Spirit Matters: Childhood photo acts as a spiritual guide

Jerrilyn Zavada

The wallpaper on my laptop is almost like the beginning of a fairy tale.

“Once upon a time, in a place far away ... "

Every time I sit down, 7-year-old me looks back at me with a big, carefree smile on her face, sitting on a concrete lion at the Brookfield Zoo.

The lion isn’t smiling. His expression is fierce, daring anyone to mess with him.

Through seasons of darkness, uncertainty and self-doubt, this picture has reminded me of some important truths.

It reminds me of that carefree inner child whose favorite things in life are to laugh and to share in laughter with others, and to experience the wonder of being alive on this planet.

As of yet, she has scarcely begun to experience the darker side of life – the one where not everyone likes to laugh or for others to laugh. Rather, they seek to squelch that free spirit in people around them. If they aren’t happy, no one else is going to be happy. If they don’t want or know how to have fun, then no one else is going to have fun.

The lion on which she sits symbolizes the inner strength she has had to develop and call upon multiple times in her life – times of tragic loss, anxiety, recurrent depression, job loss, aloneness and more.

Despite the people and situations in this life that have sought to bring her down, the carefree, loves-to-laugh little girl atop the lion lives on.


All those times she felt threatened or defeated by life’s circumstances ultimately were opportunities to know herself better.

In silence and solitude, she learned to turn down the noise and listen to her own wise and whimsical voice, as well as to the eloquent silence of God within and around her. This soulful refuge is a vital for her spiritual life and continues to nourish and nurture her as she lives in the presence of the holy one.

Those dark times allowed her soul to ripen in spiritually rich soil, strengthening her desire to be a light in this world in any way she can.

Those periods have taught her to empathize with others, to choose her words wisely and deliver them in a tone of voice that doesn’t inflict more damage – a skill only possible through self-awareness and always in need of being honed.

On that day 45 years ago, as I laughed with the other girls in my Brownie troop, I had no idea how significant this picture would be in my life.

That lion was there as a photo opportunity for countless children. It seems that day the stage was set to produce a divine souvenir for me, one that would keep reminding me who I am through all of life’s ups and downs.

Who knows?

Maybe this photo was even meant to be used as a reference point to write this column today, so that the lessons I have learned in my life could resonate with some of you and your own lives’ journeys.

God does work in mysterious ways, after all.


SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column by Jerrilyn Zavada Novak that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact her at jzblue33@yahoo.com.

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