On the peril of reading Charlotte’s Web aloud
I haven’t done a post on the Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, in a very long time. Today’s card is a good one to start back into that habit. This card is from the First Agreement, Be Impeccable with Your Word, and it reads thusly:
Release the Need to be Right
When you believe something, you assume you are right, and you may even destroy relationships in order to defend your position. Let go of the need to defend your position.
When I was in the second grade, at the air force base school on Cigli AFB, Turkey, I read Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White, for the first time. I was enchanted; I think many a young girl related to the character of Fern, the farmer’s daughter, but I was one of those who identified most with Charlotte, the spider. Her heroism in the face of peril to Wilbur’s life makes her a noble character within the story. I think I was dreaming of being noble one day, and that is why I liked Charlotte the most.
After I finished the book, I asked my teacher if I could read it to the class. She said yes, and arranged for me to read for an hour every day. I jumped in, both feet first — this was my first ever performance venue. Sadly, as time went on, my teacher chose not to correct my mispronunciation of the word manure, and she never did, until I was finished with the book.
No big deal, right? Well, it was an enormously big deal to me. To think that I’d read the entire book aloud, mispronouncing what may have been the tenth most-used word in the whole story. I was terribly embarrassed, as I felt I had let myself, my parents (especially,) my teacher, my classmates and the world down. I had a little problem with guilt, I’d say.
I am still mortified, 44 years later. I’m putting every ounce of self-esteem available to me into telling that horrible story.
When I think of that incident, and of the message of today’s card, I see where I need, in this instance, at least, to read it a little differently. Had I known then, I would have told my little eight-year-old self to release the requirement to be right. My self-worth, and in fact my identity as a whole, was quite bound to the idea that I was a smart girl, a good student, and could never make such a foolish mistake once, not to mention over and over.
Some may question my memory of this event — “…it couldn’t have been that bad.” Oh, yes it was. And that is a big chunk of the sadness of my childhood. I believed that my parents’ love for me depended on me being right — no mistakes allowed; and further, since I made so many mistakes, that I was completely unworthy of love from anyone. When I think back to that time, I just wish I could whisper in her ear that she was still lovable, even if I made such a (to me, stupid,) mistake.
If I had known then what I know now, that love has nothing to do with doing anything, and everything to do with being myself, I’d have saved us both some real sadness. That sadness is still with me, even after so long — maybe soon I’ll learn to let it go. I hope so, for little Judy’s sake, and for my own.