“Show auntie your bear,” said Granny. Several days earlier, Granny had noticed a rip in the back of her grandaughter’s stuffed bear. Most of the stuffing was still intact and the bear’s grin remained wide and happy.
Lenzie, my six-and-a-half year old niece, reached for her stuffed animal. The stuffed bear had been sitting at the small children’s table in the kitchen. She reached over, picked up the stuffed animal by the arm then handed it to me.
“What is your animals’ name?” I asked softly looking all the while for tears and rips on its’ surface.
“Well, um, I call her Bear.”
Bear is part of my nieces’ collection of stuffed animals which include ‘Sunny’ a raccoon, and ‘Cookie’ a fox. Together, the trio often engage in acrobatic acts as Lenz and her two brothers throw Sunny, Cookie, and Bear into the air, watching them tumble to the ground. Laughing and giggling, the children repeat the air show over and over again, sometimes tumbling to the ground themselves.
As regards the acrobatic show, her mom, Granny, and I have warned her on several occasions to be careful of the ceiling fan while emphasizing the cause and effect a rotating fan can have on a stuffed animal. But, as it turned out, it wasn’t the ceiling fan that had caused the rip on the bear’s back seam.
“Oh, goodness, Lenz.” I exclaimed. “What happened to Bear?”
“Well, you see, umm, my brothers got Bear and then Bear had this hole in her.”
“Hmm, I see. Have you talked with your brothers to let them know that they should be careful with Bear?”
“Well, yes.” She whispered. “But I don’t think they listen.” With her soft reply, I knew that both her bear and her brothers were of great and deep value to her, as only a young girl can feel.
During my graduate research in small narratives and value development, I came to realize that values are not like salt and pepper shakers that periodically or selectively season a person’s life. Rather, values are formed over one’s lifetime; shaped and developed during periods of creative imagination while interacting with others.
For Lenz, Bear held center stage in her creative imagination. She realized that her stuffed bear may not be able to perform her acrobatics as before because of the ripped seam. For Lenz, cause and effect was evident. What I didn’t expect was my niece’s response after I had sewn the seam closed.
Taking needle and thread, I used a simple overcast stitch to keep any more stuffing from popping out the bear’s back. Having secured the stuffing, I closed the seam with a simple knot.
“Lenz,” I called, “here’s Bear, feeling much better, I think.”
As my niece examined her stuffed animal carefully, she realized that she couldn’t see the stiches. “How did you fix Bear?” she asked.
“Well, it’s a gift that God gave me—to fix things.”
At that moment, I saw something twinkle in my niece’s eyes, like a small flash of golden bright light. “A gift?” she said.
“Yes, a gift. And, God has given you a gift too, right?”
“Yes.” She thoughtfully replied.
Some months previous, her Granny had had a talk with Lenzie. The talk was about school; and, also about how paying attention to one’s teacher is very important. During the talk, Lenzie’s gift of “knowing stuff” surfaced. That’s when Lenzie learned that God had given her a gift of knowledge. A gift that would surely develop with time.
“I have the gift of knowing stuff.” She smiled as she took a seat beside me.
“That’s right.” I said. “You do.”
That moment has replayed itself in my thoughts many times since Bear has returned home and to her tumbling acrobatics. So far the rip remains in a repaired state. But, in that moment, I remembered my studies of how values truly take root, grow, and develop over a lifetime.
The development of lifelong values starts, I think, with simple objects, real or imagined–like a stuffed animal named Bear. Once the object gains physical value, thoughts and emotions get mixed in connecting her brothers, their fun and excitement–it turns into something cherished and meaningful. For Lenzie, a value seed made up of family, love, recovery, and forgiveness was sewn with invisible thread and needle, that afternoon, in her heart.
In any case, it was a moment that I won’t soon forget– when my six-and-a-half year old niece picked up her stuffed animal, knowingly left the hurt of injury behind, and with Bear in hand, eyes wide open—turned to join her brothers as dinner began.
Living life in 2011,
Mary Buck, PhD
Executive Program Director, Wholeheartedly
A family literacy outreach program using storytelling, art, and life coaching
–where stories change the heart for life–