Gillian Levine

The Risked Attached to Gastroliths


I’ve never considered myself to be particularly brave. I’ve never pulled anyone from a burning building. I’ve never participated in a military coup or a revolution. I’ve never had to rely on bark as my only form of sustenance while lost in some wilderness. I am the first to admit that I am sometimes consumed by irrational fears: super volcanoes, sea snakes, feral children, large crowds at the mall. I’m kind of a wimp. But even the wimpiest people can be brave. Everyone’s concept of bravery is different. For some, bravery is fighting in a war in another country. For others, bravery is beating pancreatic cancer. When we do something brave, we learn something about ourselves. We prove that we can face our fears, whatever they may be. These moments of courage – whether big or small – shape who we are.

I had my own brush with bravery on a rainy March morning in elementary school, when my second grade class formed a line and ventured off to the school library. It was a big day; a famous paleontologist was coming to speak to the whole school. All of the kids in class were very excited. It just so happened that we had been learning about dinosaurs that week. I especially loved dinosaurs, and I had been staying up late every night to read my older brother’s books about T-Rex and Brontosaurus. Basically, I was a dinosaur expert. I was also the shyest kid in class. If I was an authority on dinosaurs, it was a secret to everyone else.

As we filtered into the library and settled onto the shag carpet, we all noticed an intriguing new addition to the room. Looming over the head librarian’s desk, in the gray light of the bay windows, was a giant blow-up dinosaur. It was huge. It had to be at least 6 feet tall, with fiery red eyes and big plastic teeth and a long spiked tail. We all wanted it. Every single kid in that room coveted that blow-up dinosaur. The feeling of desperate yearning that permeated the room was palpable.

The assembly started, and we all had a great time. The paleontologist showed us real dinosaur bones, and we even got to touch the fossilized tooth of an Allosaurus. We watched a movie about dinosaurs, and there was a slide show with pictures of an excavation. The paleontologist told us lots of interesting facts about how dinosaurs lived, and how they were being studied by scientists like him.

Just as the assembly was coming to an end, he smiled slyly at all of us and said, “Now, does anyone know what dinosaurs ate to help them digest their food?”

No one spoke.

“If anyone can tell me the answer, I will give them this blow-up dinosaur.” There was a collective gasp from the audience. Suddenly the inflatable toy was tantalizingly close.

One kid raised his hand and guessed, “Grass.”


Another kid called out, “Water.”


Someone ventured, “Bugs?”

No one seemed to know the answer. Except for me. I had read about it in one of my brother’s books. Dinosaurs used rocks to digest their food; the book had called these stones gastroliths. I knew the answer! But I was so scared to speak up. I hardly ever said a peep, and here I was about to stand up in front of the whole school and say something. What if I was wrong? What if I was remembering the answer incorrectly? What if everyone laughed at me? I took one more look at the giant blow-up dinosaur. It had stopped raining outside and a single ray of sunlight had fluttered into the room, alighting on the head of the polyethylene creature like a halo. I knew what I had to do.

I held my breath and raised my hand. I stood up and nervously faltered,


“Rocks?!” the paleontologist yelled incredulously.

“Rocks?!” he repeated, looking around the room in disgust.

Everyone started to laugh. My face turned bright red.

“Doesn’t that sound gross?!” he yelled. People were laughing harder, and I suddenly wished that I could somehow sink into the carpet and disappear. He paused and smiled at me before he said, “But… she’s right! It’s ROCKS!”

The blow-up dinosaur was mine.

Life changed for me after that day. For one thing, the corner of my bedroom was now occupied by a giant blow-up dinosaur. Other things changed too. I started to raise my hand more in class. The kids at school wanted to hear everything I knew about dinosaurs. I started to feel braver and my confidence slowly began to build. I had begun to find my voice.

Before the blow-up dinosaur day, my biggest fear was to be noticed. I was afraid that people wouldn’t like me, or that they’d laugh at me. I was afraid of being wrong. I was afraid of taking risks. But that day I learned something about myself. I learned that I had a voice, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to use it. Sometimes you have to have a little bit of courage. You have to face your fears and have faith in yourself. Even the smallest acts of bravery can shape who we are. There’s always the chance that you’ll fail. But then there’s always the chance that you’ll win a giant inflatable dinosaur. And if you’re really lucky, you might learn something important about yourself.

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