A Different Kind of Courage
"So how was your first day at school"?
Rebecca looked up into her mother's smiling face. It was the first day of the new school year and it had been very exciting. Going back to school in September was always cool. Seeing old friends, making new ones and a new teacher was exciting in deed.
"It was fun. We had a bunch of new kids, and my teacher seems very nice too".
"Well, did she give you any homework"?
"It was only the first day Mum", replied Rebecca, rolling her eyes. She thought her mum was the smartest person in the world, but sometimes she could be pretty dumb too!
"May I go over to Sheila's house for a while"?
Sheila was Rebecca's best friend and lived across the street. They were both eight years old, and not only did Rebecca like Sheila's house, but her mum always gave them cookies and milk too. Besides that, there was a large tree in the back with a swing on it.
"Of course you can, but go change your clothes first".
Naturally, Rebecca already knew that she'd have to change her clothes. “Sometimes Mum treats me too much like a child"! she thought, but her mother loved her very much, and she knew it.
Sheila's and Rebecca's mums were good friends too. Therefore, she was almost always allowed to go over there. It gave the two mothers some time to themselves since the girls kept each other occupied in the back.
It took little time for her to change out of her uniform and into her play clothes, and it took even less time for her to cross the street to Sheila's house. Fortunately, they lived on a side street, and there was almost never any traffic, but Rebecca looked both ways anyway. So you can see, she really was growing up and remembered what she was supposed to do. That was why her mum didn't worry too much about her, though she never let her daughter go very far alone.
"So what do you think of Ms Hathaway"? asked Sheila, as they climbed the large tree behind the house.
That was the biggest reason Rebecca liked being at her friend's house. It was because of the tree. She'd never tell her mother that though because her mum didn't like Rebecca climbing trees.
"You're always tearing your clothes", she'd scolded one day when Rebecca had gotten an extra long tear in her trousers. "If you'd stay out of the trees, this wouldn't have happened! Why don't you play with your dolls instead"?
To that, Rebecca only frowned. “Who wants to play with stupid old dolls anyway”, she thought.
Sheila's father had nailed together a couple of boards and placed them pretty high up in the tree where the main branches split. It had become their special place where they could sit and talk, and no one could see or hear them. They also liked to climb even higher sometimes so they could see everything that was going on in the neighbors’ gardens. From there, they could spy on everyone without worrying about anyone seeing them. It was particularly fun when Sheila's older brother was out there. He was the most fun to spy on, but he also got the angriest whenever they got caught.
"I think she's too skinny", replied Sheila, thinking of their new teacher. "And she has no taste at all. Did you see how she was dressed"?
Rebecca didn't think Ms Hathaway was dressed badly at all, but played along with her friend anyway. Sometimes Sheila could be a little stuck up, but she was still fun to be with. Besides, she liked to climb trees and play football, and Rebecca liked that about her. One of the best things that she liked about Sheila was the way she wasn't afraid to stick her tongue out at the boys whenever one of them tried to get the girls to notice them.
"I hate boys"! declared Sheila, one day. "They are so stupid"!
That pretty much said it all, and Rebecca couldn't agree more.
"Well I think Ms Hathaway is nice."
Sheila frowned before saying, "Yeah, she's nice now. Just wait until things settle down some, and she starts handing out homework. We'll see how nice she is then"!
Rebecca only nodded her head. After all, it had only been the first day, and everyone was always extra nice the first few days of the new school year. Still, she thought her friend was wrong about Ms Hathaway. At least, she hoped so.
There was a new girl in the classroom the next day. Her name was Mary Brown, and unlike the others in the class, Mary was very quiet. Not only that, but she had the most hideous scar on her upper lip. It looked like her lip had been cut in half, and if that wasn't bad enough, whenever she did talk it sounded funny. She sat by herself during lunch, and at play time, she didn't ask anyone to play with her, and no one asked her to play with them either.
"It's called a cleft lip", explained Rebecca's mother. "Sometimes people are born with it and they have to have operations to fix it. It's inside her mouth too, and that's why she talks funny."
Later when she was in their special place, Sheila said, "Did you see the scar on Mary Brown's face? It looks horrid. She's so ugly I bet she even has a hard time getting her dog to play with her! And did you see her clothes? Her uniform looks like she wore it last year. Why, I dress my dolls better than that"!
Sheila then tried mimicking the way Mary Brown talked, and then giving up, she laughed.
Rebecca was quiet though. Before, she would almost always play along with her friend's antics, and they'd usually wind up laughing together, but not this time. Somehow Rebecca just didn't feel right about it.
Fortunately, Sheila didn't seem to notice and began talking about playing football. It was Rebecca's favorite game, and they talked about the coming registration. That was the day when they would be able to join a football team in the youth league. They then laughed about how clumsy the boys were the previous year, and for the moment, Mary Brown was forgotten, but later that evening, Rebecca thought a lot about the new girl at school.
By the next morning, Rebecca had forgotten all about Mary Brown until she saw the new girl in the classroom. Ms Hathaway was getting ready to begin the class, so there wasn't really any time to think of the other girl just then.
The day began as usual, and as the hours passed, Rebecca was pleased to find that Ms Hathaway was still being nice. Most of her friends were expecting her to get mean at any time, but Rebecca wasn't too sure about that anymore.
"Just wait", said Sheila. "She still hasn't given us any homework. That will be the real test".
'You're probably right," replied Rebecca, but inside she still hoped Sheila and the others were wrong.
Like before, Mary Brown sat by herself at lunch, and the other kids began calling her "split lips" behind her back. It was the same during play time too. No one wanted old split lips to be on their team when they played football either. She just swung back and forth by herself on a swing most of the time. Occasionally, she'd play on the climbing cage (monkey bars here in the USA), but she usually didn't do that unless she was practically by herself on it.
Rebecca was thinking about going over to talk to her, but just then, Sheila pulled on her arm saying, "Come on. They're choosing up sides for a football game", and Mary Brown was soon forgotten by everyone.
The next day, Ms Hathaway did give out some homework. It was a reading assignment, and Rebecca's mum told her she had to do the assignment before she could go out and play.
"What took you so long"? asked Sheila, when Rebecca finally got over to her house.
"I had to do the homework Ms Hathaway gave us", replied Rebecca, climbing onto the swing hanging from the large tree. "Didn't you do it yet"?
Sheila giggled and rolled her eyes. There's plenty of time for me to do it. I'll read it later before I go to bed".
The girls played together until Sheila's mother called out to them from the back door of her house.
"Rebecca, your mum called and said it's time for you to go home for dinner".
"I'll see you tomorrow"! yelled Rebecca, as she skipped out of her friend's garden.
To her surprise, she found they were having fish for dinner, and whenever they have fish, Rebecca always snuck some for her cat Lucy, and now that she has a new kitten named Fiona, she had to sneak extra for her too. Fortunately, her mum never seemed to notice and Rebecca was certain that her two little friends appreciated it.
"After all, fresh cooked fish just has to taste better than that old cat food", she told herself, as she made her way to her bedroom.
As usual, Fiona was sleeping in Rebecca's bed, but woke up as soon as she came in. She was careful to close the door so her mum wouldn't see and gave her kitten some of the fish. The little black kitten quickly ate the fish and blinked her green eyes at Rebecca as if to say, "Thank you".
Rebecca then went to find her older cat Lucy and give her the rest of the fish. The two cats don't usually get along too well, and Rebecca and her mum try to keep them separated as much as possible. It was a bit of trouble sometimes, but Rebecca loved them both anyway.
The next day was Friday, and it was one of Rebecca's favorite days. School always seemed better on Fridays, and everyone seemed happier. Even the teachers were in a better mood, but that Friday, Ms Hathaway had a surprise for them. It was a quiz with ten questions about their reading assignment!
It turned out to be pretty easy, though Sheila didn't think so. She didn't do the homework, and Ms Hathaway told her, "It was only the first assignment. If you're not going to even do the first one, how can you be expected to do the others I'll be handing out"?
"I told you she would be mean," said Sheila, during play time.
"Well maybe if you had read the assignment like we were supposed to, you would have done better on the quiz, and she wouldn't have said anything at all", returned Rebecca.
"Well she didn't have to yell at me"!
Rebecca didn't answer. She couldn't believe that her friend could be so stupid sometimes.
This time, when Rebecca looked over at Mary Brown and saw her sitting by herself, she began to feel sorry for her. No one ever talked with her, but once again, there wasn't any time because they were already choosing up sides for a football game.
Later that afternoon, Sheila was at Rebecca's house, and as they played with Fiona, Rebecca said, "I think I'm going to try to talk to Mary Brown on Monday".
"Why"? asked Sheila, as she rolled a small ball past the kitten, who naturally ran after it and batted it across the room with her paw.
"Well, no one else ever talks to her. Maybe she's lonely"?
"Who cares? I wouldn't want to be seen talking to old split lips".
"I don't know. It just doesn't seem right. Maybe she's a nice girl. Anyway, I feel sorry for her".
"Well if you decide to talk to her, make sure you do it when I'm not around. I don't want anyone seeing us together if you're going to be talking to old split lips."
Rebecca didn't answer, but she sure was thinking a lot.
As usual, the weekend went by way too fast. Rebecca and her mum did the laundry together, and they went grocery shopping, and the next thing she knew it was time to go to school!
"Well just think about when you have to go to work instead', sighed her mum. "At least you have play time in school".
Rebecca rolled her eyes. "School isn't exactly fun either you know. Maybe you're just too old to remember!"
Her mum made a face and grabbing her hair brush, she chased a giggling Rebecca around the table with it. She wouldn't really hit her with the hairbrush. They were just playing. Her mum always pretended to get angry when Rebecca mentioned how old her mother was. It was sort of a game betwixt them.
Everyone was getting used to the new school year now, and things were becoming routine, but when lunch came this time, Rebecca was determined to talk to Mary Brown.
"Stay here with me", said Sheila, with an angry glance towards the table where the new girl was sitting by herself.
When it looked like Rebecca was getting ready to stand up, Sheila quickly said, "If you go over there, I won't be your friend anymore"!
"Yeah", said Sharon, who was sitting at the table with them. Sharon was nine and had failed her second year so she was the oldest girl in their class. "Why do you want to talk with her anyway"?
Rebecca suddenly wasn't sure what to do. She'd been friends with Sheila like forever, and she'd known Sharon for two years. Everyone listened to her, and she was a bad person to cross.
Both girls were staring at her, and in the end Rebecca thought it best to talk about it to her mum before she did anything that could cause her a lot of trouble with the other girls in her class. So, giving Mary Brown a final look, she went outside with Sheila and the other girls.
Later that day, when Rebecca got home the first thing she had to do of course was her homework assignment. This time, she had to write a poem. It was something she had never done before, and she wasn't sure how to even get an idea for one.
"Write about the things in your life", instructed Ms Hathaway. "It's always easiest to write about the things that are the most familiar to you".
Rebecca thought about what Ms Hathaway said, and while she was changing out of her uniform she thought of the night her dad brought home Fiona. Her father works a lot and never seems to be home, but he loves her dearly and was always trying to make it up to her for not being around more. That was the reason why he surprised her one evening with a new kitten. He knew her other cat Lucy was getting older, and he knew Rebecca wanted another one. He'd been planning on getting her a new cat for a while and stopped at a farm on his way home one night and surprised her with Fiona.
As Rebecca thought about all this, she watched Fiona slowly sneak up on a beetle that had found its way into the bedroom. The bug had flown to the edge of the bed, and just as the kitten pounced on it, the thing suddenly flew away, and Fiona somersaulted off the bed and onto the floor. The little kitten landed on all four of her paws and looked around as if to say, "What happened"?
Rebecca laughed so hard she almost fell down, and when she was able to stop laughing, she looked at her kitten and said, "Silly cat"!
That was when she decided to write a poem about Fiona. It took a lot of thought and several tries, but in the end, this is what she wrote:
My kitten is cute
She is pretty
I wouldn't be able to do anything without her because she is pretty and cute
My kitten is crying
Why is my kitten crying?
My kitten plays with the toys me and my mum got her
My kitten is tired; she curls up on my bed
After doing her homework, Rebecca decided not to go across the street to play with Sheila. Instead, she stayed inside and played with Fiona. Later, she found Lucy and played with her too. She was having so much fun playing with her kitten and cat that she didn't notice how fast the time went by and was surprised when her mum called her to dinner. Rebecca was even more surprised to see her dad sitting at the table. She didn't even realize he'd come home!
"So what was the best thing that happened to you today"? asked her dad, as her mum brought out the chicken pot pies she'd made for their supper. It was always the first question he asked as they sat down to dinner.
Rebecca wasted no time telling her parents about Fiona, and she couldn't keep from giggling as she told them about how her kitten tried to catch the beetle.
After her mum told everyone about the best thing that had happened to her, Rebecca's dad asked, "So, what was the worst thing that happened to you today"?
Rebecca frowned before telling what had happened at school.
"So what shall I do"? she asked. "I want to talk to Mary Brown, but I don't want to lose my friends".
Her father thought a moment, and after swallowing his food, her dad asked, "Rebecca, what do you think courage means"?
"Isn't that when our soldiers go to war to fight for us"?
"Well yes. That is one kind of courage", replied her dad. "But when a person does something that they think is right, even though the people around them don't think it is or want them to, that is courage also. So what do you think you should do"?
Rebecca's mum reached over, and holding her daughter's hand, said, "What do you feel inside darling? What does your heart tell you to do"?
"Well, I feel sorry for Mary Brown, and I think I should talk to her, but I'm afraid to".
"It's alright to be afraid Rebecca. Everyone is afraid sometimes", explained her father. "That's what courage really means, to do something even when you are afraid to do it. Mostly, people are afraid because they might get hurt, and sometimes it's because they think people won't like them. That is a different kind of courage. It is called moral courage".
"Besides", added her mum. "If Sheila is really your friend, she will understand and still be your friend. If she doesn't, then she really wasn't your friend anyway".
"And you might end up with an even better friend with Mary Brown", said her dad, just before taking the last bite of his pot pie. "You will never know unless you try".
The next day at school, they all had to read the poems they wrote, and everyone liked Rebecca's, and by the time lunch came she knew exactly what she was going to do.
Rebecca didn't even bother to go to the table where Sheila and Sharon sat. Instead, she ignored their scowls and went right across the room to where Mary Brown was sitting by herself.
"Hi, my name is Rebecca", she said sitting down across the table from the new girl.
"I know", replied Mary, looking down at her plate. "Are you going to make fun me too"?
"Because of my scar and the way I talk".
"No", replied Rebecca quickly.
"I really liked your poem. I don't have a kitten".
"Maybe you can come over to my house and play with Fiona sometime".
"Do you really mean it"?
That was how their conversation started, and by play time, both girls were talking and laughing as if they'd been friends for a long time.
"Do you want to play football with us"? asked Rebecca, as they walked outside.
"I love football, but I don't think the others will let me".
"Of course they will. You can be on my team. I'm the best player, and they need me, so I will just tell them I won't be on their team unless they let you play too"!
Mary Brown was right. The other kids didn't want her to play with them, but Rebecca was right also, and they had to let Mary on their team if they wanted Rebecca to play.
As it turned out, Mary Brown was an even better player than Rebecca was! The new girl had very good control of the ball, and she had a way of batting it with the side of her foot which caused the ball to suddenly go in a different direction than everyone expected. Mary was able to score three times that way, and she was such a good player, that by the end of play time, everyone wanted to be her friend!
"Can you teach me how you do that"? asked Rebecca, as they made their way back into the school.
"I'll teach you if you will really let me come over to your house and play with Fiona", replied Mary, happily.
"It's a deal", laughed Rebecca.
"I'm glad you came over to talk to me today".
"Me too", agreed Rebecca, smiling broadly.
"I think we're going to be friends forever"!
"I think so too"!
And that is how Rebecca gained a new best friend and learned that there was more than one kind of courage.