The Sky is Falling & The Ground is Lava

This is what readily came out of my mouth when I was asked how I had been doing lately: the sky is falling and the floor is lava. I hadn’t sat with it until the person I was speaking to, pointed it out as a great descriptor. Every time I say things like these, my sister reminds me I’m a writer, for real! So part of me believing and claiming this noun at this point in my life, is writing. So here I am.

Since I typed it out, the phrase has stayed with me. I took some time to figure out why it felt so familiar and still a fairly unusual thing to say, to think. I later realised how childlike it is and I remain intrigued by the kind of information that our minds can seemingly inadvertently, call to memory. I will say though, that I’ve enjoyed discovering all the ways I have remained childlike: like the fact that such direct references to media made for the consumption of children rolled off my tongue (fingertips?). After deliberately thinking about it, I was able to figure out that the first part had something to do with Chicken Little. Because I had a vague recollection of the details, I looked it up and a piece of the sky did fall on Chicken Little but no one believed them. I also learnt a couple of fascinating tidbits:

  1. The Mandela Effect may be at play here because some people remember the story being called, “Chicken Little” and others, “Chicken Licken”. Both versions may have existed depending on the version of the story you encountered and where in the world it originated.
  2. In one catalogue of forktale types used in folklore studies, the phrase “the sky is falling” in Chicken Little was considered an English phrase indicating paranoia, hysteria or a mistaken belief that danger is imminent.
  3. The Merriam Webster dictionary still defines “Chicken Little” as “one who warns of or predicts calamity especially without justification”.

Back to the story, there are several variations of it but the relevant part of the one I remember goes like this: Chicken Little rings a bell in his school to warn everyone to run for their lives and when he’s asked why, he says that a sky- shaped stop sign fell on his head but he can’t find it. Everyone shrugs it off because he had been seated under an oak tree when he claimed this happened and so, it was reasonable to assume that it was in fact an acorn that fell. It didn’t help that his reputation in this town he lived in was – the chicken that was always trying to find solutions but would end up accidentally ruining everything. As the solution bringer, he always had an answer for everything and concluded that the sky must be falling and he needed to gather his friends to alert the relevant authority. There’s a lot of disagreement about how the story ends but my mind doesn’t seem to have cared about that then or currently. Even so, this matters because folktales are told to teach us something. In one ending, he ends up the hero who saved the town. So perhaps this is a lesson in leaving room to trust the underdog/ outcast. In another, an investigation reveals that there’s a missing acorn in the tree he was seated under. For this reason, he learns that the sky was not really falling and that it’s okay to not know all the answers. The last one I’ll mention, is one that surprised me because this kind of story was not in my realm of possibility. In it, Chicken Little is adamant that she’s not little and not scared of anything, which is short lived because she hides when something falls from the sky. This variation is said to show us how Chicken Little viewed herself: as confident and courageous, but sometimes tiny and unable to control what’s happening around her.

If you knew me right at the start of my early adulthood, as Pinterest obsessive and immersed in words and all manner of literature, you might have heard me say or read some quotes that I liked that often featured this Shakespeare quote:

Though she be but little, she is fierce.

– Helena referring to Hermina in A Midnight Summer’s Dream, Shakespeare

Searching for meaning, connections and patterns is something that instinctively happens as I move through the world. And so this quote is one of the things that struck me when I read that last variation of Chicken Little. At the time I first read this quote and shortly after, when I discovered the language of feminism, this felt like something I needed to assert. As I do with most things, it was important that I first believed it so that it wouldn’t matter too much what anyone else thought. I haven’t said or thought about it in a while but when my smallness is made to look big – physically or with regard to my age or the “fact” that I am a woman. It’s also peculiar to me that it is this particular story that genders Chicken Little as “her” and maybe its a coincidence or possibly a historical (+ continued) socialisation of women to make themselves small. Possibly something to think about or a reading into an “innocent” children’s story but also the context, biases and inclinations of the people/ person behind anything, always matter.

There are many ways I can make sense of feeling like Chicken Little, like the sky is actually falling and the similarities in our personalities. We’ve already talked about the smallness and the “woman” parts of this, so let’s talk through being the one always trying to find solutions. I don’t consider myself a person who ends up accidentally ruining everything but I can see how an inclination to be a fixer can lead to several unintended consequences. A lot of internal narratives tie my worth, in a way that feels inextricable, to my usefulness. So to be little, in the ways I referred to, and to repeatedly act as the solution bringer seems like a fitting combination of character traits.

I don’t have an answer for everything but I try to lead with questions. My curiosity helps me try to find answers and that has taught me that the questions, the big ones, the ones that matter in what feels like the grand scheme of things, will always end up in more “whys” than responses. So the search continues and maybe that leads me to the discovery that the sky isn’t falling and reminds me/ affirms that it is okay not have answers. This is a particularly necessary reminder in this time where I am working against my tendency to indulge my confusion. Confusion that repeatedly mistakes excuses as attempts at understanding and explanations.

The common thread in these stories remains that the sky was not falling and no one believed them. I believe that a piece of what you think is the sky might feel like the entire sky is falling. If you’ve ever been the only one that experiences a rain drop while standing with a group of people, perhaps this feels more tangible. Maybe it didn’t cross your mind till just now but for me, it does feel like its raining, even with that single drop. I can see why I feel like Chicken Little, how I felt when I said it, even if all this information wasn’t immediately accessible to me. It is heartbreaking to intimately know the feeling of the bigness and overwhelm of pain that feels like it is only yours, that feels like your solitary experience. So I certainly believe that the sky could be falling, on only you, or maybe you’re the only that can feel it falling, even when no one else believes it. I often say to my people that we all choose to survive in different ways and though I may have strong opinions on other’s choices, the sooner I make peace with the choice, the easier a misaligned interaction is. So for some people, not feeling things, specific ones or in general, is what maintains their base of “normalcy”, so I can see how we are capable of refusing a real thing.

So, what is the difference between truth and myth? Who gets to determine it? Does a lack of faith in something make it unreal? How do unreal things happen?

– Vagabonds!, Eloghosa Osunde

This is exemplified in one of the stories: When Chicken Little tells their friend Locky about this experience, they say,”if the sky is falling, why doesn’t it hit me on the head?” So maybe this is also about being unseen, being limited to one of your quirks, about how violent it is to be stripped of complexity and as a result, of your humanity. So it’s immaterial that we know what the masses believe as truth, whether the entire sky is falling or a piece of it or none of it, because it feels like it is. So here where the piece falls, where it feels like it has all fallen, can send me into a frenzy, one that feels too huge to contain and so, it spills out of me and leaks to the masses. I get it and I often critique feelings that leak to those around us because we’re not sitting with them, we refuse to process them, consciously or not.

Some grievers equate grief to a scream that you hold inside you and what usually follows is encouragement to let the scream out on some days, to allow yourself to give it space. For those who give themselves permission to do this, I can see how this metaphor reaches and can help one take the step to release it. I mean this could still be leaking, causing mass hysteria but I have some caveats. I know mental illness can move from feeling like imploding to exploding, so spillage can be expected. Also, I love this particular analogy on grief as a movie that turned into a horror that only you can see.

But the worst thing — the worst thing — is not that the movie has changed, but that no one else has noticed that it’s changed. They are all still watching as though nothing has happened. No one seems to notice that the screen has split and morphed, that everything is different now.

If you make a sound, if you say “Wait. WAIT — this is all wrong now!” They pat your arm and whisper, “Shh. It’s totally fine. It’s just a movie. It’ll work out fine. What a great story, and pass the popcorn please.”

– Megan Devine, Refuge in Grief

Finally, the last caveat is that I have loud internal narratives on perfection, self- sufficiency and so, being perceived as not needing support. So this tracks with my tendency not to leak, to control and interrupt it when its about to happen. So while I am Chicken Little in many ways, when the sky is falling, I keep it to myself as it collapses, at least until I can hold it, or package it neatly as a reflection about how it was actually just a piece of the sky and the world really isn’t ending, even if it often feels like it is. I’m allowing myself to take the smallest steps in response to these thoughts. I’m trying not to fixate on working on everything and always getting better, unlearning or healing. I’m here, I know and I am trying – baby steps at learning how to give myself permission.

So the sky has been falling and I kept saying I don’t understand why it feels like this. Then someone else asked me what’s been going on for me and I gave a thorough list of all the things currently going on in my life. As soon as she met me with empathy, my heart finally felt like it’s allowed to break. So when my heart started breaking, it was visceral, but I was so relieved. Its intense and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in my breath and yet we are here. Between the first time I said this and now, some things have changed. I can feel my loves holding my hands. I am mostly doing a good job at not performing okayness, at putting myself first, returning to the things that keep me on the ground, learning to make things easier for myself. This time, the stakes are low and that’s been a tremendous help. Let’s be clear that the sky is still falling and it gets excruciating and it helps to be reminded often that I’m loved and care is within my reach, to start to believe it.

And I know the floor is lava. This is another reference to media made for children, this time its a game. The essence of the game is not to stand still and keep moving forward to the next tile, making sure not to fall onto the floor, the lava. When my life brings me to my knees, I fight not to stay floored, not to stand still for “too long”. “Too long” as in what I decide depending on the context, is a reasonable time to process my emotions. Also, I rationalise this by saying this out loud to remind myself that, “I’m an adult and my life and decisions aren’t waiting for me to sit with my feelings to keep going forward”. I’ll admit that I’m still jumping from tile to tile trying not to get stuck in the still or crumble onto the floor. Still, I’m falling a lot more frequently and oscillating between standing still and being forced to be still.

Some other time, I’ll write more about the flurry of emotions that have come with moving past intectuallising my experiences.



  1. I’ve read it twice and the pictorial explanation and relation to life , it’s struggles and each person’s individual experience just left me in awe , I have to re read it a couple of times , heck even journal about it severally . Can’t wait for me from you.


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