Sammy Shark: Unlikely Friends

Sammy Shark darts in and around the rock formations with excitement. Today he gets to leave the family’s grotto for the first time. His smile grows wide. The sides of his mouth hurt. He struggles to wait a minute longer. It’s time to make new friends.

Mama shark swims up to Sammy and says, “Be careful, sweetheart. Not everyone will want to play with you.

“But why not,” questions Sammy. “You say I have a precious smile.”

“Sweetie, some sea creatures have had experiences that make them see things differently,” says Mama. “Making friends is hard. We share a little about ourselves, then learn a little about them. Some fish don’t have the patience to learn.”

“I understand, Mama.” With that comment, Sammy swims off.

Sammy spots a school of clownfish and swims to them. They become motionless and stare at him. To be polite, Sammy smiles. The fish scatter in all directions. “I guess they don’t have the patience to learn about me,” says Sammy.

Sammy swoops in and around rock formations and comes upon rainbow fish. The fish shiver and shake when they see him.

“How do you do,” says Sammy with a big smile. The fish swim off in different directions.

One of the cute little fish swims upward. Sammy notices a wide net headed toward the little guy. Sammy swims upward to warn him.

A nearby crab trembles as he watches Sammy chase after the little fish. “Poor fishy is about to become someone’s lunch,” says Charlie crab.

The little fish glances back and sees Sammy Shark headed straight for him. He turns up his speed, oblivious to the net moving his way. Suddenly the little guy is caught in the crowded net with hundreds of fish. The netting presses hard against his little body as it continues dragging in more fish. His pain is intense.

Sammy swims away disappointed. After all, the little fishy chose to ride in a net instead of getting to know him.

Weaving back and forth, Sammy swims deeper into the water. He spots Charlie but doesn’t bother to smile. He glides past him.

“That’s it?” asks Charlie Crab. “You’re just going to give up?”

Sammy swims around and faces the crab.

“Hi Mr. Crab, I’m Sammy. I was trying to make a friend and even smiled. But no one has the patience to learn how I can be a good friend.”

“Oh, it’s not patience they need,” says Charlie. “They don’t understand how your pearly whites can help them.”

“I don’t understand, Mr….”

“Call me Charlie. They don’t know if you are a friend or foe. Your teeth are big and sharp enough to hurt them.”

“My Mama told me their experiences might stop them from getting to know me,” says Sammy with a tear forming in his eye. “I don’t know what to do. The little guy seemed more interested in taking a ride with other fish.”

“That’s no ride,” says Charlie. Those fish were trapped to become someone’s dinner.”

Sammy perks up. “I’ve got to save them.” Sammy puts his strong tail fin to work and speeds toward the net.

The net cuts into the little guy’s belly as it hoists upward—the little rainbow fish shivers as he watches Sammy move toward the net super-fast.

Sammy smiles big and chomps down on the rope. The strands snap, and the little rainbow fish flops out into open waters. He’s free.

“Hi, I’m Sammy.”

“Did you save me to be your lunch?” asks the shaking rainbow fish.

“I saved you because I’m a good friend,” says Sammy.

“Well, don’t you think everyone else could be your friend too?”

Sammy smiles big, spins around, and chomps at more of the netting. Dozens and dozens of fish are freed and swim away. Sammy smiles and turns back to see all of his new friends, but he is alone. Sad, Sammy slowly swims back to the family grotto.

On his way, Charlie calls out to him. “So, Sammy, did you save that little rainbow fish?”

“I saved lots of fish, but no one wants to be my friend.”

“It’s hard to make friends. They need time to learn that your teeth, strength of your tail fin, and the color of your skin don’t make you bad.”

“Mama told me making friends takes patience.”

Sammy shows a slight grin and swims slowly away. But he sees something out of the corner of his eye and turns.

The little rainbow fish swims right up to him. “Hi, I’m Robbie,” says the little guy. “I want to thank you for saving us. My friends are still talking about how you helped us. Do you want to meet my friends?”

Sammy smiles without showing his teeth and nods. The two new friends swim off together.

Copyright ©2021 by CJ Powers

The Spectacle of a Husband

Daniela watched in horror as one of the ropes snapped from her husband’s antique trapeze, forcing her to ponder life without abuse—if she doesn’t save the bastard.

The crowd under the big top shrieked when the artist’s hands slipped to the end of the white rope. Two spotlights locked on Alejandro dangling forty feet above the center ring. Two more spotlights angled on the floor where the disconnected safety net lay.

The ringmaster signaled the clowns to grab the net and hold it taught to lessen Alejandro’s impact of hitting the sawdust-covered concrete floor. In the stands, frightened children were turned from the attraction, but some felt compelled to watch the acrobat’s demise. A few mothers took their children outside.

Daniela scanned the area for a solution, needing to demonstrate an attempt to save him and avoid being frowned upon. She wondered if an elephant’s back might spare him from splattering on the ground. She hustled to the elephant trainer who shook his head.

The clowns got tangled in the stretchy net and drew nervous laughter from the bleachers. Daniela jogged out back to the lion tamer and suggested rolling the parade cage under the trapeze. He pointed across the midway where the broken wheel was propped up next to the timbers keeping the cage level.

Daniela jogged back to the big top. Alejandro was still dangling above. She glared at her abuser, but compassion washed over her. Staying true to herself, she jogged backstage to look for a solution. She stopped next to a water cooler and grinned.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” shouted the ringmaster. “Welcome to the center ring, Daniela, the strongest woman in the world.”

The confused crowd gave a smattering of applause. Daniela walked in holding a small paper cup with water splashing over its edges. Silence fell under the big top.

“The great Alejandro will perform his new, death-defying, high-diving act from a height of forty feet and land in the water held by the strongest woman in the world.”

Daniela encircled the point underneath Alejandro. She lifted the water cup high and signaled she was ready.

Alejandro rotated his body to see the expression on every face before letting go. This would be the greatest feat in circus history or make headlines as the dumbest stunt resulting in death. He was ready.

Releasing his grip, Alejandro fell like a dagger headed toward his wife.

Alejandro snapped his body horizontally. His back hit the cup of water. Daniela swung her arms, squatted, and released, sending Alejandro sideways across the floor. His feet hit the center ring, popped him upright with his hands high in the air. He received a great ovation and bowed. Alejandro extended his hand to his wife for a second bow. She took his hand in hers and bowed. It felt like their early years with her heart filled with hope.

The circus sold out the next day when the newspaper headlines read: “Strong Woman and Acrobat Astound All.”

Copyright © 2021 by CJ Powers

Nerves Rocked My Chances

The contest had officially started. My nerves were so strong that I couldn’t imagine winning the “Evaluation” competition. Yet, the event would only take ten minutes and determine my future.

Should I quit now and pretend that I lost my Internet connection to the online contest?

My stomach churned in agony. Fear and anguish replaced my thoughts. I was about to go down, and I hadn’t even taken my turn.

Evaluation Competition

The contest goal is to find the best person to give positive and critical feedback to new public speakers. After the target speaker talks, the competing evaluator gets 2-3 minutes to share their observations. They also share a couple of recommendations to help the target speaker learn how to improve their techniques.

I was at the Area Contest. That means those competing had already won in their local community. So I was up against the best in the area.

Imposter Syndrome

A friend sent me a chat before the program started. She sent friendly words of encouragement.

My response came from my focus—my nerves. So, first, I shared how nervous I was.

She responded with a quick reminder of who I was and my capabilities.

I felt the impostor syndrome attempting to make its way into my thoughts.

The impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern that causes us to doubt our skills and accomplishments—the syndrome forms from a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.

I foolishly rebutted the compliment with a chat clarifying how my nerves were getting the best of me.

There was no reply. My friend knew I was stuck in my head and couldn’t see reality regardless of who I was or how highly she respected me. So she was right not to respond.

Battle of the Brain

Many a battle was lost before the fighting ever started. Our mindset can make or break our chances by dwelling on a single thought designed to tear us down. The lack of reply forced me to realize that I had entered a new battle.

My mind flashed with pros and cons. Could I save face by stepping down and letting my backup take over?

The contestants were moved into the virtual breakout room. The host shared the rules with us and pointed out that the woman in the room was an incredible competitor and had won numerous times before. He jokingly warned us that we were about to lose and suggested there was still time to step down to avoid a brutal beating.

Since many a truth is said in jest, was this highly respected man allowing us to quit?

The host drew our names to determine the order in which we would share. I was to be the first speaker. That meant everyone else would have 5-10 minutes more time to prepare their evaluation—plenty of time to craft a great response.

The Courageous Battle Rages

A couple of dozen people filled the virtual space to watch the competition. Several were very experienced speakers and dignitaries. I was feeling overwhelmed and out of place. I was desperate for a healthy perspective.

Years ago, a teacher told me, “…God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” The word discipline popped into my mind. At that moment, I understood that I needed courage.

I understood courage to be the ability to do something while still feeling fearful. But, unfortunately, the fear wasn’t going to go away until I started sharing my views on the target speaker’s talk.

At that moment, I steeled my will to move forward.

My Evaluation Presentation

I listened intently to what the speaker shared and gathered my thoughts. I had two dozen ideas of how she could improve her message. The problem was us having only enough time to speak to two or three of the items.

But realizing there was a commonality in some of the items, I grouped my thoughts based on her ability to captivate the audience, provide concise content, and her appearance on camera.

The speaker was thrilled to receive such practical advice. She accidentally voiced her excitement during my evaluation. Realizing her microphone was still on, she turned it off and took notes.

Contest Results

The host interviewed the contestants before the results were announced. The host also interviewed the target speaker, and everyone noticed she had already taken some of my advice.

I was happy that I could make a positive impact on her life. I didn’t need to win because seeing the woman’s improvements made my day.

I was startled to hear my name announced as the winner. I was not expecting it. Nor did I feel worthy of it.

Why?

Because when I realized my nerves were going to be there regardless of my competition, I chose to be courageous and focused on helping the target speaker improve. When I forced myself to focus on her needs, I no longer had anything to fear. The moment was no longer about my worth at all, but the speaker’s value.

My nerves turned into energy that boosted my clarity. I was then able to speak in a way that mattered for the target speaker. She even got excited about what she was learning. And she implemented a couple of suggestions immediately.

The Future

I’m now headed to the Division Contest. I will be going head-to-head with my podcast co-host Lamont Boyd. That’s right; he had entered the same competition and won at his community and area levels. It’s his goal to get to the district level and then beyond.

It’s my goal to encourage the next target speaker. I want to give recommendations that can be implemented and will improve the target speaker’s life.

I’m pretty sure that my decision to be courageous during the past contest will soften my nerves for the next competition. But if not, I’ll still compete to help the target speaker advance their speaking career.

What do you need courage for this week?