~by Jill Clingan
A couple of months ago I received an email from a friend, fellow teacher, and co-worker that said this: I have something fun for you to help with if you have time. I’m developing a new assignment in 9A, and I need a sample to share. Would you like to write a four-paragraph personal essay? It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Assignment prompt: Tragic Flaw Essay
Write a four-paragraph essay describing your greatest strength and your tragic flaw. Imagine that you are a character in a play. In fact, you are the main character, and the play is about your life right now. During the next two class periods, you will explore what it means to be the hero of your life by considering your greatest strength…and your greatest weakness.
So basically I needed to try to crawl into the head of a 9th grader and write an imperfect essay about my greatest strength and my tragic flaw.
I was a little nervous trying to pretend to be a 9th grader, but as I started writing I realized two things: First, in many ways I am STILL a 9th grader. I could have pretty much written that essay as a 14-year-old, and here I am as a 42-year-old still struggling with the same blasted things. Second, I could write more freely to an invisible audience of over 700 kids in Brazil than I can with my current audience of approximately seven.
Sigh. Big, big sigh.
Recently, I have had two important people in my life say something along these lines:
Jill, what would be the worst thing that could happen if you spoke and wrote with your own voice? It would be really unfortunate if fear kept you from using that voice.
Am I the only one afraid of my voice?
I know God gave me a voice. I have a voice that, musically, sings alto. I have a voice that, spiritually, leans hard into grace. I have a voice that, passionately, believes in God and kindness and justice.
But, too often, I whisper.
(Well, sometimes. I think my kids are glad we don’t have nearby neighbors when I sing, loudly, while mowing our patch of land.)
But my spiritual voice? My passionate voice?
Because I am afraid.
I am afraid of disappointing.
I am afraid of sounding big, or reaching tall, or stretching wide.
But then I look at my kids.
And I adore them.
And I want them to have a voice.
I want them to use their voices to sound big, reach tall, and stretch wide.
And I want to be an example to them, an example of courage, an example of a voice that sings alto, that speaks grace and God and kindness and justice.
Lately I have been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Here’s the funny (kinda) thing. It’s taking me forever to read this book. Not because it isn’t amazing. Because it is. But I am so stuck in the “fear” part that I just have to sample the “living beyond fear” part in sips and nibbles. But I am getting there. I underlined this question recently (It’s way, way back in the book. Like on page 8): Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you? And then this, all the way over on page 9: When I refer to “creative living,” I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
When we look at our kids, we want this for them, don’t we? We want them to live a life driven more by curiosity than fear. That’s not even a question for us.
But what about us as parents? What about me? What about you?
Tonight, as I write this, I am not quite brave enough to share with you an essay that over 700 Brazilian 9th graders have read.
But tonight, as I write this, I also speak this blessing over my children, over me, and over you.
Amélie and Jack, speak your truth, in your voice.
And Jill? Speak your truth, in your voice.
And you? I pray for you the same:
Speak your truth, in your voice.
And may God bless your—may God bless our—whisper, or song, or shout.