Hide and Seek: A Child’s Game
Hide-and-seek is one of the girls’ favorite games. Breathe is It first. She’ll turn and start counting. She’ll count slowly. Finally, she’ll start getting close to the agreed upon number. The closer she gets to the final number, the louder she gets. “Seven, eight, NINE, TEN, Ready or not, here I come!” She’ll turn around. Without having to walk two steps, she spots Alight, who knew her ‘hiding spot’ would be quickly and easily detected, still hides beneath the table. Sometimes I can get Alight to hide in a less visible spot—but not often. The truth is…. she likes the idea of hide-and-seek, but she is afraid of hiding. In order for her to feel safe, comfortable, she has to be somewhere where she can easily see me and Breathe, and where we can easily see her.
Once upon a time, in a place not far from here, there lived a little girl. She was a brave little girl. She wasn’t afraid of climbing trees (sometimes, she wished she had a tree house in her backyard). Even if she failed, she wasn’t afraid of trying anything at least one time. She was curious and she loved to talk. She loved to sing, too. She wasn’t always very girly, but she wasn’t a true-blue tomboy either: she liked dressing up, but the nail polish on her nails was often cracked, the bleach-blonde hair nearly always pulled back into a high ponytail. She loved books. She couldn’t read well yet, but she loved looking at the pictures and pretending to read. She loved spaghetti and disliked pickles. She loved horses—especially the ones that could run really fast. She wished she could ride one. But—most of all—she was a good girl.
It’s such a simple game, hide-and-seek. Someone hides, someone finds. It’s interesting to me, though, and thought-provoking. The one who hides is excited by contradictory concepts: she’s excited because she’s found a great hiding spot, one that is supposed to be hard to find. Even though she won’t search out a hiding spot that’s out of Breathe’s view, she gets upset if Breathe finds her without first searching in wrong places. Breathe and I know this and so will generally pretend to look for Alight before pretending to “discover” her. Once found out, the hider is excited because she’s been discovered. First, she wanted to hide, but then she wanted to be found. When it’s Breathe’s turn, she searches out impossible-to-find hiding spots: under the bathroom sink, in the closet, under the bed—you know it, she’s probably hidden there. Sometimes it can be genuinely difficult to find her.
The people in the village all knew that this little girl was good. Her teachers always commented on how well-behaved she was. Mrs. Smith across the street called her lovely. Mr. Jordon at church said she helped others before she was even asked to do so. Even Crazy Daisy, the old woman on the street who thought kids were “no-good”, said this little girl was good. Everyone knew it. Everyone except Blue. Blue was a monster. He looked ordinary. He looked like her dad. Sometimes it was hard telling them apart. But Blue only came in the night ,after the moon came up. And he always hurt her; then he’d go away again.
The girls aren’t the only ones who hide. I am extraordinarily talented at hiding. I hide from things even when it appears that I’m doing the exact opposite. I’ll write about sensitive issues til I turn blue, I’ll speak about it at churches and schools and youth groups because I understand that the need hurt children have to not feel alienated is very real. In other words, being an advocate isn’t a problem for me. Still…. put me one-on-one with someone I admire or care about and ask me for details about my past and I’m going to clam up faster than TN schools on wintry days. I am very productive at night… I write blogs, I write my books, I write letters to everybody I know, I create lesson plans for Breathe and for my three classes, I am very productive at night. But, it’s not exactly just because I want to be. The truth is, I am afraid to sleep, and so I hide from it. Getting to know me kind of resembles digging through a landfill trying to find a nugget of gold: first, you have to sift through pounds of … STUFF … to even find a sliver of hope that you’re not digging for nothing; two, even if you manage to get to the bottom of the landfill….well, chances are, you’re not going to be able to see past the yucky, smelly STUFF you’ve just filled your brain with so common sense dictates you’ll run as far from the landfill as possible—-and that would leave me, well, alone. And isn’t that the human being’s worst nightmare? Rather than risk it, I hide behind a bright smile, busy hands, sheer determination and “creativity.” Indeed—-I hide.
Blue is coming. She knows it. Her heart doesn’t pound like this for nothing. She can’t lay still any longer. With her fingers, she grabs Snuggles, her teddy bear, slides off the bed, then crawls under it where she lays on her belly, waiting for the door to open, waiting for Blue. She doesn’t know how long she lays there before the door finally opens. But it’s not Blue. She can tell because Blue always wears a pair of black boots. The feet she sees from under the bed are bare, unprotected by shoes of any kind. She hears her name being called—the voice is different, too. Deeper. It is not Blue. She starts to feel frightened, but the man doesn’t bend down. Instead, he sits on the bed. “I’ve looked a long, long time for you. I’m not going to hurt you, little one. I’m here to keep you safe. You don’t have to be scared anymore. I’d really like to see you. But I know you’re still scared. So, you don’t have to come out right now. I’ll just talk to you and sit here with you instead, until you want to come out.”
Hiding is only part of the game, you see. The other half is seeking. No matter how hard good of a hiding spot Breathe finds, Alight and I never stop looking for her. No matter how great the fear that may prompt me to hide behind walls, part of me is always open, looking for an opportunity, a safe enough environment, to let them down, to risk voluntarily closing my eyes rather than waiting for them to fall from sheer exhaustion every night. I can’t be the only one on the planet who hides from emotional pain—and I can’t be the only one who has an intimate fear of being left, who thinks that she isn’t good enough for the people who surround her. I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s fairly safe to say that that’s a pretty universal, fundamental fear that seems implanted in us early on. We present a facade of strength and independence —but no matter how strong we are, we don’t want to be alone. So, even while we’re hiding in our safe spot, part of us is seeking, straining to find that light of hope, that one person who will prove us wrong, that one dream that just MIGHT come true after all. We’re seeking the rainbow after the storm, the first hint of the sun after a night of draining insomnia, a secure hug from a friend, the nugget of gold at the bottom of the landfill.
I can tell you without having to think very hard what I’m seeking. I seek peace. I seek understanding. I long for my girls to remember me, and to know that I love them more than they can ever comprehend. I seek friendship, which is something I’ve never, ever really had. Ultimately… I want to be loved…. without feeling like there’s a price. I put rules on myself. ________ will love me if, and only if, I ________________. So, I am usually fairly good at doing whatever ____________ is so that ________ will love me. I’m seeking a nugget, in other words, but, to get to it, I have to work. What I really seek, though, is the love without the work. Most of all, then, I long to one day feel the utter love, joy and peace that can only come from hearing God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The girl stayed under the bed for a long time. The man kept talking to her. He told her he loved her, he told her she was safe…. and he never moved closer to her, he never crowded her at all. He promised her that Blue was gone. He told her how he’d looked for her all over, how he’d searched, he was still searching, he said, for her, since he hadn’t been able to really see her yet. He told her he loved her. She didn’t know how long they sat like that, the man on the edge of the bed, not looking at her, but talking to her, and she under it, clutching her teddy bear, until finally the man moved. He knelt down and laid his head on the floor. She should have been scared. But she wasn’t. Somehow, his face seemed familiar to her. Somehow, his eyes reassured her. He smiled at her, and the little girl’s heart stopped pounding so hard.
“I’m still looking for you, you know. I’ll be looking for you until I can give you a hug to show you I love you and that you are safe with me.” He held out his hand, stretched it under the bed, but then just held it there, without touching her. She stared at it, and at the man whom she’d never seen before tonight. He wanted her to come out from under the bed. It was safe under here. She was covered. No one could see her, and so no one could hurt her. But this man was so big, so strong….and so gentle. He’d sat with her for hours, talking. He wanted to know her better, he wanted to be her friend. He’d said so himself. Maybe…. she looked at his hand again and, slowly, put her own small hand in his larger one, allowing him to pull her out into the light.
A new house.
New toys, classes, opportunities for our children.
There are lots of obvious things that we’re all seeking. In one of my classes that I’m teaching, we just had two lessons on contentment. First, I made them tell me something that they don’t have yet, but really want. Then I made them draw pictures of toys at their homes that they like, but haven’t often played with and asked them to tell me what they liked about those toys, the ones they already had. Then I explained that, if you just really look at what you already have, it can get easier to stop wanting things you don’t have. Of course, none of us should become slothful. Trying to provide, both necessities and enrichment opportunities, isn’t wrong. We should continue to buy things and sell things and go to work every day. But sometimes I wonder how often we confuse striving for those things for living.
Breathe and I just finished a unit on early Americans. We made primitive homes out of sticks and learned how they used rocks as tools. They didn’t have FaceBook, they didn’t have electricity, even, or cars or indoor bathrooms. But they were living, nonetheless. Living means breathing. It means building relationships with those around us, showing compassion, understanding, offering friendship. If we are doing those things, then we already are living, whether our bank account is in the millions or in the negative. We already have things like watching our children grow up, sunsets, snow, music, oceans and forests, birds and lions— fingers, toes, eyes and ears and tastebuds, too—we already have all of these things. Shouldn’t everything else be considered a gift? Instead of calculating our work hours midweek to try and guess what our paychecks might be, what would happen if we deliberately lost our phones for an hour so we could sit outside and actually look at the grass (or snow, as the case may be), the sky, the family inside? Instead of striving so hard to make ends meet, what if the only thing we strove for each day was the ability to lay down at night knowing we’d made a member of our family (or a complete stranger) laugh out loud? The more we strive for the former, the less we have of the other—what if we reversed it? Seeking is about discovering the heart—-seeking is about looking beyond the obvious to where faith and trust and hope reside.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end, what we remember isn’t the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” It’s impossible to live without being hurt. And the hurt is real. The hurt can actually define someone. The hurt shapes us and forms unconscious reasons for behaviors. Trauma acts like water that’s just had a stone tossed onto it: ripples stretch long and wide. Trauma teaches us to hide, to long for safety, for anonymity. Trauma is tangible, we can see it, feel it, touch it and so we feel its power immediately. We hide to avoid it. But we don’t give up. We don’t just end it all, not even when it would sometimes make sense.
Before I was eight years old, my great-grandmother, Mama O, wrote me letters, let me play with her cane and sit with her in her garden. She died when I was seven, and I only have a handful of snapshot memories of her. But what lingers is how she made me feel special. As a result, I wrote her letters every, single year on her birthday — up until I was in college. When I was in the fifth grade, my homeroom teacher let me read one of my books aloud to my classmates. A few weeks later, a news reporter came to the school to do a story about a program we had there. Without my knowledge, one of the girls in my class went to the reporter and told him about me and the book I was reading; the reporter in turn talked me about it. I felt special. One year, I taught an 8th grade class; at the end of my program, I gave each of them a personalized book and letter, and, when asked, I read the letter to each of them. One young man said, “Man, I’m gonna take this home and frame it.” My heart melted. The other night, I laid down and immediately become overwhelmed with fear: fear of the past, fear of the impending nightmares, fear of the dark, fear because I was alone. I outstretched my hand, asked Him to hold it and began reciting verses from the Bible of His promises to comfort and rain down mercy. I couldn’t see Him, I couldn’t physically hear Him but I know Him. I know He keeps His promises: He has never broken one made to me; He has never led me wrong. I know Him.
You see, what we’re seeking above all else is relationships. We want to feel special, we want to feel loved. Nothing can give us courage like the belief that someone we love believes in us. Inspired to hide from tangible fear, we’re innately prone to invisible hope. We’re hiding, but we’re also seeking, hoping that we’re being sought after, too.
The man pulled her out from under the bed, helped her stand and immediately pulled her into his arms. His hug was unlike anything she’d ever known. Suddenly, she felt engulfed in a sea of warmth and strength. She wrapped her tiny arms around his neck and felt him squeeze, then heard him laugh out loud. When she leaned back, the look on his face was awe. “I’ve found you,” He said softly, with great pride. “I’ve found you. Oh, I’ve looked everywhere for you and I am so happy you’re here now.” The little girl’s eyes filled with tears. No one had ever told her that before. No one had ever looked at her as though she was the princess. She hadn’t known she was. Her heart filled, burst with freedom and suddenly, she could hear birds chirping from her window, she could hear a puppy barking in the distance, the world came alive, shook with its many wondrous images and sounds. She was loved. She was wanted. She was special. She didn’t have to have the bed to protect her, she could lean on Him instead. She didn’t have to hide; she’d been found.
“Amazing grace / How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me /
I once was lost but now I’m found / Was blind but now I see /
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear / And grace my fears relieved /
How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed. “