by ~Anita J. Skocz
I was eight years old, and after finishing a ride at our local amusement park, Kennywood, I was mixed into a crowd, and separated from my family. Outside of the family unit and close friends, I was shy, and in that moment fear worked hard to take me hostage. But, for the first time in my young life something new rose from within ~ courage.
I knew the park well, and I realized that our picnic area was set up for the day near a dance pavilion, where the adults would be Polka dancing well into the evening, So, rather than panic I checked my pockets for tickets, and I ran with my new friend “courage” over to my favorite ride ~ Noah’s Ark. It was a dark fun house inside, and at eight years old it was a perfect combination of scary and fun.
While standing in the long line, I realized that I was out of my “wonder bread world.” Up until now my world had been small. I lived a very protected loving life amongst a playful cast of characters; they were all steeped in the Catholic faith and we all enjoyed the festive charm of our Polish traditions. Although there were some opportunities to step beyond this circle, my shyness put up a brick wall to my curiosity ~ just peeking over on occasion.
Today was different, there were many cracks in my wall, and I was ready to embrace what danced around the circle. The kids that surrounded me that day were of different colors, cultures, socioeconomic divides, and ages. I remember absorbing all that surrounded me; my curiosity burst into full bloom, and I wanted to befriend them all.
Finally, the line moved enough for me and those around to step into the darkness, and the scary illusions. As we slowly crept through the spooky eerie maze, we screamed, laughed, and stayed close. About midway the electric went out, and the bit of dim light that helped us to navigate our way forward was gone. We were told to remain still ~ a safety precaution.
As we stood in complete darkness, our fears brought us together. We asked each others names, and began to hold hands. The wait opened us up to talking in order to push away the jitters, and in our conversations we seemed to have a lot in common ~ other than our childlike willies.
In that twenty minutes, something changed deep inside. I needed to know everything I could about people and things beyond my small world. It felt urgent for me to understand the diverse workings in the hearts and minds of all that seemed “different” on the outside. Inside my heart, that day, I decided my friends would be a sixty four pack of Crayola Crayons, a wide variety ~ a fine assortment.
After the lights came on, we all enjoyed the shaking floor, the bouncing floor, and the sun light as we exited. About seven of us went on the small roller coaster together, and I departed shortly after to find my family. It was wonderful to be with cousins, brother, sisters and family friends, but I grew that day ~ the soul of the earth and mine entwined.
From that day forward there was an invisible neon welcome sign blinking on my forehead, my heart was/is open to all. I found myself always attracted to people and things that I never engaged with before, and because of it, I have such ~ a fine assortment ~ of friends.
Since our last election process my heart has ached. So many people have let their different views of policies rip apart life time bonds. Conversations have become battles, people stopped listening to those with different ideas, and compromise is a new “ugly” word, that burns peoples lips to speak it. Words like tolerance, understanding, openness, trust and truth lay bloody on the battlefield created by a variety of fears.
I thought about Noah’s Ark, and how the total darkness brought a small group of kids together. Are we being feed fear on a constant basis that erodes our hearts, and we can no longer see the strength that understanding, tolerance and love offer us as a nation. Do we have to fall into complete darkness before we reach out for a hand. As in my children’s story “Kite Tale,” each person from a different background added a piece to the kite ~ a strong piece. A fine assortment of a grandfather’s friends pulled together for a common project that ended up soaring.
We need to focus on being the United States, and use the unique gifts of a large group of diverse caring citizen to move forward for the good of all. Let prejudice, intolerance, fear, and closed minds be left in the field. Get excited about what we can learn from our collective experiences, and united we will stand strong and loving ~ a fine assortment.