Memory Fridays: Kindness is a superpower.

I entered the 9th grade as I have entered every next step in my life: without older siblings. I had no big brother to drive me around or big sister whose friends might have let me squeeze into the backseat after school. When it came to ambling off towards the great unknown, I was on my own. And lest that sound tremendously exciting, let me clear one thing up: I was a tiny little fish, and I believed I was a tiny little fish.

Later in my life I realized that untrodden territory was to be relished, but I had not yet reached that point in adolescence. I walked down the block alone on my first day of 9th grade, the pre-7am air chilly. I waited at the bus stop and when we arrived at school, everyone was very tall.

I remember feeling like a loser.

Gym, in particular, was a painful place to be. The stylish gym clothes of 40 girls was further proof that I was living as a dork. Some of the girls in my grade were already wearing Victoria's Secret. To add insult to injury, we had mixed gym with the 10th grader girls.

Reading about memory reveals that our memories make a large part of our identity. But that doesn't just mean glimpses of the seashore or the French countryside. What experiences do we remember? And how can we map these experiences to who we have become?

The life I led until one day in gym class in the 9th grade had identified me as a fairly happy, good student at school. But I didn't have social confidence and I hated that the power (and thus, confidence) lived in a small group of popular to-be cheerleaders. Then one day, a 10th grader named Lisa Manganelli changed all that for me.

I can't remember how we knew the Manganelli family. Lisa was a year older than me and she had a sister in my sister's grade. I think our moms knew each other. What I'm saying is, when Lisa and I were in the same gym class, I already knew who she was. She was on the volleyball team and wasn't one of the popular cheerleaders. She had really long stunning Italian black hair and a great laugh. Why do I remember this? Because I thought she was lucky to be confident enough to laugh that loud and free.

It was the first day of a volleyball unit in gym and the teacher chose several girls to be captains. I assumed I would be one of the last ones on the wooden bleacher, finally picked because someone needed an alternate. That that would be my role in the volleyball unit, since that had been my social role at school since forever and ever.

Lisa Manganelli was a team captain. It was her turn to choose a first player. And for whatever reason, Lisa Manganelli chose me.

Can I reiterate that I have never been an athlete? That I was not popular? That I was embarrassed of my gym clothes? Can I tell you what kind of awe I felt jumping down from the bleacher and taking my place behind Lisa Manganelli, shyly high-fiving her when prompted?

I could not believe she'd spent her first pick on me. I knew it was a pity pick, but that almost made it more meaningful. I was flooded with respect, Lisa Manganelli, our generation's Mother Teresa! I barely knew her and yet she had chosen me, demonstrated a kind gesture in our high school.

Suddenly I had a role model for being kind, one who was pretty and athletic and not entirely unpopular. "I will be like Lisa Manganelli!" I thought, smiling a little broader in the hallways and with a core confidence that I had never felt. I decided to be friendly and pull my confidence from a reserve deeper within me, rather than reaching for social clout.

Who am I today? I'm someone who likes making people comfortable. I'm someone who has taken that tiny reserve deep within me and grown it to be a large pool, deep and wide. Over the years, that reserve has grown by helping other people and finding inspiration from others who are confident and kind.

In many scenarios, I'm still a tiny fish. But the difference is that I never believe I'm a tiny fish anymore. I know that I have it in me to be a big fish, a confident fish, and that starting out tiny is just a step on your way to becoming big.

So thanks, Lisa Manganelli. Thank you for being kind one day in gym class. Obviously I never forgot it and obviously in a not-so-small way, the memory of it made me who I am today.


LK said...

I am in love with this post!

Jen said...

Aw, thanks LK :)

Mer said...

HAHA - love it!