Some people fear spiders and death. As a Mennonite young person, my greatest fear was to play volleyball in a group of strange young people, especially if they were “cool.” Especially if they were good at volleyball.
I wasn’t. I’d fumbled the ball, been rainbowed, or been otherwise humiliated more times than I cared to remember. You can read about one of my early experiences here.
But this fear of mine made Bible school and youth rallies–where volleyball was ubiquitous–torture chambers of horror. One couldn’t just disappear quietly into a back wall when one was expected to play volleyball and voluntarily make a fool of oneself. And I didn’t go to events like that often enough, or play often enough, to ever get good at volleyball or to feel comfortable playing. Mostly, I avoided joining in on games, opting instead to watch from the sidelines or sneak off alone somewhere, taking my non-volleyball-playing self out of public view.
Volleyball with small groups of people I knew and felt comfortable with was fine; volleyball in a large group of strange young people was not.
But when I was twenty-one and moved to Virginia to teach school for a few years, I learned a few things about myself. I learned that I could step out on my own, that I could make decisions, that I could stand in front of a classroom of children and teach, that I could walk into a strange church and make friends for myself. I learned that there is power in doing, power in stepping away from the wall. The mere act of smiling and moving forward transforms a person from a bumbling wallflower to someone pretty and capable and smart.
And that is why, when there was a youth rally at Gladys, an hour away from my new home in Virginia, I chose to attend, and not only to attend, but to play volleyball with the rest. I am not joking when I say that doing such a thing was easily my worst fear.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could.
I still remember it as one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. I smiled; I stepped forward with confidence; I played. I wasn’t brilliant, but I played.
And afterward I knew that, as always, I stank at volleyball. But I also knew that I was proud of myself in a way I never had been before: warm and courageous and proud.
I remember that sometimes, when the fear is great and I become small and stupid and stutter against the wall. “Remember the volleyball game, Luci,” I tell myself. “Remember that it doesn’t matter so much, in the larger scheme of things, how well you do at something, because no one really cares how awful you are but you. What matters is that you step forward and DO something.
“No one but you needs to know how hard it is to do the simple things like talk and walk and smile. No one needs to know that, ever, because you’re not doing these things for them, you’re doing them for you. So you don’t have spend the rest of your life standing against a wall hating yourself.”
Then I pick my courage up in both my hands and take a step.