(People have asked me about the process and the background behind the artwork. Warning: This is a long blog article as "Let Your Light Shine is a very important foundational concept here at When You Word. It's about real people living real lives.)
Am I shining my unique light?
Does someone else in my life need a reminder to shine their light?
The Answer is in Children's Books!
When I graduated from high school last century, I received some money, US Savings Bonds and various other gifts. I was surprised by one of the gifts from a family, the Parkers, who ran a local bookstore. The gift was a timeless, classic book called "The Little Engine that Could". Now, I am a small dude, just over five and half feet tall, so the ironic title was not lost on the cynic in me. But it is the second part of the title, the "That Could", that is the silver lining that causes me to remember this gift above other ones and that is why I write.
The book wasn't new to me. My mother, Judy Burns Elliott, was born to be an elementary school teacher and this was one of her favorites. Her specialty was first grade and she spent many decades acclimating children to the elementary school environment. Her team of coworkers jokingly complimented her, referring to her as a Pollyanna who was always playing the Glad Game.
This blog is not a children's literature review, but there are some inspiring and encouraging messages in these books. The simplicity of them is beautiful. Before we move one, I need to set the record straight about what a Polllyanna is. As with many subjects, those amongst us with "common knowledge" will use the term "Pollyanna" to ridicule someone indicating that they are in denial about how dire a situation is. To set the record straight, a Pollyanna is someone who knows how bad it might be and, rather than lament, they choose to practice joy and gladness despite the circumstances. In the book, this positive approach is called the "Glad Game". Let's face it, the Pollyanna's in this world are journeying this world at a better level than many of us cynics.
[Pause for Reflection]
If you are at a point in life where you are playing the "Sad Game" or you are the "Vehicle that Can't or Won't", click one of the pics above and buy those books and read them. Let them inspire and encourage you. Or maybe you know someone that might need one as a gift like I did as an 18 year senior graduating from high school. Once you've done that, come back here to When You Word and let's find out why "Let Your Light Shine" is so important to remember each day.
Speaking of Little Engines that Could, in that same graduation class with me, was a good friend by the name of Meredith Campbell. We both loved sports and were both pretty good at them. (and we did not let our height control outcomes :) ). She was on the volleyball and basketball courts and the softball field. I was on the baseball field or the golf course. She went on to marry and became Meredith Campbell Bybee. A bright light who spent much of her time encouraging others in her church or coaching youth sports, not only for her children but also for a local school. Here's a pic of Meredith:
After high school, I lost touch with Meredith, but with good people like that, you know their engine thinks they can despite any circumstance. Then, in the Covid-19 summer of 2020, we received news that Meredith passed away. This loss shook hundreds of people in a small town community, as Meredith's family is well known in the city. One of the major thoroughfares in the city was named after her grandfather, James Campbell. Here's a linked Google Map of part of North James Campbell Blvd.
I don't tell you about her grandfather that for the celebrity of it. I tell you that because Meredith, like me, like many of us, was born into a certain amount of privilege. I tell you of her grandfather because she could have rested on that privilege, but she chose
not to rest. She chose to let her light shine in the unique way that she was put on this earth for. You can see more details of Meredith's life here
[Tangent Alert: The Number 47]
Meredith is a bright light taken too soon from this earth at the prime age of 47. I tell you, this event was startling to me in my 47th year of life. 47 has long been my favorite prime number and the number 47 has been on my heart and mind for years. I routinely use the number 47 whenever I need an arbitrary number. Ask my family what my favorite number is and they will tell you. As a joke, my son was number 47 on the football team this past season. I almost named this company and blog "47" but I was about 60 years to late as www.47.com
is a successful apparel and headwear company in the Northeast with a neat backstory, founded in 1947. Their history is presented very well on their website. I digress. Let's get back to Bright Lights.
Cheer for Both Teams?
I mentioned that my mother was an elementary school teacher. While this did provide income to meet tactical needs, this was not just a job for her. Whether she was born for it or she just grinded it out, I don't know. But it seemed like a calling. It seemed like she knew that teaching was her purpose while she was on this earth.
Cheer for both Teams?
My mom was a trip. Early in my life, I played a lot of soccer. At the games, since she was a teacher in a small town, she knew most of the kids on both teams. One year, I was on the best team in the league and we were playing one of the worst teams. We quickly established a 2-3 goal lead. I can vividly remember hearing my mother's voice encouraging the other team for the rest of the match. I wasn't surprised or angered because I was used to this behavior from her. The memory sticks out because of the volume of passion she put into cheering for the other team, while she also cheered for our team.
Late in her life, my mother wrote a one page poem about Time and how we spend it. I can't believe that I've lost it. It should be a family heirloom hanging on walls in every descendant's home from now on. While the one pager is gone, the point is made. How we spend our time is tremendously important. How we impact others is paramount, even when it means cheering for the other team.
My mom died in early February 1998. I try to forget the exact date, but I can't forget the memory of it all. She was a in her early 50s, a couple of years older than Meredith when she died at 47. My mom had the blasted $%&# BRCA1 gene that was the culprit for the deaths of many women in her family, including her sister, mother, grandmother and great aunt to name a few. A few years ago, Angelina Jolie's popularity led to a more widespread understanding of this gene. BRCA1 leads to breast and/or ovarian cancer in many people who have it. My sister, Jill Elliott has gone through quite the ordeal with that gene and is willing to talk about it. If anyone reading this wants to hear about real life and BRCA1, I can put you in contact with my sis.
Another Bright Light that Could
In the last years of her life, my mother fought through several different rounds of chemotherapy. After successfully raising 2 kids who launched out of the house and were functioning adults in the real world, she did not get to enjoy the "empty nest" and then cruise into a life of retirement that spoiled the grandkids. At the time, my father's job situation was no joyride either. But she still chose to let her light shine. With Hospice in the house, and visitors wanting to spend time with her, she maintained the Pollyanna approach to life. She kept it a "Glad Game" until the end. (I think visitors came by to be encouraged as much as they came to encourage her.) My mom knew who she uniquely was. She knew that a light was within her. She knew that other people needed to see this light. So she walked it out each day, like the Little Engine that Could, like PollyAnna and Meredith. She woke up each day and let her light shine. Here's a pic of her from the Joseph Brown Elementary School yearbook in 1998 that they dedicated to her.
A Reminder for Us
I warned you that it would be a long post. Remember the questions at the beginning, "Are you shining your unique light?" Did someone you know come to mind as you read this?
Maybe you or your loved one needs a reminder on their wall, or a handwritten note to remind them to Shine their Light. The catalog has shirts, prints, postcards and more to keep this important mantra at the forefront of our brains.
Remember, When You Word, a percentage of proceeds is donated to feed the hungry.
If you identified with any of this blog post, please use the Share buttons below for to share it, tweet it or pin it. I'd love to get connected to people out there who are letting their light shine. If you are not on those platforms, a comment below is much appreciated!