To my nieces and goddaughter
In the park, I sat beneath a huge tree. Its trunk was wide and scarred with the many painful memories it had experienced in its long life.
My little niece ran merrily in a nearby field, not chasing butterflies, because her aim was not to catch them, just frolicking with them.
After her new friends had floated away, she crawled into my lap. Her little face was scrunched in thought.
“What does it mean when a boy says I’m just a girl?”
My heart broke that at such a young age, my little niece was already going through this. I wrapped my arms around her tightly, but knew I could never shield her from the world. I could only prepare her.
“There’s a lot that goes into being a girl, and becoming a woman,” I began. “To get the most of life there are certain characteristics you will need.”
“You will have to be as wise as a monk, as nurturing as a mother, as curious as a child, as patient as a teacher, as adventurous as an explorer, and as fierce as a warrior. If you can manage these, you will be as strong as a woman.”
Her eyes widened with apprehension. “How will I do all that?”
I chuckled at her. “You don’t need to worry. Everything you need to know is within you.”
“But what if I don’t know what to do?”
I nodded seriously. “There are times when even adults don’t know what to do. Sometimes, you feel as though the answers aren’t within you, but have to come from outside.”
“What do you do then?”
I smiled at her. “I look around me, or I ask for help. While the seeds may already be inside you, sometimes you need the sunlight and the rain to help you grow. You can rely on your family and friends to be your sunlight and rain. We are all here to support you, but in the end you will have to do it yourself.”
Her worldview was expanding, yet she seemed scared rather than determined.
“You like being outside, don’t you?” I asked.
“Well, you can always take inspiration from nature.” I thought for a moment and looked up at the branches that shielded us from the afternoon sun. “You can get wisdom from the ancient oak. Do you see how its trunk is wide and its bark is scarred?”
She nodded, frowning at the marred bark of the oak.
“This oak has seen many things in its life, some of them happy and some of them sad or painful. Yet, it continues to grow. You will learn wisdom from all of your experiences. But you shouldn’t be afraid to have experiences, even if they turn out painful. At the end of autumn all of these leaves will fall. The leaf may be afraid of the long distance from its home on the branch to the ground, but the leaf must be adventurous and let go of its fears. It will never know which way the wind will blow it until it lets go of the branch.”
I could see on her face that I was starting to get through to her, so I kept going. I caressed the ground on which we sat. “The soil is nurturing to the life it supports. This huge oak wouldn’t have gotten this far without the nurturing of the soil. It is important for you to nurture yourself and others, so you can reach your full potential.”
I picked up an acorn from the ground and put it in her hand. “This giant oak wasn’t always so big, it started off as a tiny acorn then grew into a sapling. Without dreaming and the curiosity of what life held for it, it may never have grown so big. However, that curiosity and adventurous spirit must be tempered with patience. Sometimes, things don’t come as quickly as we would like. A stream can wear down even the hardest rock if given enough time.”
I brought her attention back to my eyes. “Also remember that you must be fierce. You are already a flame in the dark. You shine brightly with your own special light. Just because you should be kind, loving, patient, and nurturing towards others, doesn’t mean you should let them abuse or take advantage of you. While facing life head on, many things will happen to you. You must be strong enough to bear the weight of it all. A mountain can only exist on a firm base. Whenever it feels like the weight is too much, have faith that you are strong enough. By the time you need it, you will have already overcome so much. You will have faced your fears, gone on adventures, helped and loved others, and you will have gained patience and wisdom along the way.”
As I finished, her eyes shone bright with enthusiasm and spirit. “Aunt, I like being a girl.”
I smiled down at my strong little warrior. “So do I.”