Archive of Letters and Voices • Zetta Elliott
• Letter for A Book a Day
• June 13, 2020
A couple of weeks ago I received a long list of questions submitted by students in Toronto for a live author event. Most kids wanted to know what inspired me to write my fantasy novel Dragons in a Bag. Others asked for writing advice. Some wanted to know why I chose to write about dragons instead of other mythical creatures. One question stood out from the rest and I chose to answer it at the end of my allotted time: “What do you do when you’re scared?”
Life does get scary sometimes and there’s no shame in being afraid. Everyone feels fear—kids, teenagers, and grownups, too. Lately things have been happening in our country that make me upset. I have anxiety, which means I worry a lot. I always tell kids that “What if…?” is how all good stories begin. But when I’m feeling anxious, asking “What if…?” over and over again just makes me more afraid because I tend to focus only on the bad things that could happen.
My big sister treats people who have anxiety and she told me to think through any situation that makes me feel worried or afraid. I fainted on the subway once and I was so scared it might happen again that I didn’t want to take the train anymore. But I tried doing what my sister suggested: I asked myself what would happen if I got on the train and fainted again. Well, probably the same thing that happened the first time—someone would help me.
Mr. Rogers used to say, “Look for the helpers.” Whenever something scary happens, there are always good people who will rush in and try to make things better. I got back on the train and I was fine. Then, years later, I fainted on the subway again! And you know what? Kind people helped me—again. Sometimes things happen that we can’t control, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. The one thing we can control is how we react to the world around us. We can choose to believe that good people will stand together and fight for what’s right. And we can become helpers ourselves, assisting those in need.
It takes a lot of courage to admit that you’re afraid and need help. And that’s what I told the student who asked me that brave question. The next time you feel afraid, look for the helpers. Find someone you trust—a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a teacher—and tell them how you feel. Know that there are lots of people in the world who will do everything they can to make you feel safe again.
Peace & love,