The most definite, permanent scar is on my right knee. It is small, just about the size of a dime. It’s no more than just a faded memory. No more than a pale pink skid mark, of where my knee and my pride hit the pavement at the intersection of where all my confidence was stolen from me.
It was a Sunday, a perfect day for a picnic. A large portion of the church we were going to at the time made an appearance to exchange conversation over lunch, under the Texas sun. At age 8, I was fearless. Maybe a little bit too adventurous. And stuck in the thought that I always had to prove myself to other people.
We had just eaten and a bunch of boys wanted to play a game of football. Wanting to be like my Dad, strong, athletic, and competitive, I asked him if I could join in. He smiled big, and nodded, then quickly changed the rules to two hand touch to help keep me safe. I remember some of the boys, just a little older than me, not being happy about the fact that I was playing, or that they couldn’t slam each other to the ground. I imagined they probably had so much energy built up from having to sit still at service, like a volcano ready to burst. I didn’t blame them for being mad.
We were a couple plays in with nobody on the scoreboard. We finally huddled up and Dad strategized a play just for me. A hail mary to the end zone. Granted, I wasn’t any good at football, but for this game you didn’t really have to be. You just needed to run fast and be able to catch ball. From all my years of softball, I had pretty good hand eye coordination so I was pretty confident, but nervous of failing. Dad hiked the ball and I ran down the field as fast as my legs would carry me. My heart beated fast, and my lungs expanded and collapsed as they begged me for more air. As I got to the end zone, Dad threw me the ball, and I said a quick prayer that somehow it wouldn’t slip through my fingers. This was my chance to prove I could run with the boys.
Sure enough, the football landed in my hands. A smile wiped across my face. I was excited, and happy, but most of all proud.
But just as I was about to hold up the ball in victory for my Dad to celebrate with me, one of the fourth grade boys came up from behind me and pushed my back. His two hands pressed against my spine with enough force to knock me off my feet and onto the cement by the people picnicking. Tears began to well up in my eyes. I turned over and sat down to examine the damage. My palms were scrapped by pebbles from catching my fall, but my knee was worse from kissing the pavement. A river of red began to pour out. As I looked up I could see the concerned look on my Dad’s face as he started running toward me. The boy picked up the football I had dropped and threw his hands in the air as his own dad started to yell at him from a distance. “What?! What did I do?! Its two hand touch!”
He’s right. I’m fine. I’m fine. I shouldn’t have even played.
Dad knelt down beside me and picked me up to bring me over to Mom. I’m sure my face was bright red of embarrassment from the scene I had caused. I remember thinking I was weak. That somehow I let myself down, and Dad to. I could feel the stares and I heard the whisper. Oh no, they are talking about me. I deserved this. That’s what happens when you play with fire. I mean, what do you expect when you are running with boys. They are wild, and rowdy. I was bound to get hurt.
Never. Never again. I wont get myself into another situation like this. If I had just stayed on the blanket talking with Mom this wouldnt have happened. I should just stay in my place.
I used to care so much about what other people thought of me. Not only the people I knew, but people I hadn’t even met. The ones that were just sitting near, or the ones that just saw the scene unfold.
After that whole episode, I began keep to myself more. Instead of playing soccer at recess, I just walked around the playground with some of the girls in my class. In middle school, I stopped answering questions I knew the answer to just because I feared I’d get made fun of for being smart, or maybe I was wrong and people would think I’m stupid. In high school, I started to act like someone I wasn’t. I always straightened my hair, pierced my cartilage and stopped biting my nails. I became just like everyone around me.
Now being 21, I’ve chosen not to care. To stop being so afraid. It makes me laugh sometimes thinking how that little fearless warrior turned into just a big scared worrier. I was so consumed by what others thought that I wasn’t being myself. But now, I play with the boys in basketball even though all of them are way better than me, and I speak out when I have something to say, and there are days that I let my hair be untamed. Letting go of the fear of embarrassment and inadequacy has been such a signficant change. I am not cautious or concerned. I’m free.
When I look at my scar, I am reminded not to be mute, or to sit out. I am remindered not to miss another opportunity to show people who I am, or what I am capable of. And I am remindered of the courage, and the strength I hold within me. Of how a little girl ran with the lions and came out victorious.
I hope today that you are reminded not to shrink back. You are brilliant, and significant, and the world is begging you to not be to intimidated to shine. Do not shrink back. There will be people you know, and strangers passing, that won’t be able to understand your grace and beauty and will mistaken you for someone you aren’t. Do not shrink back. You will fall and people will stare, maybe even whisper, but don’t let that dictate who you become. Because you are supposed to rise, and do great things. Your voice is meant to be heard, and there are adventures to go on. Please believe me when I say you were born to stand out. Do. Not. Shrink. Back.