This is one of my favorite stories. It is from All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. While it can be enjoyed as simply as a cute story, I always wonder how many times I have been guilty of shutting down someone because they just didn’t fit into the way things were ‘supposed’ to be.
GIANTS, WIZARDS, AND DWARFS was the game to play.
Being left in charge of about eighty children seven to ten years old, while their parents were off doing parenty things, I mustered my troops in the church social hall and explained the game. It’s a large-scale version of Rock, Paper and Scissors, and involves some intellectual decision making. But the real purpose of the game is to make a lot of noise and run around chasing people until nobody knows which side you are on or who won.
Organizing a roomful of wired-up gradeschoolers into two teams, explaining the rudiments of the game, achieving consensus on group identity – all this is no mean accomplishment, but we did it with a right good will and were ready to go.
The excitement of the chase had reached critical mass. I yelled out: "You have to decide now which you are – a GIANT, a WIZARD or a DWARF!"
While the groups huddled into frenzied, whispered consultation, a tug came at my pants leg. A small child stands there looking up, and asks in a small, concerned voice, "Where do the Mermaids stand?"
Where do the Mermaids stand?
A long pause. A very long pause. "Where do the Mermaids stand?" says I.
"Yes. You see, I am a Mermaid."
"There are no such things as Mermaids."
"Oh, yes, I am one!"
She did not relate to being a Giant, a Wizard, or a Dwarf. She knew her category. Mermaid. And was not about to leave the game and go over and stand against the wall where a loser would stand. She intended to participate, wherever Mermaids fit into the scheme of things. Without giving up dignity or identity. She took it for granted that there was a place for Mermaids and that I would know just where.
Well, where DO the mermaids stand? All the "Mermaids" – all those who are different, who do not fit the norm and who do not accept the available boxes and pigeonholes?
Answer that question and you can build a school, a nation or a world on it.
What was my answer at that moment? Every once in a while I say the right thing. "The Mermaid stands right here by the King of the Sea!" says I. (Yes, right here by the King’s Fool, I thought to myself).
So we stood there hand in hand, reviewing the troops of Wizards and Giants and Dwarfs as they roiled by in wild disarray.
It is not true, by the way, that mermaids do not exist. I know at least one personally. I have held her hand.