I was about nine years old the year my Sunday School class had only two kids in it—another girl named Marlene, and me. When it came time for the annual Christmas concert, our teacher, Mrs. Johnson, chose a two-character play for Marlene and me to perform. The premise of the play was that a sweet young girl would teach her crochety old grandfather (who said “bah humbug” a lot) the real meaning of Christmas. Mrs. Johnson allowed that the elderly character could just as easily be a crochety old grandmother, and assigned that role to me.
I was mortified.
I gave Mrs. Johnson half a dozen reasons why she had it backwards. Marlene should play the grouchy old grandmother and I should play the sweet young girl. Marlene had short hair, mine was long. Marlene was bigger than I, and a little older. I did not want to play a grouchy old woman who says, “Bah humbug.” I had never heard of Charles Dickens or his spooky stories, so the expression made no sense. Who says “bah humbug” anyway? How was that even a thing? It was the dumbest play ever and I refused to approach it with even the slightest smidgeon of enthusiasm.
But Mrs. Johnson stuck to her guns. I would play the grouchy old woman, no questions asked. Oh, I was grouchy all right. I wanted to run away. I stubbornly decided to play my role so badly our audience would see I was actually a sweet young girl who had no business trying to portray an old grouch.
Convinced the crowd would feel appalled by how poorly-cast this play was, I could already imagine the post-concert conversations that would take place in living rooms for miles around:
“What was Mrs. Johnson thinking, casting Terrie as that grouchy old lady?”
“I know, right? Clearly, Terrie should have played the sweet young girl.”
“What a shame. Ruined my whole night.”
“Maybe even my whole life. So unfortunate.”
The one unfortunate thing I see now is that Mrs. Johnson missed an opportunity to turn the whole scenario around with a little simple psychology. If she had appealed to my nine-year-old ego by explaining that she was giving me the more challenging role, the one demanding the best acting and the most stretching, I’m sure I’d have fallen for it and jumped in. I would have acted my socks off.
But she didn’t.
And I didn’t.
If the Ghost of Christmas Past could take me back to 1968 and show me my belligerent, nine-year-old self, I’d feed that stubborn kid the same line I drilled into my drama team years later until they grew sick of it: “It’s not about ME!”
I didn’t understand that then. Somewhere along the way, good mentors gave me a more mature perspective on teamwork. Thank God, Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t the only character who can be reformed.