Sometimes It Takes Going Back to Childhood to Remember that We Have the Power to Draw Our Worlds
Three weeks ago I had the honor of traveling to Des Moines, Iowa, to co-facilitate Diving Deep, a reflective institute for experienced community engagement professionals from across the country. The event was sponsored by Campus Compact. As I was designing the curriculum for the event with my co-facilitators, and we were discussing appropriate pre-readings we might use for such an experienced group of professionals, I told them I felt in order for participants to rediscover their passions we had to take them back. Way back. To, like, pre-kindergarten back.
I suggested “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” by Crockett Johnson.
If you aren’t familiar with “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” it is a book about a little boy who finds a purple crayon and begins to draw his own world. This includes daring adventures which lead to challenges, but Harold remembers he has his crayon and the ability to draw his way out of predicaments into a world that includes friends, allies, and comfort.
Now, you may be chuckling at this and thinking: “Harold and the Purple Crayon’ as a reading for a bunch of Ph.D.s and Ed.D.s with combined experience of 125 years in the field?”
Yeah, it is the only reading that made sense. In the end, the participants agreed as they took their purple crayons and drew their goals for the next year (yes, we really made them do this).
You see, when we spend so much time caught up in the passion of our lives, be it work, family, community involvement, hopes, dreams or all of the above, we can lose sight of why we started any of it in the first place and begin to replace passion with just being—busy.
I believe we all enter into our adult lives with the hope of making change in the world, but over time—through red tape structures put into place by others, demands on time and talent, and the ever deteriorating day that seems to get shorter as we age—it is easy to get jaded. But if we can remember that we ultimately have control of our lives, we can create the world we desire; a world where our passions proceed beyond the pit of busy. And sometimes that means putting it all aside and going back to the beginning.
There is a scene in “Harold and the Purple Crayon” where a monster, one that Harold had drawn, tried to attack him and his purple crayon began to tremble in his hand. This trembling drew amazing waves that turned into a vast ocean, and before Harold knew it he was drowning. As he sank, he remembered the power of his purple crayon and he swam fast, kicking toward the light that lay above, and he resurfaced. As Harold gasped for air, startled by the freshness as it filled his lungs, he quickly started drawing a boat; a boat that would take him to the shore and on to his next adventure.
As Harold continued he knew his purple crayon had great power, but the crayon was nothing without his ability to draw. As he learned how to make both work in tandem, he created a vibrant world full of friends and community. Sure, he slipped along the way—once almost toppling over a mountain—but as he started to fall he lifted his purple crayon and began to draw. He drew a balloon that lifted him from his descent and back into the world he was creating.Toward the end, Harold had drawn a world so great that he thought for a moment he might not be able to get back home to the comfort of his bed. As he continued to draw, he asked a policeman to show him the way. The policeman pointed Harold in the direction he was going anyway, but Harold smiled and thanked the officer.
The point of this is that if we continue to believe in the power of perseverance and the ability to create our own destinies—despite the times that we fall—we can draw our own worlds. The passion that topples us into the pit of busy can be drawn back to the passion that doesn’t allow busy to feel like a bottomless hole.
No matter the color of your crayon, be it blue, black, green, or purple, you have the ability to create your own world. You always have the strength to lift your hand forward and make your mark. And when you create something so spectacular, others will join, some will build off of your creation, and you’ll just smile and continue drawing because it was a world you had planned all along.
Keep drawing, my friends. Keep drawing.