Shaking My Shadow

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By Nichole Woo

It was a fun game, for about thirty seconds.

Darting, ducking and dodging over playground pavement to lose it. Loose the dark, distorted image spilling out from your toes. Shake your shadow, and win. Then reality reeled us back in. It diverted us to more realistic pursuits, like digging holes to Australia (where at least we were free from improper fractions).

I hope I’ve learned a thing or two since then: Like, studying pays higher dividends than tunneling. But the shadow game? Here I am (a disappointing number of) decades later, still playing.

Just a glimpse of my twisted apparition on pavement taunts me to try again.

The rules haven’t changed, but I have. Years of reality have squelched my youthful naiveté. They’ve taught me that I’ll never win.

So I play not to lose, and I play alone, preferring anonymity to shameful visibility. I’ve outgrown the playground, too, with its chipped charcoal-asphalt echoing squeals of delight. I play at more mature venues now, like grocery store parking lots, alleyways, and the cracked sidewalks hemming in my home.

Wherever I go, my shadow’s sure to find me.

She’s longer and darker now. Her voided light slinks from my frame, defying the sun. She boasts a muddied and murky hue. Like a rinse cup collecting castoffs from the painter’s brush, hers is a life-blend of missteps, mistakes, and misgivings.

Who wants to live with the ugliness of that?

I’ve tried everything to shake her: Spin moves, stutter steps, head fakes . . . resolutions, self-talk, or a book prescribing both. But she persists; she’s a permanent fixture in my rearview mirror.

It was a fun game for thirty seconds, but not thirty years, and I am tired of playing.

In desperation, I run.

I run for distance and distraction. It is a change, a new shade or relationship, a move. I run towards more of what sparks joy and away from what doesn’t.

But nothing works.

After years of soul-shredding pavement-pounding, I am shackled to her still. I cannot take another step. Worn, bound, with head down, I cough up my confession: “You win, I lose.” Strangely, in this place of defeat, my chains feel just a bit looser. I shift my eyes from the phantom that has held my gaze for so long. For the first time I feel the freedom to look up.

It is noon. The sun hangs high in the heavens, presiding over the earth and her every shadow.

I had forgotten about it being there, blazing its bewildering fire that gives and consumes, illumines as it blinds, and heats as it burns. I brace for flames, but feel only warmth whispering that I need not win what’s already won.

I find liberation not in losing my shadow, but in setting my eyes on the Son. I see Jesus, who walked in the valley of death’s shadow, only to defeat it. He, who presides with power over the earth and her every shadow. My shadow. I remember, and believe.

With this childish faith, I am back on playground pavement once more. This time, I won’t run. I am unfettered, not from my shadow, but from playing her game. I kick off my shoes, unearthing the freedom to finally stand still. It is holy ground.

I search out my shadow. Peeking out from behind me, she is tethered to me still. I suspect, until my last breath, she always will be.

But she is shaking, shriveled and small in the light of this noonday sun.

______________________

About Nichole Woo:

Despite a deep desire to belong, I often find life nudging me to the margins. I’ve been the only girl on the team, the only speech teacher afraid of speaking, the fumbling foreigner at the coffee shop, and the only mom who lets her kids drink Fanta. I call the Rockies home, where I write at www.walkthenarrows.com, and pretend to be a Colorado native despite of my flatland origins.

 

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