This is a small secret I've kept hidden away, tucked in my pocket for twelve years. This story felt sacred to Little Kate, so I've not confessed the words to any other human until sharing in this space.
My little sixth-grade-self was up against the smartest boy in the class, and the chance to snatch the gold medal from him was at my fingertips. I was told the word I needed to spell to win, and I smiled a bit because I knew it.
A. U. B..... O. R. N.
Little Kate hesitated before saying the incorrect "o." She faced an inner battle to either win the spelling bee, or make herself small. In a split decision, her quiet self didn't want the glory-filled attention. She purposefully misspelled "auburn," giving up the chance to win the Loveland Elementary School spelling bee. I swept the deserved win under the rug and settled for second place.
I remember going back to my seat, confused as to why I wouldn't let myself win. But friends, if I could go back to 2006, I truly and honestly would spell auburn the same way once again. Not to make myself small this time, but to remember that perhaps the sixth grade spelling bee was the moment my lion's heart began beating.
Even through the years following the spelling bee, I intentionally endured years of making myself small after that, letting myself hide in the corners of busy rooms. I wish I would've been listening for the echoes of a rumbling, fierce heartbeat.
I now write, make and explore in pursuit of cultivating bravery in honor of Little Kate — the small, glasses-wearing girl who thought she was better as a mouse. If only, if only she knew that she would someday hike a mountain and climb canyons, and that she'd spend four summers as a wild camp counselor at the summer camp that carved beautiful bravery into her heart. If only she knew that she would someday illustrate a children's book inspired by that same summer camp. If only she knew one day she'd be the woman behind a business intended to cultivate courage.
I wish Little Kate would have looked in the mirror to believe there was a fiery spark igniting in her eyes.
I do bravery missions for Little Kate, and for each human who needs to realize that bravery is indeed rooted in their bones, whether they realize it yet or not. Lionheart, please don't feel like you have to intentionally lose the spelling bee. Please root yourself and grow swiftly towards the sun. Let your younger, smaller self pour the water and nurture the blooms.
Dear friend, you are seen, deeply loved and powerful. Look in the mirror. Stare past the weariness in your eyes, look until you can see the familiar fire flickering. Place your hand over your lion's heart. Remember that it's kept you alive thus far. Remember your younger self and channel courage for her.