One Halloween years ago my very young son, Chase, was dressed as a Star Wars padawan apprentice with a lightsaber, robes, and all the trimmings. Costumes were serious business at our house, so he looked pretty cool, cool enough to draw the attention of some older boys who tried to taunt him into doing something he didn’t want to do. I don’t know what this heinous act might have been, all I heard was, “Nope, I won’t do it, even if you call me Chicken Jedi.”
I didn’t see Chase’s face at that moment, but I can make a fair guess that his mouth was set in a flat line, his eyes perfectly clear as he gave them a good look, then walked away. He’s nineteen now, and I don’t know if he remembers that Halloween, but he has continued to reveal himself as a young man who decides for himself and walks straight down that road. He taught me that a Chicken Jedi recognizes his own power and refuses to give it up to the unworthy, no matter who might taunt him.
Being the mother of a Chicken Jedi became much harder when Chase decided motorcycles were worthy. For my part there was a great deal of handwringing and admonitions of doom, yet he was unmoved. If you happen to be in Utah once we’re all out and about, and see a black leather clad Elmo riding a motorcycle, it may very well be him.
In these days of international lockdowns as the coronavirus stalks through the streets eager to beat those foolish mortals into submission for such unforgiveable crimes as going to work or the grocery store, I’m wondering how our teenagers are faring. At a time when they are stretching their wings and individuating from their parents, they’re wretchedly ratcheted back to the apron strings. I bet many of them feel bound and gagged, and they make my heart go out to another Chicken Jedi, Anne Frank.
When I was a little girl, my mother gave me a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank, which I sped straight through, hoping with all my heart that she survived, never dreaming that one day I would go to Amsterdam and tour her hiding place. I’ll never forget climbing the hidden staircase to the building’s attic, so steep and narrow it was almost a ladder, unprepared for the beautiful blue and white china toilet which I had assumed would be plain and white. Most of all I was disarmed by the red plaid journal, the actual journal she wrote in. I guess I thought it would be black or brown, or maybe leather bound. Instead it looked similar to the red plaid journal I had kept at her age, a Christmas gift from my mother, just as hers had been a gift from her father. I guess it brought home that she wasn’t so different from me.
Even with the world in lockdown, unemployment exploding, and people dying, our circumstances are still better than Anne’s, but there are enough parallels to take some lessons. Anne wanted to be a writer, and even though her situation could not have been more perilous, she continued to hone her craft. She first began her diary carelessly, but she was tipped off to the importance of her words when she heard a radio transmission from a Dutch government official in exile in London, encouraging people to keep personal journals as valuable historical records. She took another look, and like any good writer she began to revise for clarity and organization, recognizing the value of her insights, in spite of her age. A thoughtful analysis would show us many points to ponder, but I want to discuss just three.
Anne would never have called herself Chicken Jedi because the title would have made zero sense to her, but she was one all the same. In spite of her tender youth, she understood that wisdom is the better part of valor, and sometimes a strategic retreat is the best way to vanquish your adversary. Hopefully most of us have the Chicken part down as we sagely hide away from the microscopic flecks of virus shed by unsuspecting carriers who could unintentionally betray us to the enemy. The Jedi part takes something more, luckily Anne Frank left us a map.
A Jedi hangs onto hope because no matter how bad things look, or how real the danger, the power of hope cannot be removed by force; it can only be given away. I can’t spend too much time reading news reports because they tie me in knots. Keeping properly informed is essential, of course, but there’s a divide between informed and obsessed. Obsessed beckons me to put my hope in a coffin and slowly shake out shovelfuls of dirt, listening as they crumble and plink onto the surface, blinding me to the good that might be passing by unnoticed. Periodically I have to forgive myself for sliding into this trap, and reevaluate my behavior.
We know the Force isn’t genuine, but I believe God is real, not just real but listening to our prayers and the thoughts of our hearts. Personally, I begin collecting hope by first believing that there is something larger than myself, a being who does not play dice with the universe. Since He is listening, I go ahead and talk His ears off, taking careful note of anything He conveys in return. This is where my hope originates, with a God who loves me and knows me by my first name. When my heart fails, as it often does, sending my little store of hope off into the street where it disappears into the cracks and storm drains, I return to this spot and start gathering again. I don’t know how you accumulate your hope, but whatever it is, do not stop. The effort of collecting hope also guards it.
A Jedi continues to train so as to be ready when opportunity strikes. Anne Frank was preparing for a career that was finally denied her by evil people, but because she continued to press forward with her talents, her words were there when opportunity struck with a vengeance. Her book has been reprinted in the millions in multiple languages. Much of the western world grew up knowing her story and her face. The Nazis remained in power for twelve terrifying years, but Anne’s little book has been influencing the world for seven decades. It’s true she lost the battle, but Anne most assuredly won the war.
There are few things so healing as creation, especially in a time of death and fear. I like to write and design and read. Maybe you like to tinker with old cars, or crochet, or paint, or build a treehouse. There is no right or wrong answer, the key is to continue to stretch your mind, talents, and your imagination. As long as we’re progressing forward it’s harder to slide back, and less of a risk that we lose hope.
I’ve already written about the importance of writing our experiences down, but the tunnel of the present is so seductive that most of us won’t realize that time is passing until it’s long gone, and events that had once seemed so stunning and evergreen will grow holes, like old celluloid films left too near a flame. When my children were little, breaking the back of the toilet tank because it proved too heavy when they were investigating how the mechanism worked, and blackening the upstairs outlets when they figured it was time to learn the properties of electricity, I thought it impossible to forget any of their wild adventures. Naturally I remember some, but now my sisters tell me stories about my kids. “Don’t you remember telling me?” they ask. Sometimes I don’t remember. I do have journals, but nothing like I could have, and many of those crazy, vivid, “unforgettable” stories have vanished, along with who knows how much else I should have guarded like diamonds.
A Dutch government official alerted Anne Frank that her diary was part of an important historical record. Like Anne, we are also living in an historically important moment, the secret is, our moment started when we were born, and won’t end until we die.
I’ve made my three points, so I suppose it’s time to leave Anne Frank and return to Chase who is still paving his own road with a gaggle of high caliber friends in tow, so he must be doing something right. Someday, I hope he calls me Chicken Jedi.