By Candace Echols
In one sentence—that’s all she could fit between two sobs—my little girl melted a lifetime of struggle into just a few words.
“I was wondering (sniff sniff), if fear might be the thing that’s slowing me down.”
It felt like my daughter had picked up an invisible dagger off the floor of Memphis Rox, the rock-climbing facility, and accidentally shoved it right through my heart. She will never know the effort I’ve put into encouraging her to take risks, throw herself into adventure, love the great outdoors, and live like her father, right there on the edge of the earth, just so she could avoid the tangles with apprehension that I am susceptible to. And yet somehow, fear—like a serpent—slithered in behind my back.
It wasn’t that healthy fear that creates the wisdom to not touch a flame or play in the street. This was a sly fear, that fear that debilitates and paralyzes. I know it well. I’ve fought it most of my life, and the moment her introspective sentence reached my ears, my heart broke. I knelt, looking into her eyes so like mine, and felt tongue tied. It wasn’t that I didn’t have tools. I have a whole arsenal of tools—thanks be to God—who incidentally, never slithers. But it’s hard to teach a mindset in a moment.
Then, like something out of a commercial, the very instant that I was second guessing my call to motherhood, who steps in but a boy scout.
I’m not joking.
A young boy named Ethan, maybe third grade, saw our predicament. With grace far beyond both his years and mine, he walked over to my little girl and bent down so that they were on eye level with one another.
He introduced himself to us and she told him her name. “Evienne.”
“How about we call you Everest Evienne?” he asked, and explained what Mount Everest was. She liked that idea.
“Everest Evienne, what is your happy place? What makes you happiest?”
Her tears had miraculously evaporated. With her index finger on her chin and her eyes at two o’clock just like a cartoon, she said, “Art. Art makes me happy.”
“Well then, Everest Evienne, let’s pretend that this wall is your canvas. Each time you reach for a new hand hold, it’s a stroke of your brush,” said Ethan to E.E. while I stood and watched, slack jawed. This kid was a poet masquerading as a boy scout.
“Once you reach the top, you will have painted your masterpiece. How does that sound?” he asked.
Evienne was beaming. Before I could give my two cents, she was on the wall like Spiderman, Ethan cheering her on. “Come on Everest Evienne, you’ve got this. You’re working on your masterpiece!”
Without an obvious ounce of emotional effort, she shattered all of her own fear and pierced a significant hole in mine. All the while Ethan was standing by, like an angel with a merit badge sash, reminding her of her happy place and her new name. She reached the top and everyone in the vicinity cheered. She descended – and they were only just beginning. Ethan helped E.E. find more walls that fit her skill level and again and again she crushed that slithering fear that has stolen so many good moments from me, her mother. I fought tears the whole morning as I watched this epoch story unfold.
Ethan mentioned that he was on the path to becoming an Eagle Scout. Honestly, he seemed like an old soul in a child’s body—a vintage kid of sorts. I asked why he had helped E.E. climb that wall. His answer wasn’t profound or earth-shattering, but it was so selfless that I was instantly humbled, even as an adult. It reminded me of a bygone era, and I was glad for the prompt. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if we listen more closely to the children sometimes. They can convey little miracles with one sentence. Ethan’s was timeless.
“I just try to do a good turn daily.”
StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine. Candace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.