I looked down and saw the shiny black shoes that I tediously polished the night before. I couldn’t help but admire the work of my hands. I had spent quite a bit of energy trying to spiff them up.
Standing up, I looked in the mirror and put on the bright-red corduroy vest that my mom made with her own two hands. It paired up nicely with the black slacks, white collared-shirt, and tie that I wore. I was moments away from walking into the Garfield Elementary School (GES) auditorium and onto our stage. My time had finally arrived. This year I was taking on the lead role of our annual Christmas play.
I absolutely loved Christmas time at GES. Each year the 3rdand 4th grade teacher*, Mrs. Garcia, would rally up the entire student body and put on a one-of-a-kind Christmas musical. Before I can continue, I must tell you that she was, without-a-doubt, an absolute Christmas-production genius. I have yet to meet anyone with an ability, like hers, to lasso a swarm of over seventy boisterous students, and shape them into an intricate musical masterpiece. Yet, she did this year after year.
She would start by gathering several of us, early each November, to learn the songs for the play. She then assigned parts to the entire student body and handed out the script so that we could learn our lines. Although, auditions were held for lead-roles, she made sure to not leave one student out (…even if this meant that one of us had to be the donkey in the manger scene). During my time there, I had the privilege of being a snowman, an elf, a shepherd, a robot, and finally, in my 6th grade year, I auditioned for, and won the lead role. That year, my character was the only one with a speaking part. I played the role of someone who was stuck, overnight, in a toy store. The character then finds some gifts under a Christmas tree, and his curiosity, he begins to poke and shake them. This, in turn, causes the gifts to come to life. As the play progressed, each gift shared a story with the audience. This led to the telling of the greatest gift of all…. the gift of Jesus**. As I walked onto the stage that night, I was ready to come alive. I had prepared for this moment and could hardly wait to put on the character that I was chosen to portray.
As a child I knew absolutely nothing about counseling or therapy. What I knew, is that I was sad and confused. I knew that I had experienced certain things that didn’t feel right, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I knew that I was scared and angry. Sadly, what I knew most, is that I didn’t like being me. Children ought to never feel this way. Nevertheless, this was my reality during this season of life.
(Enter GES Christmas plays)
Without realizing it, Mrs. Garcia, afforded me a coping skill that I would use for years to come. Her invitation to stand on stage, and play the part of a fictional character, gave me the ability to disconnect from the baggage that I carried with me. Suddenly, I was no longer a confused child. I was now a singing snowman…. and to add to that, I could tell that people enjoyed my character, because they applauded at my performance. Words cannot express the amount of relief and euphoria that acting provided for me. Another byproduct of my brush with theatre, was a learned ability to pretend and dream.
Taking on the character of a robot from another galaxy helped me to think of possibilities that were beyond my current reality. It wasn’t long before I learned how to disconnect from pain and confusion daily. Disconnecting usually meant treating my life as a stage of constant performance. I assumed the a new character role the moment that I woke up. I put on a smile and imagined myself in a world where there was no sadness or worry.
Thankfully, I’ve since been able to work through much of the darkness that I’ve faced in my life. While I am absolutely grateful for the relief that my elementary theatrical experience provided me with, I am also grateful that I was given the opportunity to finally address the chronic state of turmoil that I was in.
Here are 3 things that I’ve learned through the process.
It is unhealthy to treat life as one continuous theatrical act.
When you choose to neglect a festering sore, it can potentially get worse. The problem with treating life as a stage, is that life will eventually pull you back down to earth so that you can deal with reality.
Yes, you will have days, where the best you can do is put on a fake smile and trudge through misery. However, if you don’t deal with the misery your life will never get better.
The Living Bible paraphrases a very significant statement, given by the prophet Jeremiah, that we all should listen to, “You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there….” ***
Allowing yourself to dream is essential to healing and growth.
Playing the part of an intergalactic robot hardly seems therapeutic to most people. However, playing that part caused me to imagine what life would be like outside of my current situation. It allowed for me to dream about a reality where no one could hurt or harm me. Dreaming allowed me to believe that attaining this state of living was possible. Dreaming about it gave me the hope and resilience that I needed to move forward.
Many of us stay stuck, in a miserable state of living, simply because we do not give ourselves permission to imagine life as anything different. If we are to ever move forward in life, we must allow ourselves to imagine what life would be like outside of our current reality. The good old “King James Version says it best, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”****
The real me is not a lost cause.
I used to want to play another role, instead of the role of John, because I felt like a lost cause. However, the truth is, it was my situation that was screwed up, not me. I was just a child, and it would take years for me to learn about the abundant life that Jesus spoke of. I also wasn’t at a place to understand that someday God would work all things together for my good (even crappy things). However, fast forward to today, I am walking in His truth, and I’m forever grateful.
John Eli Garay
*Our student body was so small that Mrs. Garcia taught 3rdand 4th grade together in one classroom (yes. This is an appropriate time to tip your hat or give a round of applause)
** Kudos to Mrs. Garcia who was somehow able to get away with having the students perform a Christmas play that shared the gospel of Jesus Christ in a public-school setting.
*** Jeremiah 6:14 (TLB)
**** Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
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John Eli has spent over 15 years mentoring and coaching individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, self-inflicted trauma. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”