Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Dance Teacher (and the Lesser)

When the children start  back to school it seems to always be a time of reflection for me. For most people I think. We remember shopping for new shoes and buying a lunch box. We remember the boxes of 8 brand new crayola crayons and the three ring binders.(They were only blue then.) There was a little hint of autumn coming in as we packed away our lazy summer days. There was always the excitement about meeting your new teacher and the hope that she would like you. For me there was also the fear. The fear that came knowing that I was a 'Lesser'.
Today it was like the perfect storm. Everything lined up in my day in such a way that all at once I was back there. Earlier today, Shane, the owner of the local running store wrote a post about runners and how they perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others. This is in part his post (Shane Miles, Roanoke Island Running Company):
...Secondly! When you are proclaiming how much you don't look like a runner.. It's incredibly insulting to those who ARE your size and even bigger that have made a decision to get healthy and turn their life around. There are men and woman your exact size that beat the streets everyday and yes they ARE runners and to me they look like runners too! All you need to do is stand at the finish line of a marathon to realize just how much of a runner you DO look like as all shapes and sizes of athletes cross the finish line, without excuse of what they they Do or DO NOT look like, to accomplish something great! I've personally been passed, on more than one occasion, by women old enough to be my grandmother... at mile 23, okay! That's called "Dropping the excuses and going after goals" despite any weight, age or other self doubting self talk! So, I really do not care if you run or not, that's your choice.. But PLEASE.. Stop going around telling people you do not "look" like a runner!

It zapped me.I am that runner who doesn't feel they look (or run) like a runner.

The next event in my perfect storm was when my dear friend a public school teacher shared with me how she had to write up a child in school today because they were not wearing the proper shirt for dress code in her school.

My final 'blow' came in teaching the children in my Kidz Source class the 139th Psalm. 

These three things lined up on the same day when there was already nostalgia playing in messed with my emotions pretty badly.

When Shane wrote his post I thought of the many times I have criticized myself about my running. On one hand I am pretty excited that I can run. On the other hand I find myself daily comparing myself to 'real runners'. You know..the ones that look pretty even when they sweat. The ones that can run less than 10 minute miles who get up at 0 dark thirty and never miss a session. The ones who run 50 miles and run big hills. You know the 'real' runners. And they always have great legs.
As a child the most athletic thing I ever did was play tag in the backyard with my cousins. I was not even very good at jump rope. I was pigeon toed and somewhat knock keened. I had to wear special shoes.I was teased by the other children who got to wear saddle shoes with their school uniform while I wore big clunky orthopedic shoes. I was not a runner. I was always 'less' good at any type of physical activities than my peers. I was a I was less fast, less coordinated, less talented. I was "lesser" then and it carried over to today 50 years later when I still consider myself less of a runner than my peers. That in spite of the fact that I am nearly 60 and have run more than 10 miles in one session and run 3-7 miles three to four times a week.  Shane's words were encouraging and also challenging  to me. 

When my teacher friend spoke of her student instantly I was back in Catholic school wearing those orthopedic shoes. The principle of the school pulled me out of line on the way to a whole school assembly and in front of everyone pointed out my non-regulation, non-uniform shoes. Again I was 'the lesser'. She continued to have me turn around in front of her as she inspected the rest of me and found a small L shaped tear in the back of my green plaid hand-me-down uniform.I hung my head in shame. In knew I was different..and not quite as good as my peers.  I was the 'lesser' because I had less money than my peers who wore new uniforms with no rips or tears. Tonight  I had to wonder did my friend's student feel like a 'lesser'. It moved me to tears.

I lived my life knowing I was less. Honestly I did not expect more. I was less smart, less athletic, less rich, less educated, less pretty I knew my place and while I may have sometimes been embarrassed by it I accepted that I really couldn't expect any better. I still find that I make excuses for other people when they treat me like a 'lesser'. I don't generally get angry.I rather expect it.

The third event in my perfect storm  was the thing that wrecked me.I was  teaching the children Psalm 139. You know the one." I thank you Lord that  I am wonderfully and fearfully made."  "You knew me when you knitted me together in my mother's womb." So here I am telling these children about the amazing love that God has for them. I am telling them that God choose for each of them to be exactly as they are. I am telling them that God does not make junk and they need to never compare themselves in their strength or weakness to anyone else. And as I am telling them this God is speaking to me. God is telling me that I never was a 'lesser'. He is telling me that I always was enough. He is telling me that I am enough.He is telling me that I am wonderfully and fearfully made. And He reminded me of the ballet teacher.

I was maybe second grade. She taught ballet at the Watermill Community House. I think it was Saturday afternoons. She had us line up and one by one move the length of the shinny wooden floor to show off our beautiful ballet moves. It wasn't until many years later that I realized that she made up a move (and had the whole class do it) for my sake. Pointing my feet outward was difficult So she had all the other little girls point their toes inward (pigeon toed)  and walk the length of the floor. I did it the very best and she praised me highly For that one moment I was no longer a 'lesser'. For that one moment I was just as good if not a little better than my peers. That one moment has stuck with me for over fifty years. 

I write tonight to help me sort out some of this myself but also to encourage you to be that ballet teacher.To encourage me to be that ballet teacher. 'Lessers" are all around us.  They might look like runners (or not). They might look like students with the wrong color shirt. They might be that kid with the clunky shoes or the hand me down clothes.They might be that kid who acts out or that runner who can't call herself a runner.  (It might be you!) But each of us has the power to touch the heart of a child who needs to know that they are in fact "Wonderfully and fearfully made." Each of us need to be reminded that "God does not make junk." Jesus tells us "Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me." The least of these..the lessers.