It all started with a keychain. Then a glow-in-the-dark tee-shirt. Then a magnet.
What did all of these gifts from my mother—stuffed in Christmas stockings, wedged in with birthday presents—have in common?
Gumby: the agile, turquoise, zany star of the sixties TV show.
Despite my original eye-rolling and belly-aching, Gumby embodies a quality that I strive for in the way I live my life—flexibility. In fact, he is my role model.
I believe in the spirit of Gumby.
By nature, I am Gumby’s opposite. I am not flexible.
The month before my younger sister’s birth, I, at the age of two and a half, mysteriously forgot how to walk. Miraculously, I remembered once the stork arrived. My girlfriends want to go out on the town? Well, my bedtime is eleven so I can wake up early to run ten miles without stretching the next morning. Once, it took me about two years to warm up to a new pair of flannel pajamas—just on principle that they were different.
In other words, there’s not much room for change.
My mother, a yoga instructor, sees things differently. It was she, after all, who started preaching the word of Gumby to me, handing out his paraphernalia with the zeal of an evangelical minister.
College brought homesickness, midterms, roommates. In the midst of the storm and stress, I would call my Mom. She would console me with soothing words—I love you, you’ll get through this, honey.
But I always knew it was coming: get out the Gumby.
Gird up those loins for some flexibility calisthenics in the school of life.
I sometimes wonder why unpredictability and spontaneity frighten me so much.
Maybe I’m just a creature of habit.
But I can’t help but think it’s something more: September 24, 2000.
I was fourteen years old. Around three PM, I was doing my homework. Gradually, drool began to dribble from my lips, my speech slurred, and I lost control of the motor skills on the left-side of my body.
Even after all of the cat scans, no one knows why I suffered a stroke. The doctors attribute my full recovery to the resilience of youth. But just because I exhibit no physical side-effects does not mean there were no effects on my psyche.
For so long, I clung to the safety of order, worshipping at the shrine of routine.
After having once lost control over my own body, I did not want to lose control of anything else in my life.
But there was Gumby on my bookshelf, in my closet, on my fridge, staring at me.
Call it brainwashing; call me crazy.
But somehow, when I’m in a situation that challenges me—whether it’s a delayed flight, family drama, or a snafu at work, I look at my keychain.
What would Gumby do?
For me, the question is just as important as the answer.
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