251. A Quiet Welcome

As I write this article, spring is very tentatively poking its head through a hard winter. I know it’s superstitious of me, but I try not to welcome it too much, even though I feel like really letting go. I picture spring as a shy child, curious about a new situation, and yet quite ready to go back to what it’s used to if it gets intimidated by some one’s reaction. And I want spring to stay.
Shy children sometimes have trouble with boisterous people. They usually do want to be noticed, but they don’t necessarily want to be welcomed with banners and a marching band in their honor. I, personally, prefer hoopla, but I’m hardly ever shy. So though it took me some time to catch on, I figured out how to modify my approach when I welcomed shy children.
People have the right to be shy. I remember one child who started the school year shy – spoke so quietly that she was hard to hear. I was new at teaching, and I hadn’t thought much about shyness. I kept trying to encourage her to speak up, and to occasionally volunteer to stand in front of the class and be seen and heard.
It seemed to me that the more I tried to get her to open up, the more she closed up. I hadn’t yet heard Malvina Reynolds’ song, “You Can’t Make a Turtle Come Out,” but the wisdom expressed by that song would have helped me. Garrison Keillor talks a lot about shy people, and though most of what he says about them is comical, his wisdom could have helped me, too, if I’d been aware if it back then.
But it was a shy child who ultimately showed me the way. She was fed up with my attempts to get her to stop being shy. She came to me privately after school and said, “Mr. Blue, the reason I don’t talk loud in class is that I’m shy!” She said it in a voice that did not sound at all shy. She put me in my place. She asked me to stop trying to get her to stop being shy; she told me she had a right to be shy. And then she calmly walked out of the room.
This incident gave me new respect for shy people. I guess I’d unconsciously assumed that they were more like Will Rogers’ description of Calvin Coolidge: “The man doesn’t say much, but when he does talk, he doesn’t say much.” Shy people may have plenty to say, and it usually doesn’t do any good to try to bully it out of them. The words will surface when the time is right.
Nowadays, I’m more patient about shyness. I want spring to come, but I know that I don’t have any power over it. While I’m still not above snipping off a twig full of buds and forcing out some blossoms, I mostly let late freezes and blizzards do their thing, and do my best to patiently wait for spring.

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