Gandhi and of Martin Luther King. They belonged to communities whose members didn’t always agree with them. They stood in their truth anyway. They were not only hassled by big governments who imprisoned them, but they were daily hassled by other people who were not well known, but who constantly disagreed with their belief systems and were willing to harm them on behalf of those belief systems. Never forget that Jesus and Gandhi were betrayed and killed by people “on their side” who disagreed with them. Many freedom fighters in the South in the 60s were unknown people killed by unknown people who strongly disagreed with them. It has always taken courage to stand in your truth. That takes firmness, but it does not mean that universal love must be absent under the circumstances. In fact, nothing good will happen unless universal love (agape) is present.
So with love and courage, let us all enter the world with child like fresh eyes, a strong heart and the courage to lean in to discomfort and come out better on the other side. For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. ~Anais Nin