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  • Mj Pettengill

The Soul of a Boy


Lewis Hine's Maine Collection

When I say, “Your feedback is encouraged and welcomed,” I am sincere. Feedback serves as a bridge necessary to reach the far corners of possibility and the fullest extent of intended expression. This is not to say that I operate as a small rowboat tossed about in the high seas. Shared reflections are to be valued and come to me as offerings. We are in it together.


That being said, I received a powerful, direct, and brief email referring to my recent blog, “These Woods.”


It was nothing more than a quote from the essay followed by four words, “And little boys also…”


I am beyond grateful that my friend, who remains anonymous, mentioned this to me. He provided an opportunity for me to reflect and explore the soul of my work even more in-depth than I had. He brought it to the surface.

___________________________________

“… the secrets that no one dare talk about, especially little girls who were taught to remain quiet and polite at any and all costs.”


And little boys also… __________________________________

Dear Friend,

Thank you very much. Your response is direct and opens the door to a broader, cultural reality.


Boys are left out or on their own in many ways. They are consistently taught to not only keep quiet but to hold everything in. They are indoctrinated within our society and systems to be tough or accept the role of geek, wimp, or be an outsider. Sensitivity is an open invitation to bullying. Stoicism is a survival mechanism.


We must rethink this way of being so that we may recover wholeness and well-being in our boys turned men. Traditionally, boys are not allowed to have feelings or show them. However, they are encouraged to be physical and often express aggression. Hence the ridiculous saying, “Boys will be boys.”


I am aware that there are countless courses, workshops, books, etc. focusing on women and girls and their circumstances, but very little about boys and men. Perhaps it is because women generally communicate differently and expect the same from each other. Simultaneously, they are being chastised for rocking the boat, over-reacting, being hormonal, or dramatic. What an odd dilemma.


I grew up with four sisters and no brothers (my only brother died shortly after birth). My experience relating to the systematic stripping away of feelings, sensitivity, and the freedom to safely and authentically “be” for boys is based SOLELY as a mother to my sons. I learned a great deal about them, about boys, and what society expects (demands). I have been thinking so much about this lately, and your email came at a perfect time.


This is one reason, the main reason why I allowed Samuel to go so deep, to illuminate that boys are sensitive and profound thinkers too. But it is against the rules to speak up for reasons very different from girls.


The call for authenticity ruled the day in the crafting of Samuel’s childhood narrative.

This is also true with Silas. People often rail against him, what a fool he is, and so on. In my discussions, I talk about how this is a grand misconception. Silas symbolizes a young man who had unfortunate circumstances (like most of us at some point in time, some worse than others). Yet, he did have a good heart, he cared and loved, but had little or no proper guidance. His unrecognized, deeply hidden-self, craved to do the right thing, but he was easily led astray. He was badgered continuously about “bein’ soft.” He was another survivor, a victim as well. His actions /inactions reverberated through future generations, as continues to be the case for all.


You have NO IDEA how grateful I am for this comment and email.

Someone recently expressed dissatisfaction regarding Samuel’s narrative. At first, I was taken aback, the comment was delivered as a finger-pointing slam. This is part of a writer’s life, for which I comprehend and appreciate. However, I had to ponder this particular reaction, as I consider all that is shared with me. This is different, and I am especially grateful.

Why?

Because, first and foremost, it is essential to follow and trust your instincts, and avoid staying inside of a self-limiting box. This reaction to Samuels’ story in Book Three, is validating, an indication of a lack of the ability or willingness to go deep—the very reason why we must venture into this territory. It makes some people uncomfortable. Boys don’t do that. How dare I, or anyone else, pull back the veil and look further?


I could have maintained a surface story and ignored his deeper perspective, burying his tender, yet sturdy heart and creative spirit, but it called to me. It shouted into my dreams. It perched on the limb of a nearby tree, looking down upon me with a flickering eye. Dismissing the truth of his innocent humanness would have been an injustice to Samuel and all boys.


This is why I deleted over twenty chapters and started again in his voice only. It is vital to recognize the beauty and depth of a young boy’s soul. There is more to boys than slingshots, catching frogs, and pulling girls’ pigtails. Behind the expected, stereotypical, Rockwell impish grin is a heart as full and, in some cases, more full than his female counterparts.


I hope that you are well. And when you read “Down from the Tree,” you will comprehend the magnitude of not dismissing boys by keeping them in a restricted space that we expect and no longer see. It has become the norm. Freedom awaits.


When boys or girls come down from the tree, may they continue down to the roots, to where their souls connect to all that is.


You will see a post born of this. I guarantee it.

Warmest regards,

Mj Pettengill

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