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The Little Shadow
by D. D. Arroyo
Bessie's small face was very red, and tears were streaming down her cheeks as she stamped her foot angrily and cried: "I don't care! This doll is mine, and Marie took it away. I slapped her and I'm not sorry!." She held the doll defiantly in her arms, and stamped her foot again, still sobbing.
Mother shook her head sadly and said, "Oh, Bessie, Marie is only a little girl. She's just barely three, and here you are a big girl of five. It was very wrong of you to slap her. You could have let her play with your doll for a little while, just as well as not. You know you always get your things back. Now, what should I do with you? I do so want you to understand and be kind. Especially to be kind to those who are younger than you. Little children who are younger than you are don't understand all the things you do. You know that, and that is why you should be kind and helpful to them until they are as big as you are. When Marie is as old as you are now she won't take things, because she will know better."
Bessie had grown quieter as her mother talked. She felt ashamed, but she did not want to admit it. This was what always happened to her. Her temper just came up like a big black cloud inside of her, and she forgot to be kind and good. She got real mad and hurt people. Then she cried and cried and stamped her foot. Much later when she thought about these things she could not understand it at all. It was as though it were some other little girl inside of her doing all the bad things . . . because she knew the real little girl she was didn't want to do them at all. Yet they happened all the time. She didn't know what she could do about it. She just forgot and got mad all over again each time.
Mother took her hand now and led her out onto the sunny porch in the back yard. "Look," she said, "see how you have a shadow. See how much bigger it is than you are. See how it sometimes goes in front if your back is to the Sun. Then see how it jumps in back of you and follows along if you are turned about. It sometimes gets smaller than you are even. But it always follows you as long as you are in the sunlight"
Bessie looked up at her mother in surprise. She wondered what this had to do with her being a bad girl. She knew it would have something to do with it. Mother didn't scold very often. Instead she had ways of telling things so that it made you want to try to be better. That was what scolding was supposed to do, but scolding never did.
Mother sat down on the porch steps, and pulling Bessie gently over beside her, went on talking. "I'm going to tell you a story about a shadow. I want you to listen very carefully, and then I 'm going to let you sit here alone for a a while and talk about it." That, too, was the way Mother did things. After the story, you had to think about it, and then you knew what you could do about it to make the story fit in your own life. Some stories can be made to help you like that.
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Mother's soft voice continued: "Once there was a little girl. She was pretty and had a nice home. She had everything a little girl needed to be a fine little girl. Sometimes little girls don't have everything they need. It's harder for these little girls, but there was no excuse for the little girl I'm telling you about. She had what she needed except being nice inside herself. She could be very nice when she wanted to be, but other times she had a very bad temper. When she got mad, she did just awful things. She was cruel sometimes. Very often she made others unhappy. Then after she had these bad temper fits she felt unhappy too. Still, she just kept right on having temper fits just the same. But one day a very strange thing happened to her. She was just terribly mad. She had kicked her best friend. Then she stamped her foot and screamed and cried so much that it hurt everyone's ears to hear her. No one wanted to be near her. They just walked away and left her alone, and that's when this strange thing happened. Can you guess what it was?"
Bessie silently shook her head and Mother went on with the story. "Well, she was left all alone in the garden. The Sun was shining down, and her shadow danced up and down just as she did. All of a sudden though, it just stepped away from her. The shadow spoke as it did this saying, 'Little girl, I 'm tired of following you around. I'm not going to stay with you any longer. You will be the only little girl in all this land without a shadow. And I won't come back until you stop making everyone so miserable. Why, just look at the way you've been shaking me up and down every time you get into one of your tantrums. No shadow likes that. A shadow wants to follow a nice person around. Goodbye until you become nice!' And the shadow walked away.
"Soon she began to feel very lonesome. She got so she didn't like to walk in the sunshine any more, for then everyone noticed that she had no shadow and wouldn't come near her. They just stood a distance away and pointed at her, some of them saying, 'Look, there's a strange little girl. She has no shadow! She must be very bad if her own shadow won't follow her any more!'
"This made the little girl very unhappy, and she began to feel sorry for the way she had treated others. Soon she began trying to be more kindly and considerate in her feelings toward others, and not to lose her temper. She tried so hard that after a while she didn't have tantrums any more. Losing one's temper is just a bad habit, after all, and people can learn to form the good habit of not losing their tempers—if they try. The little girl was rather surprised to learn that this was really true, although her mother had told her that it was. Now her shadow came back, and all her friends did, too. She was her real self now, and a lovely playmate."
Mother stood up. "Please think about this story, Bessie. I think you will find that it will help you with your temper."
Bessie heard the door behind her close quietly as Mother went into the house to prepare supper. It was only a fairy story, of course—she knew that. Nobody ever heard of such a thing as a shadow not staying with anyone. That was silly. But she knew what the story meant all right. She knew how the little girl must have felt. If such things could happen it would be just awful. It would be almost like not having on a dress, if you didn't have your own shadow with you. She knew it was going to help her remember not to get mad any more. Every time she looked at her shadow it would be a reminder.
She slipped off the porch, and her shadow went gaily along with her. She crossed the yard to Marie's house. She felt very bad when she saw the sharp red flush on Marie 's small face where she had slapped her a short while before. She sat down and handed the doll to her, saying, "There, Marie, you can play with it. I'm sorry."
Marie smiled up happily with forgiveness in her eyes. Wanting to make up for her meanness Bessie said, "I'll tell you a story, Marie." So she explained about shadows to Marie, and then told her the story that Mother had just told her. They were sitting together happily when Bessie heard Mother calling her in to supper.
She skipped home with her shadow skipping along in back of her. Throwing herself into Mother's arms, she said, "Mummy, my shadow followed me. It's fun watching it, and I'll try to remember not to shake it up and down by being mad any more."
Mother gave her a kiss and replied: "That's just what I hope you'll do, dear. I want you just as lovely inside as you are outside."
Bessie laughed happily, for everything was all right now. She wanted to be nice inside, too, the way Mother said. It felt so much better being that way.
Contemporary Mystic Christianity
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