I was a very shy young girl. If you think shy people are not aware of their shyness, then you don’t understand. Of course I wanted to speak up and join in the conversation at a party at Grandma’s home, but I only managed a few sentences with my cousin Patty.
The only place where I was sure of myself and able to break out of my deep silence was in the classroom. I learned that the teacher was my friend. I learned that I could ask questions, and she wouldn’t allow the class to laugh at me. I learned to raise my hand. Of course, I didn’t have ALL the answers, but if you answer frequently, a wrong answer now and then will not destroy you.
In ninth grade (what we called junior high school,) there was an Oratorical Contest. We were to select a famous speech, have it approved by our homeroom teacher. Then we’d go home and memorize the speech. My mother listened to me as I learned, at first with much hesitation, then later with more confidence, a speech by Noah Webster, with the formidable opening lines: “Sink or swim. Live or die. Survive or perish.”
Fast forward to the finals – six of us on stage vying for first prize. We did not use a microphone. I did not win one of the top three prizes, but I was so relieved and even a little joyful, that I had actually done well.
Afterward, several of my friends said, by way of comment, “I didn’t know you could talk that loud, Mary!” Victory! I decided there and then that the following year, when we all were over at the high school, I would join the Speech Club and the Debate Club. There, I relished the menu: poetry readings, debates, meeting kids from other schools, reciting Noah again, winning some books, feeling like I had a voice.
It would be some time before I could speak my own words, that is, preach what I had written. But I did something very differently. I didn’t wait for someone to tell me – my mother never would have scolded me for forgetting my lines or for being quiet. I made a decision, age fourteen, and it was the most daring thing I did back then.
Empowerment ~ even before I’d ever heard the word!