Learning to Fly
I’ve always loved children’s books.
My mom told me a story about one night when I was small. Before a nightly bedtime story I asked when she’d teach me to read so I could read to myself.
I learned to read with a set of alphabet books and yellow manual we kept in a cupboard under the counter where I could reach. I’d pull the books out of the cabinet at some point each day and insist my parents teach me.
There’s something about those simple stories that resonate so deeply.
When I started junior high I realized my greatest fear was public speaking. I was shy, and sharing my thoughts publicly scared me to death.
For reasons I still can’t explain, I signed up for Ms. Peterson’s public speaking class in 8th grade. It changed my life.
Our first assignment was to read a children’s book to the class. We were to practice public speaking posture, tone, speed, and power in the pause. We rehearsed the stories for a week. Ms. Peterson even encouraged us to practice in the mirror a few times to gauge our facial expressions and how well we showed the pictures to our audience.
On the first day of presenting our finished product, Ms. Peterson asked who would like to go first. For reasons I still can’t explain, I volunteered. I tightly held my copy of “Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox” by Erin Dealey.
My knees shook and I was so afraid, but after encouragement from my teacher, I read the story. Despite my fear, I nailed it. I keep that book on a shelf at the seminary to remind me of that day when I performed scared.
Just after Jake was diagnosed with cancer, letters, messages, and gifts came flooding to the house. Each time one of our parents stopped by, they brought blankets, care packages, treats, kind words, and love from thoughtful people in our hometown.
One of the most poignant gifts was a children’s book from one of our high school teachers called, “After the Fall” by Dan Santat.
The story follows Humpty Dumpty, an egg famous for his “great fall”. It takes place after the fall has occurred. Humpty struggles with things he used to love and with fear of falling again. Slowly, Humpty overcomes the obstacles of his fall and eventually even “learns to fly”.
Jake and I kept a phrase visible in our home for 6 months to bring us comfort in this journey we’ve been on. “Not famous for falling. Learning to fly.”
My incredible Jake rang the bell yesterday to mark the end of his chemo treatment official. The plaque on the bell reads,
Ring this bell three times well
Its toll to clearly say,
My treatment’s done
This course is run
And I am on my way.
We’re on our way.
It’s hard to know what to say when so many have helped us so much. The best words I can find belong to Humpty Dumpty, Jake, and I:
Thank you for helping us learn to fly.
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My name is Maddie Townsend Topham and I am a happy wife!