Following the end of second grade, I transferred from a small, three-room private school to a significantly bigger public school. I moved away from all my friends into an environment to where I knew nearly no one. Everything was foreign, and I was small.
My newfound trepidation allowed an insecurity of being judged by my teachers and classmates to form. So, I fell into patterns of following rules to get by. I would speak out in class just enough to get a, “Good job!” from my teachers and sink down in my seat as soon as the attention moved to the next person. I would do what people asked of me, but later resent not asking why or saying no. To others, I was quiet. To myself, I was loud.
The realization that I wanted to grow came a few months into the school year. The annual class field trip was to Green Bluff. A typical October surrounded us. Orange hues soaked into everything, from hay bales to the friendly goats’ smiles to the air itself. The sun’s rays danced on our skin, but did not warm the air. The smells of pumpkin and hay wafted around every corner. My hands, swathed in comfortable knit gloves, reached out and touched anything they could. I was excited to see where the day would bring me.
“Let’s do the maze, kids! Stay with your buddies and we’ll see you at the tower in the middle. If you need any help, we can wave at you from up high.” My teacher smiled, and led the way in. My classmates followed her in one giant, amorphous mass of 8-year-olds. I stayed behind.
Once I took in my surroundings, I entered the maze with my friend Syd and her chaperone, Brent. Our spirits were high until we turned left and turned right and turned right and turned left and walked straight and walked back until we realized we were lost.
Syd, Brent, and I wandered aimlessly. Every turn seemed to stretch out for miles or end abruptly. Waving at my teacher was to no avail. No one was in the tower when we needed them, and we were too small to be seen. The air dropped in temperature, which only served to heighten my misery. Clouds covered the sun, muting the orange in the atmosphere and replacing the warmth with a cool gray. Soon, I had had enough of it. I shivered, my stomach rumbled, and my eyelids drooped. When was this going to end?
A few minutes later, my question was answered. The three of us followed our final path, excitedly approaching an unfamiliar pathway. It opened up to the center. My dreams had come true. There was a way out of the maze!
But, there was a catch. This was a joke exit. A fake.
The opening had a wire and a sign blocking the passageway, with the tower a few yards behind it. In front lay a life-sized mousetrap.
I felt like I was being taunted, because everything I wanted was an arm’s reach out. “The joke is on you,” the sign mocked. “Wrong exit! Go again!”
Watching as my eyes wandered past the flimsy wire and out toward the rest of the world, Brent, sensing my hesitation, laughed and urged me to follow him through. After all, freedom is what I wanted, right?
My body seized up. The yellow mousetrap, laying a mere 6 feet away, was big enough to trap me. For the last time that day, I came to two different paths.
I could refuse to crawl under the thin, silver wire, which was the only device keeping me away from my “cheese”: leaving the maze.
Or, I could ignore my fear of breaking rules. My apprehension caused me to bounce back and forth between decisions, like a mouse is hesitant to approach a mousetrap in order to get its cheese.
I stood in a trance while the wind swirled around me, staying longer than usual and running a chill down my spine. It whipped my hair in every direction, stinging my face. The cold, however, jolted me back to reality and reminded me that I was not a mouse, and there was no cheese. The contraption had no power to hurt me.
I stepped forward, feeling the wire through my gloves.
The fabric subdued the cold, and suddenly everything did not feel so big anymore. I took as deep of a breath as I could muster, stepped over the wire, and followed Brent out of the maze.
Nothing happened. All of the built-up stress was for … nothing?
Nothing happened! The mousetrap had no idea that I walked around it, and no one came to tell me that what I did was wrong, or that I needed to go back because I failed to leave authentically. Nothing happened.
Sometimes, a deep breath and a wind chill are all that is needed in order to advance through the maze of life.
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