It was easy to tell Gracie was worried and trying to hide it, so I scattered around some sunflower kernels. While everyone else was enjoying their treat, I called Gracie to me to see what was concerning her.
“There’s been a monster creeping around here when it starts to get dark and before you come home,” she said all at once.
I could tell she felt a bit better just by saying something about it. So I asked her to tell me what it looked like, and she did.
“With a long narrow snout and all of those sharp pointed teeth, that sounds like an opossum,” I said. “Did it have a naked pink tail?”
“Yes,” she said, relieved I believed her and knew what she was talking about. It hurt me to see her trying to be brave while carrying such a heavy responsibility all alone.
“Gracie, Sweetie, you were right to be alarmed. Remember though, it’s an opossum, not a monster. It only becomes a monster if you let it become one in your mind. Understand?”
“But tell me, why didn’t you say something before now? Is it because you didn’t want to make the others scared?”
She nodded again and then added in her softest voice, “I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t a good leader. I don’t know how to protect anyone, not even myself, from something so mean looking.”
She waited to see if I was going to say I was disappointed in her. When I didn’t, she continued, “And he hisses the most evil things at us! So I just stood there, looking him in the eyes and not moving. But I didn’t do anything.”
She lowered her head, waiting for me to say something, even if it was something she didn’t want to hear.
“You are a better leader than you realize, Gracie. Are you afraid right now?”
“No. But that’s because you’re here.” She looked up and saw I wasn’t angry or disappointed.
“And when I’m not here…Have I made things safe for you even when I’m not here? You girls are more important to me than anything. I would never leave you without making sure you are protected. You do believe that, don’t you?”
Gracie took a while to think that over. She looked at the strong fencing I had used to build their home. She looked at how everything they needed was safe and secure, just like they were. She nodded.
“And what do I tell you every morning before I go away to work?”
“You say to be good to each other and take care of each other. Then you say to never forget you love us more than anything here.”
I smiled my biggest smile and said, “Exactly right, Gracie! Take care of each other. You don’t have to do it all. Just be someone the others look up to because you put them first.”
She looked at the others and then back at me.
“Most important of all, remember how much I love you. I would give up anything you see here to keep you with me. Are you afraid when you think about how much I love you?”
“No!” she said with so much amazement she actually surprised herself. “No! I’m not afraid then!” She fluffed out all of her feathers like she was a whole new girl ready for a fresh start. “I’m not afraid then!”
“Sweetheart, you just taught me a very valuable lesson. Thank you!”
Gracie looked stunned. “Me? What could I ever teach you?”
“Oh, you know what I mean, Gracie! You are so modest, and you teach me things all the time. But look. Let’s turn the opossum into part of our ballet about The Rose Garden Princess. We need an evil character to make the story more interesting. We can call him The Evil King Of Darkest Night. What do you say? Can you only pretend to be afraid? For the ballet? For your ballet!”
“Yes!” she clucked again and again, overflowing with more joy than I’ve seen in the longest time.
Gracie hurried back to the others to get a few sunflower kernels before they were all gone. She even did a few ballet leaps along the way, or certainly what might pass for ballet leaps…at least in my eyes if no one else’s.
She is so beautiful, my beloved little Gracie, and one day we will dance together, just as our hearts already do. It will just take a leap of faith.
My Life With Gracie gave me a chance to see fear only has power when we forget how much we are loved.
You can read more about our production of “The Rose Garden Princess” if you’d like. Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!