Mr Shelley's Mailbox

Steel City Mailbox

One of my favorite movie moments, probably in my top 50, is when Morpheus tells Neo to jump across from one building to the other in The Matrix. Do you remember what Morpheus tells Neo? "Free your mind.” He didn't make it across, of course, but he certainly learned his lesson: Asphalt is a bouncy trampoline in the virtual world. Well, there's that and the other major importance of Neo's existence: You are only capable of what you tell yourself you can do. I can identify with Neo all too well.

My first year in college, I entered as a theatre major. The very first thing I learned was that I know nothing, which was fine because it allowed my acting professor to train me from the ground up. I'll never forget my first major role in a play. The part called for a bit of melodrama, which I could not for the life of me seem to capture. My director kept telling me (and when I say "telling me" I mean "screaming at me") to be "Bigger! Bigger!" He would jump onto the stage and wildly show me exactly how he wanted me to run offstage and no matter what I did I couldn't seem to let go of whatever it was that I was holding on to that kept my feet from running off that stage. It was the most frustrating thing!

After a few semesters of therapy, and by therapy I mean acting classes, I started to realize the source of my anchor. Like Neo, my mind had set so many limitations to what it would allow my body to do. Neo saw several stories down leading to certain death. I saw several hundred people judging every move I made. I had not yet discovered the freedom of being onstage; of becoming a character.

Several years ago, my 6-year-old daughter learned how to ride a bike. Her knees looked like she'd been attacked by cheese graters, but she would get patched up and back out there. One day I caught her in her room putting clothes in her suitcase. I very matter-of-factly asked her where she was going. She announced she was going to Nana's and she'd be back sometime next week.

Now if Nana lived a couple of blocks down I might have relented and told her when she learned to use the brakes come back and we'll talk. But Nana lives in Arkansas and we live in Texas.

I asked her, again nonchalantly, how she was going to get there. She looked at me and said "my bike" as if it were so obvious. Oh how I hated to burst that bubble. She had discovered her very own personal form of transportation- a pink and white metal version of freedom with streamers flowing out of the handle bars and she was ready for adventure.

Like any good parent, I tried to lead her to her own conclusions by talking her out of it but she wouldn't have it. It went something like this:

Me: Rachel, I sure will miss you if you leave.

Rachel: It's okay. I'll take your cell phone and you can call me.
Me: But what are you going to do about all the freeway traffic? Won't you be scared?

Rachel: I'll take the access road. (You know you have a city kid when they know the words "access road")

After a while of debating logic, I finally broke it to her that it would be impossible for her to ride her bike to Nana's house. We walked together hand in hand out our front door and down the sidewalk and I showed her where the limit was- our neighbor's, Mr. Shelley's, mailbox.

It was a very sobering moment for the both of us. Her broad adventures had been reduced to the limits of a cul-de-sac and I had just taken away a little bit more or her childish innocence. The part of her brain that tells her "You bet we're going to Nana's!" had had a dose of logic. Time and space took one more step forward in her life. All too soon she would struggle with limitations keeping her from her dreams. Her personality will be confined by what society tells her is acceptable. Her free spirit will suddenly care what others think about her. She'll begin to create her own "Mr. Shelley's mailboxes" and instead of jumping on her small bike and peddling cross-country, she'll stop to think whether or not it's such a wise decision.

Now I'm not saying go out and do foolish things that will lead to certain death. But, for you, when was the moment you staked that mailbox and said, "I'm terrible at painting. I'm not doing this anymore” or “I’m not writing anything else because I’ve got nothing to say,” or “I can’t start a drama team and travel and be funny. That’s for other people and besides, I’m too busy!”

I’ve had my fair share of rejections with auditions and writing and drama teams and just about everything. But I refuse to believe that my life will only go as far as the cul-de-sac. For Rachel, I pray that as she gets older her perspective won't change, but that she begins to weave logic and wisdom through wild abandonment.

Free your mind and keep moving that mailbox further and further down the road.

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