In 15 years of television journalism, the interview I remember most was with a five-year-old girl called Nicola.
Here’s what happened. Nicola was dying of muscular dystrophy, but was still well enough to attend school classes in her wheelchair. I was in her classroom, making an item on the mainstreaming of disabled children into normal schools. The children adapted quickly to our presence and got on with a normal day.
Nicola dropped her pencil. She leaned over the edge of the wheelchair and looked for it, frowning. Immediately, half a dozen other youngsters, both genders, dropped what they were doing and cast about under the table, until they found the pencil. Then only two of the helpers returned to schoolwork. The rest stayed as Nicola held court about the birthday party she’d had in the weekend. She waved the pencil about, punctuating her statements in the air.
She was obviously very popular. Was it because she was in a wheelchair? Were they sorry for her? Had the teacher instructed them to look after her needs… especially today? Was it the presence of a camera, or the unusual attention of adults?
It wasn’t any of those things.
The sequence finished and the camera operator nodded at me. The teacher changed the activity. Now it was posters and group discussion. Video-taping began again. Nicola continued to be a strong presence, her every utterance doted on by other five-year-olds. And beside me, smiles grew on the faces of the cameraman and sound recordist, who, like me, had seen many things that don’t lead to smiles. The teacher said nothing, but her smile was knowing. She saw this every day.
They were entranced by Nicola.
I was fascinated. This was more than superficial popularity. What was it that gave this five-year-old such magnetic presence? Her physical looks? Well, no, she wasn’t pretty in any conventional way. Was it the way she spoke? I noticed that she never stumbled over her words. So perhaps the secret lay in her words—but I could hear nothing essentially different from those of her friends. And yet, somehow, here was a small child with charisma. The ‘X’ factor. How does that happen?
The explanation didn’t emerge until the interview.
For that, the camera crew set up outside, then Nicola and I wheeled and walked across the playground towards them. On the way, there were a couple of clues. When talking to me, she did not speak child-to-adult, but person-to-person. Also, a waiting television camera crew can easily be intimidating to a child, but she showed not a shred of self-consciousness.
The red light winked on, the tape rolled. Nicola did not change in any way. She continued to chat with me without self-consciousness, as if there was no camera at all. Somewhere in the middle of the interview—I couldn’t resist it—I nodded in the direction of the classroom and commented on her effect on other people.
“You’re very popular.”
Recognising the question for what it was, she screwed up her face and cocked her head to one side for about five seconds of serious thought. Then her expression cleared and her eyes came back to mine.
“I think it’s because I like them,” she said.
Not they like me, but I like them. That, from a terminally ill five-year-old, was an interesting reply. But it was years before I understood it.
Here’s the second universal truth. Your life is your mirror. It shows you what you’re creating and who you’re choosing to be. In the language of the Maori, our indigenous people, Ko au te taiao, ko te taiao ko au: I am the world, the world is me. What you think, feel and believe is what you get, and every object and event is an external reflection of your internal adventure. It’s the secret language of things and events.
The day we know that is the day we start to place what we want in our mirrors.
There is no physical universe that exists independently of you and me. Everything is an expression of Consciousness, which includes your mind. And your mind—both conscious and subconscious—expresses itself constantly, creating your own adventure stories around you. But so that our adventures can be real to us, we forget that we are the creators. We forget that our thoughts, feelings and beliefs are potent, casting themselves around us like movie projectors.
As we grow, our challenge is to take conscious control of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs—and conjure our life story deliberately.
I didn’t finish the story about Nicola. Yes, she died shortly afterwards, but not as expected. She died in an accident, sparing her the prolonged death of muscular dystrophy.
You know, even as I write this, I realise that I missed out the essential word in her five year life story: love. Nicola loved everyone around her—and it came back constantly in her mirror. Her love included me, a complete stranger. How about that? I love her for it. I’m about to have a glass of wine, I’ll raise it to her memory.
Take me to all the five universal truths