Yesterday at church, our pastor gave a really thought-provoking sermon about the shadows we cast for others to walk in. He talked about how his son likes to try to race his own shadow and how his older daughter used to ride her horse alongside him in his shadow. The metaphor really stuck with me, especially when he ended with a reminder that we need to ensure our shadows are what we truly want other people (especially our children) to follow.
Let’s face it. My shadow covers a lot of ground, some good and some not so good. There are things I’d love to be different, things I cannot change. I never wanted to be a statistic. You know, divorced. Unfortunately, I couldn’t continue living with a person who was dishonest, unkind, and…well…abusive—financially, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. That shadow is one I wish would never blanket anyone, especially children.
Also, for a long time, I took a lot of abuse from certain family members: always being told how to behave or act, told what was wrong with me, put down because I wasn’t high brow enough, etc. As a young child, my son, too, was often blamed for things that he didn’t do—a dark shadow of guilt that I still walk in. It took me too long to realize what was happening and the damage to his self-esteem was done. And the same person called my daughter “the cruelest little girl in the world” for something she didn’t do (a bad Mischief Night prank—but my daughter was ten and at home with her stepfather and brother while I was in the hospital). I didn’t even know about the incident until later when I learned about it from the person who actually did it.
Yes, those are dark shadows—the wish that I had stood up for myself and my children sooner. Instead, I was always so busy apologizing for things that I shouldn’t have apologized for…just to keep the peace…until I finally said “No more.”
But there’s much more to this blog than gloomy memories.
While listening to the pastor yesterday, I realized that, even though we have dark shadows, we also have bright ones. I see my children walking in my other shadow, the one that is filled with strength and determination, hope and inspiration.
For several years, my son has struggled and worked hard to overcome so many things. Today he is in college and working, living alone and walking a very straight line. He has demonstrated so much strength in facing his healing, and a lot of it was done alone, abandoned by some people (which hurt him very much) but supported by other family members who truly care: my parents, his stepfather, his sister, me. The man he is becoming could only happen after walking up that long, rocky hill. I bet the view from the top will be so fulfilling for him and I love that he will see it with the knowledge that he did this. It wasn’t handed to him; it was earned.
And Cat is walking in a similar shadow. I see it in her determination to save animals, work hard, and help people. It’s not easy, but the things in life that are worth it rarely are. I know very few people her age who work twelve hours a day, every day, and often without compensation. Even more telling, she does it happily and without (too many) complaints.
When I listened to the pastor talking about what shadow are we casting for our children to walk in, I realized that it’s a message we all need to hear. If children grow up in an environment where everything is about them, that is how they will walk: selfish and entitled. I think that’s part of the problem with our society today: too many helicopter parents who coddle their children and protect them, rather than teaching them the benefit of failure and hard work. We can’t all win all the time. It’s just not realistic or even possible.
At competitions, I’m always amazed how Cat is treated by some people when she wins. One girl stormed away and snapped at her parents to not take her photo (she came in third out of sixteen—nothing to be ashamed of). Another girl glared at Cat and left without saying goodbye. And yet, when Cat took second place at the Florida competition this year, she congratulated the first place winner with a big hug. She was genuinely happy for that person. Same when she won fourth place at the Midwest Horse Fair competition. She was thrilled with her placing and happy for all the competitors who placed higher. Not so for many others.
It makes me wonder what type of shadow those other people walked in. It also makes me proud that my shadow covered Cat with a blanket of grace and humility.
My wish for everyone reading this blog is to reflect on your shadows. What does your shadow say about you? What message are you modeling for your children and/or grandchildren? How can you spread more of the good shadows and eliminate some of the not so good ones? If you want them to mirror the good, you need to show them more of it. That’s what I intend to do. There’s always room for improvement and I intend to keep working at it every day that I can. I want my children (and future grandchildren) to remember walking in my shadow, filled with love and compassion for animals and people as well as self-sufficiency without any sense of entitlement. Like I said, it’s a big shadow to cast, but I’ll do what I can do make it happen.