This I Believe

Six years old, tucked tightly, and laying quietly in her bed, her favorite teddy bear in her arms and her loving mother reading her a story. Her favorite story. The Polar Express. They read that book together every year on Christmas Eve. Her mom would walk upstairs with rich hot chocolate and big fluffy marshmallows, and they would re-read that story until she fell asleep. Even then, her mom would push play on the CD, and allow the recording of the book to run until the sun rose.

The little girl would always breath slowly and silently until her favorite part of the story. The part when the boy first heard the magical sound of belief. She had a replica bell and she held that bell every Christmas Eve. She always had the honor of ringing the bell. When the reindeer pranced and paced, she rang the silver bell, just like the bells that hung from their harnesses. The bell made the most magical, beautiful sound, like nothing she’d ever heard. And after finishing her hot chocolate and laying quietly in her bed, she would fall asleep. But she never let go of that bell. She fell asleep with that bell in her hands, and she would wake up to the sounds of a hissing steam and squeaking metal. She grasped that bell, put on her slippers and robe and tiptoed down the stairs. She always liked to make sure that Santa had come. But her subconscious knew that he always would. He always would come, as long as she believed.

***

11 years old, Christmas time, and piles of books in my arms. That was when my bell stopped ringing.

I had always just believed. Believed that I was good at math, believed that I could make it to the Olympics for gymnastics, that I could do anything, if I just believed. But sixth grade- that was the killer. That was the year I stopped believing. In everything. In my abilities, in my skills, in myself. The tests got harder, so I worked harder. The skills became more difficult, so I trained for longer. I could not trust myself to do well, so I put all of my energy into work. I studied until 3am. I did extra strength training at home. I did everything in my power to advance and to do well. Did I get better? Maybe a little.

This continued throughout all of middle school. I worked hard, and trained hard. Everyday tears and sweat were shed until I would run out of water to expel.

My freshman year of high school, that all changed. My mom and I were in the car on the way to a gymnastics meet. The snow smacked the windshield, and no radio stations would come through in the middle of cow country. That was fine by me, I had to study. I always had to study. But after about 20 minutes of sitting in silence, enough was enough. My mom began scanning for a radio station, and after that failed, told me to look for a CD. I did as I was told, and found one in particular. The Polar Express. I had forgotten all about the disc that had sat there patiently, for all these years, gleaming up at me.

I picked up the disc and let it glide into the player. I closed my notebook and just listened. I listened to my childhood heros laughing, and talking about Santa. I listened for the hissing trains and squeaking metal. I listened for the magical, beautiful, sweet sound, that the bell made. I listened until the boy rang the bell for the last time. Only then did I realize that life was not just hard work, that the book was not just one big lie. The boy needed to work to find that bell when he lost it. He needed to work hard in order to find his belief.

Now I can hear the bell’s sweet sound again, but I can never forget that time in my life. That time taught me that work is very important to success. But so is belief. In fact, I believe that is true belief. Believing because you deserve to. Believing in yourself, because you have proven yourself time and time again. Believing in yourself because you have put in the time and effort to get you to where you are. Believing in yourself, because, when all else fails, you are the only thing that you have left.