It’s amazing how small moments and the stories we tell surrounding them can shape us. They can lead us down a path to be more fully ourselves. Or they can lead us down a path of hiding.
My mom always loved to tell the story about my lack of imagination. I came home in 6th grade to tell her about a classroom assignment. My teacher asked us to close our eyes, think about a garden, and write about what we saw. I remember sitting there, squeezing my eyes shut, waiting for the image to appear. But, as I told my mom, all I saw were spots and lines.
From then on, this story was told as my inability to visualize things, to imagine things in my mind’s eye. But now, I realize that this story was not about my lack of imagination. Instead, it was about my tendency toward concrete thinking. It wasn’t that I couldn’t visualize things (though I did later discover there is a word for that – aphantasia). It was just that I usually think in words not pictures. So, when my teacher asked me to think about a garden – and enthusiastically said it would appear for me to see – I took her literally. I thought about the colors that might be in a garden – yellow, blue, red, orange. I thought about the types of flowers – daisies, roses, daffodils. But I thought in words, not pictures. And unsurprisingly, a picture did not just appear for me to write about.
For years, I have heard and told this story as a story about my lack of imagination and lack of ability to visualize things. I adopted a view of myself as lacking creativity and imagination. I saw myself as only good at concrete, “left-brained” tasks, seeing math and science as my strengths.
And, honestly, I am good at concrete tasks and thinking. But I also love to wrap my mind around abstract concepts, twirling them around in my brain and trying to grasp them more fully. I am good at wrestling the abstract into a more concrete form, helping myself and others to better grasp them. And I do have the capacity for creativity. I think we all are imaginative in one way or another, made in a Creator’s image with a desire to create.
I tell this story not because I am upset about how it caused me to misunderstand myself. Instead, I tell it so that we can become more aware of how small moments and the stories surrounding them may have shaped them. And maybe, reading this will help us to re-examine those stories and redirect ourselves down a path which allows us to be more fully ourselves.