On this day, I have been given an invitation. Today I open a box in my memory, dig through the clutter, and find her somewhere in the corner. I find the girl I once was, bring her out into the light. She is like a precious stone, and in the light I turn her and turn her, noting the shimmer and sparkle on each side, the light reflected in different hues, complex and deep and lovely.
I am not accustomed to seeing her this way. I rather think of her as scuffed up, gaudy, trying too hard, awkward, showy. But this month I honor myself too, and I try to see her beautiful.
At age five, she came home from school and pronounced, “There is a writing contest and I am going to win.” She shoveled in her spaghetti at the dinner table and assured her parents, “I am the best on my soccer team.” She sang solos at church and at school without a waver in her voice.
She became student council president in sixth grade. By this time she was beginning to notice other girls getting big-chested, getting boyfriends, shaving their legs. Hers legs were still hairy and her clothes were still hand-me-downs. Her social confidence was beginning to fade. But she didn’t let it stop her. She ran for president, and she won.
That Christmas, she received from her grandmother a small wooden gavel, which was inscribed, “President Katie.” It was reason enough to declare, for the rest of that year, that she was going to be the first woman president of the
I cannot deny that she has a bit of ego, a love for power. But today I look beyond it and see more in her. I see the confidence and joy and courage that comes from being loved, and being unafraid. I see independence and creativity and unselfconsciousness about sharing her gifts.
She lay on the floor next to a stack of Sweet Valley Twins books, with her ear pressed to the small clock radio and the volume way down. It was past her bedtime, but she had to catch the “Hot 9 at 9” which she recorded in her book almost every night, to stay up with the latest music.
Lately, though, she liked country music, the sad twangy love songs about loneliness. They were great for belting in the shower. To cover this embarrassing musical interest, she made up white lies about the CDs she was receiving for Christmas, insisting there was some Backstreet Boys and Will Smith among them.
On her school notebooks she had scribbled, “I <3 Lance Bass” in unnaturally floofy letters. When she wrote notes to stick into the vents in her friends’ lockers, she wrote her “e’s” like backwards threes because she’d noticed other girls doing it that way.
I usually see that girl and wince at how hard she tried, for how very long, to fit into a crowd. Today I notice also her longing to be relevant, her ability to observe and adapt to a culture, the real connections that she forged. I notice that some of the floofy-lettered notes were about God, some were attempts to reconcile friends, and some were written to the unpopular, overweight girl in her homeroom.
It was lunchtime at the high school, and she was sitting at the table, slowly picking each item out of her lunchbox, as the usual dialogue played out in her head.
- Fold your hands and pray, you can do it.
- No, it will only make them uncomfortable.
- Don’t be ashamed of your faith.
- They are going to think I’m so weird. They don’t understand.
She was in the school library at seven-thirty, showered and changed after morning swim practice. She sat with her friends at the table, studying. The Bible was in her backpack, and she willed herself to take it out—a bold witness, a display of unashamed faith. If only it was easier to be a Christian in this world. One day she drummed up her courage, and took it out of the backpack, and opened it, there on the table in full view. But of course she didn’t read it, only glanced around for ten minutes at all the other students in the library, sure they must be watching, waiting to pounce.
I know better now, that it’s not a war, that we are all really on the same side, trying to figure life out, trying to find grace in this world. The girl I was then thought this was a battle, and she wasn’t prepared to fight it. I am glad she wasn’t prepared, because maybe then she’d still be fighting, fighting when it is better to sing, and hold hands. Looking at her now, I see that despite her fears, she was singing and holding hands, and she must have done something right, because girls from that time are still some of her closest friends.
Today I turn her and turn her in the light. I see her and love her.
And I see also this: gratitude for the processes that formed her. For the love and opportunities that made her fearless and confident; for the family that encouraged her to notice that fat girl in homeroom and the hungry people in the world; for the loneliness that gave her compassion and cultivated her spirit. There are many girls who never get that love, who are never told they could be president, or who never believe it.
She is one lucky girl.
This post was written with inspiration from the Story Sessions prompt for international women’s day. This was a fun one to write about. You can find more stories like this or write your own over at the link-up by clicking here.
Visit my “Honoring Women’s stories” project for more stories of different women.