But in life we don’t usually get to choose the time of our defining moments. We just have to stand and face them when they come, no matter what sort of a state we’re in.
I think we all have defining moments.
Maybe it was when you got married or had children. Maybe it was when it finally clicked as to what you wanted to be when you grew up. Maybe it was when you bought your first house. Or car.
Maybe when a loved one passed.
When I look at my life, I see big moments like that, full of … I don’t know. Importance. I also have some small defining moments. Which is probably an oxymoron.
Or some kind of moron.
A distinct one floated into my consciousness, today.
I’m not exactly sure what grade I was in. 9 or 10, I think. Around there, anyway.
The scene was English (9 or 10ish). The day I had been dreading was finally here: speech day. Not the big write a speech and deliver it that we were all subjected to; rather, it was a small, impromptu speech day.
We were each asked to write a simple premise on a piece of paper. When all the papers were collected, the teacher would pull one out of a hat and assign it to the first person on the list.
When you have a lastname like Schellenberg, your name is usually at the end of the list. This was both good and bad; I wouldn’t have to go on first, but the fear would also have time to gnaw away at my innards.
And fear is exactly what I felt. Cold sweat began pouring from my armpits and down my back. My breathing became a bit more shallow. My stomach was churning.
There were not many things that terrified me more than speaking in public. My natural shyness was not helpful. My introvertedness: ditto.
I didn’t know, then, some of the physical tricks I know now to calm myself.
I tried to psych myself up. I kept saying to myself it’s only two minutes. You can stand up there for two minutes. You won’t die.
Don’t wet yourself.
My friends were going up to the front and doing their thing. They all looked so cool! Probably they weren’t terrified like me, I thought at the time.
We were getting closer to the Ss.
Now the physical reaction was really setting in. My muscles were quivering. My breath was not right. I thought I might pass out.
“Ron, you’re next,” said the teacher.
I took a deep breath and stood up, praying that I wouldn’t fall over, wet myself, or have my zipper down.
I took the small piece of paper from the teacher. My friend Rick had written “Why does a bunny rabbit change from white to brown?”
Luckily, I was on my feet. You know that old saying think on your feet? It had always been true, for me. It always felt like I could handle things a little better if I was standing up. Moving a bit.
I looked at the paper, cursed my buddy in my mind, and took another deep breath.
The word metamorphosis popped into my mind.
I suddenly knew what to say and how to say it.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think it was pretty good. When I got my first laugh, I started to relax. The more relaxed I got, the better I spoke.
I finished and sat down. The teacher called up the next student, and I breathed again.
The world did not end. A friend who sat behind me said “That was good. Funny.” As the adrenaline slowly started to work its way out of my system, the inevitable sick-to-the-stomach feeling swept over me.
But I had done it. I realized that, from that moment on, I could get up and talk to a room full of people. Yes, I’d still be nervous. Yes, I’d feel like I was going to have a bodily function mishap.
But I could do it.
It’s funny how some things stick in your mind. Funerals. Marriage. Births. Learning to ride a bike. Climbing a tree.
That little moment – only two minutes long – changed my life.
When class was over, the teacher called me over. “Metamorphosis, eh?” he said with a sly smile. Then he got serious. “You were good because you were yourself.”
He looked me straight in the eye. “Always be yourself, and you will do fine.”
Good advice. Then and now.