“Everybody should have a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” So says the main character in a novel I just finished reading with my 5th graders. The young man who states this opinion has a severe facial deformity and is inadvertantly the center of attention wherever he goes. As he experiences adolescent life at junior high for the first tie, he must learn to deal with the attention.
While my face does not compare to his, I, like him, shy away from the attention being on me. Perhaps years of being the object of so many jokes and taunts in high school has permanently branded me with an awkwardness that I just can not get rid of.
I know that I could never be a school principal simply due to the sheer number of times I would have to get up and speak in front of large numbers of adults. And that’s o.k. with me. I’m happy enough being a classroom teacher where my decisions affect fewer people at any given time, which lessens the chance of being openly criticized.
But on the day of my wedding, that ingrained shyness, the desire to have the focus away from me was difficult to keep at bay. The photographer I had hired was a former co-worker, turned amateur photographer. She was great at putting me at ease, considering I was already nervous and was completely confused as to when I was supposed to smile. The camera was nearly always on me, leading me to feel even more awkward and unsure of what to do. “Act natural” didn’t appear to be one of my strongest abilities.
Our wedding was very small, with only around 20 people in attendance. After being together for 13 years prior to this longed for day, we just didn’t feel the need to have a celebration any larger than what it was.
It was a very lovely ceremony and for as long as I live, I will reflect on it with a fondness in my heart. But for all the happiness that day brought us, I have one regret…I should have smiled when I walked down the aisle. Arm in arm with my mother, the short walk to the altar with every pair of eyes on me churned up that fierce awkward feeling that caused me to feel unsure of myself. My lips remained tightly closed and slightly curled up at the sides. I’ll never forget the relief that I felt when my husband and I were finally able to come home to our apartment and close the door on a day that was amazing in so many ways, yet deeply exhausting.
With it now being two and a half years since our wedding day, I have recently found myself in another situation in which the attention was on me. This time, the number of people focused on me consisted of an entire church congregation. Due to the fact that I teach in a Catholic school, I have also invested much of my time in the parish that my school serves. As the president of the Pastoral Council I spent the past year and a half helping to plan our 75th anniversary celebrations. During that time, I put together a commemorative book of the church’s hisotry. On the day the book was to be distributed as a gift to the parishioners, our priest announced to those gathered for Mass that morning, that I was the one who made the gift possible. He said other kind things about my dedication and service to the parish, and when he was done, I received a round of applause. I can’t say it was a standing ovation like the character from the book. We were all standing anyway, as is the tradition for the final blessing during Mass. But as the people looked at me and applauded my efforts I smiled. For once, I felt comfortable, even exhilerated by this acknowledgement of a job well done.
That insecurity that prevented me from smiling in the church on my wedding day may never fully leave my soul, but I am certain there will be other opportunities in my life, like the one at Mass that I will never forget, where that feeling just won’t matter. And when the opportunities arise, I will smile. I will always smile.