“Look Mom, it’s a bird; I can make a dog too!”
“But I can’t make a cat.”
My Mother sighed, “Stop making those silly finger shadows. I want you to sit silently in that corner. You are being punished.” (You’re in a timeout!)
That corner was an all too familiar place for me as I was growing up. It seemed like I was always being told to sit still, be quiet, and grow up. The kitchen light created a shadow of me on the wall and I would sit and stare at him. My shadow didn’t make any noise; he didn’t whine and complain. He just did as he was shown and when my lesson was learned, he’d follow me back to my room, quietly.
At night, when all seemed the darkest, I would sometimes hear my parents arguing about bills, my older brothers grumbling about high school, and my older sisters moaning about work.
Most of my childhood was spent in the shadows of older siblings and parents who kept reminding me about how difficult life was and how easy I had it. No matter how much my troubles haunted me, they were nothing compared to grown up problems.
Growing up was nothing to look forward to. I started to put childhood games aside and smiled a little less. I spent more and more time sitting or sleeping in my room shielded from the world by closed curtains. At school, I felt content in the dimly lit back of the classroom. I stopped trying because it just didn’t matter. No matter how tough life was, I was assured that it was only going to get worse.
As I spent days in the principal’s office, nodding at his incoherent ramblings, I recall how the shadows of his vertical blinds draped over me like prison bars. Trapped in a life that promised me nothing but more burden. Another warden telling me how hard life was and how I better buckle down and get prepared.
But every once in a while, Uncle Buddy would come by for a visit. He was my father’s older brother. My mother didn’t like him. He acted childish. He was a troublemaker. He never took life seriously. I loved him.
Uncle Buddy was carefree. He would tell me about his adventures. How he traveled the world and met the most amazing people. Most of it was exaggerated or made up, but they were always incredible stories.
I felt like the sun was always a little brighter when he was around. It contagiously reflected off his smile and kept me grinning for days after he left. Uncle Buddy taught me about card houses, magic, origami, telling jokes, and so much more. He even encouraged me to keep doing finger shadows.
If I had the opportunity to write to young Marty, what would I say?
Problems are relative. Losing a ball as a boy can be as traumatic as losing a promotion as an adult. Parents complaining about the taxes are like babies screaming for their bottles. Life gets better as we get older; I promise you that it gets better. The problems that we face are different. They are not bigger or smaller, they are just different. The secret is, that as we grow older, we learn to cope better. Some times, people whine as a way of contending with the problems at hand. They may lash out at you to help them deal with what they are going through. Don't let that ruin your day.
I hope you can understand this. Enjoy life. Play games, laugh, learn, and share. I hope you find light in your darkness. And when you do, I hope that you keep making finger shadows.