Once upon a time a little girl had a hero.
Her hero was big and strong and brave. She met her hero on the playground where her hero climbed to the top of the monkey bars and touched the clouds when she swung high in the sky. Her hero laughed in the face of the bullies and made the little girl feel safe. Best of all, her hero knew the secret passage to the magic river and she took the little girl with her. The little girl felt safe in the shadow of her hero.
As the seasons passed and their playtime fell into comfortable routines, the little girl asked the hero if they could take turns on the playground. And they did. First the little girl and then her hero would take a turn with the jump rope, laughing at the bullies, and climbing to the tiptop of the tree. With one exception: her hero insisted that the little girl must follow on the way to the magic river.
One brave day the little girl announced that she was going to the river by herself. Stunned, she realized that the wet landing on her face was spit. Her hero had spit on her! As she wiped the icky droplets from her face, the little girl cried, “why?”. Silence and more spittle left at her feet were the only response. Finding a resolve that she didn’t know she had, the little girl turned and headed to the river, alone.
With the call of the river moving in her heart, the little girl moved to the water’s edge without her hero and the water’s promise was even better when she was leading her own way. Oddly now she held in tandem the loss of her used-to-be hero’s presence with the wonder of the river. Saddened but enchanted, she knew she was home.
In days to come she found herself again on the playground, now oddly at the other end from her used-to-be hero. Sometimes her used-to-be hero would ignore her. Sometimes she would spit on her. Occasionally she would team up with the bully and taunt the little girl.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the little girl didn’t notice, she did. The bigger truth, however, was that the joy that the little girl had found at the water’s edge was simply bigger than the sadness she felt by the loss of her hero. And so she continued to trek to the water alone and return to the playground carefully avoiding her used-to-be hero.
On the day that her used-to-be hero pushed the little girl off the monkey bars, the careful balance of the playground upended. The adults rushed in and judgments were issued. The little girl’s used-to-be hero was sent to a neighboring playground and the little girl found new sadness. Not only was she without her hero, now the other children on the playground were missing their hero and they were staring at the little girl with a mixture of pity and resentment. The little girl pretended to be brave. She tried to say the words they wanted to hear. But inside her heart was breaking. The other children did not intend to be mean, but they were hurt and confused and turned away from her and towards each other for comfort.
So it is that the little girl stands alone on the hero-less playground. It is time to say goodbye. She is grateful for many lessons learned here. She will miss the monkey bars and the swing. But the river whispers the promise of new playgrounds yet undiscovered and more, the promise of the river itself.
Timid but determined she takes her first step. And for this first step she has discovered that the only hero she needs is the one that lives inside her heart.