Showing Up

Posted on October 11, 2016



Last month, my high school class celebrated its 20 year reunion.

Someone created a Facebook group for us all and there were a bunch of pictures posted from those days. Pictures of teenagers with crazy, frizzed-out hair and plaid flannels and almost painfully insecure postures. Pictures of athletes and clubs and social gatherings in the hallways between classes.

As the people I went to high school with tagged each other and commented on the funny outfits of the 90’s and added details to others’ memories, I felt an uneasy sense of being absent. Despite the many pictures posted, I wasn’t in any of them.

I ran cross country and track in high school. There were pictures posted of the cross country and track team. There were shots of the entire team together and pictures of meets in the rain and 2.5 mile races up exhausting hills. Yet,  despite one picture where I had my (then) very long hair covering half of my face, I was missing from these too.

Where the hell was I?

One of our coaches started posting pictures when she heard about the reunion. There were so many that she had-an unbelievably large archive: pictures of everyone stretching before big races, skinny, cold runners in late October, several girls huddled together after a heart-breaking loss, the starting line of a sectional race where you could almost feel the tension of those waiting for the gun.

These pictures were incredibly poignant. Running was one of the best parts of high school-a part of those tough years that I actually longed to remember. In these pictures, I saw everyone I raced with. Everyone but me.

There was a shot of the girls’ varsity cross country team that I suddenly remembered ditching out of. When, during 7th period, an announcement came on over the intercom that all of us were supposed to gather out on the field after the dismissal bell for the team picture, I made an excuse about a stomachache and just went home.

I remembered, then, as well, how every time our picture-loving coach brought out her camera, I slipped quietly to the side.

Other photo-escaping memories started resurfacing then. I remembered a time when the yearbook committee came bustling loudly down the hall, yelling to everyone that they were snapping pictures for the yearbook. It was so easy to hide behind all of the those who were rushing ahead of me to get into the shots.

Of course I wasn’t in any of the pictures. I ran from every single one.

Growing up, my mother always commented on how unphotogenic I was, how pictures made me look ugly and disfigured, how they made my nose look too big and my gums look too wide. I was so ashamed of this that I decided to be photographed as little as possible. That’s why I wasn’t in but a handful of pictures. Even in the ones where I was forced to appear, I found a way to hide behind my hair.

I felt immensely sad about this-that I had purposefully chosen not to be present in the records of my high school years because of my shame. That I had ducked and ditched and hidden to the point of being forgotten.

As I scrolled through all of those pictures my classmates posted, I realized that although I was there, I was missing. Even though high school wasn’t the highlight of my life, I did want there to be some lasting proof that I actually existed in and experienced that time and space. Now, twenty years later, when I ached to remember the stomach-knotting anxiety of a race or the friendships I had with my teammates, I had only the pictures of others to assuage me. If an archaeologist were to reconstruct my high school class, I wouldn’t even be there.

This past month, I’ve been thinking a lot about this-about how our shame and our insecurities hold us back in such soul-destroying ways. Even though I’m not a high school kid any more, I know I still run from stuff that makes me feel uncomfortable.

If you take a step back from your own life for a day and start observing, maybe you’ll see what I’ve seen in my own life: that in trying to hide the things I’m ashamed of or in trying to escape my insecurities, I not only hold myself back-I allow my true self to be missing. I allow who I am to be forgotten by everyone, including me.

Sure, if you hide, you will never be exposed. No one will see your warts. But then no one will see you at all. 

I’m doing this radical thing now, this thing where I am being more honest and more vulnerable with people than I’ve ever been before. When I felt taken advantage of at work because I kept getting handed (and successfully completed) huge projects with no promotion, I spoke up. When a couple of women lambasted working moms in a mom’s group I was in, I quit and told them why I was leaving. When some friends of mine forgot to celebrate my birthday, I let them know I was hurt.

And yes, there was a great deal of shame that accompanied each and every time I was willing to be exposed by telling others how I felt. Yes, I felt insecure at willing to be this vulnerable. But I did it still, because it’s better than pretending. It’s better than hiding.

Little by little, I am tackling each and every insecurity that’s convinced me to hold myself back in my life. I don’t want another twenty years to go by where I duck and hide, where I slip into the background to the point of being forgotten because I’m scared that someone else will judge me for who I really am.

I challenge you, as I am challenging myself, to be willing to show up and be seen.  At the end of the day, no matter how uncomfortable it is, nothing could be more liberating.