Enter a lecture hall on any university campus and you might find a left-handed desk — two if the college is particularly prestigious. Though left-handed and clumsy, I typically sought the desk (left-handed or right) that provided the most cover. There, out of the line of scrutiny, is where I sat throughout my undergraduate years.
Sit in the back, and the professor’s is sure to call on you. Sit in the front, and you’re expected to know the answer to his questions. The second-to-last row? Now, that’s where the action isn’t.
Perhaps I’m giving the impression I am shy. I am not. I am what “They” call an introvert with extroverted tendencies: I enjoy the company of colleagues, friends, and family — the jokes, the chatter, the affable (usually) debates, the dinners and movies, and, sometimes, the attention… until I don’t. My extroversion gives way like a chair with one leg that collapses on itself, and suddenly I need to fade into the background or out of sight.
Earlier this month, I learned just how many legs uphold my chair.
I said “yes”
A little more than an hour after the meeting for a spectacular cultural organization in town, the lovely and highly capable publicist was asking if I could, in nine days, stand in front of roughly 300 influential business and community leaders to introduce a video presentation by a man of local prominence. Breaking routine, I said, “Yes.” What the heck, I thought? The organization does good work, and I’m still riding the waves of change.
No big deal, right? At least not until I hung up the phone. My heart embarked on a marathon for which it had not trained. I stood up, turned in a circle, and sat back down. Then I told one friendly acquaintance after another, looking for…? I don’t know. Maybe I was looking for excuses that could release me from my hasty acceptance. Yet none were given. They only encouraged me.
Days later, I told family, friends, and members of my small church group, where I received more blasted encouragement and the advice that whatever I write be authentically me. Sufficiently inspired, I set aside a few minutes the next day to write my little intro speech.
Over the next few days, I tweaked and practiced and prayed, practiced, prayed, and tweaked, until the very lengthy video I was to introduce arrived in my inbox. Again, I tweaked and practiced and prayed all the more.
Rehearsals were the afternoon of the big event, but there was no need for me to attend, the publicist and I agreed, as my introduction was short enough that it would be fine….
Fine… my phone rang two hours before I was to speak. Rather than introduce the video, she asked, can you do the entire presentation?
I said, “yes.”
It was 3:40 when I arrived for the 4 p.m. event, talking to my brother (a minister) and my pastor along the way. One prayed with me. The other promised to pray.
At 3:53, the capable publicist and I finished updating the presentation. At 3:55, she showed me to my seat, pointing out a bathroom as we went.
That is where I glanced over the newly crafted work prior to presenting it before the media and those who put years and considerable assets into the organization they so loved. There is where my emotional nerves turned physical. Where my bowels churned and my lunch backed up my throat, but there wasn’t time to release the distress. It was 3:59. I had one minute to be in my chair where I would wait for VOG (the so-called voice of God) to introduce me.
Thirty-six minutes later, he did.
Over the prerequisite clapping, I heard the type of high-pitched whistle that could only come from a friend. I walked up to the podium and prepared to stutter. What happened next surprised me.
I knew the speech
by heart. Not all of it, of course, but enough to look about the audience with seeming confidence as I spoke. What I saw were friends: The colleagues that refused to provide excuses; the family who told me they loved me; the friends who said they expected nothing less than success; the church group who prayed. Spread throughout the crowd, there were there in spirit. They were the legs to my chair.
They held me up.
A couple of years ago, a friend learned her chair had only one leg. This pronouncement from a therapist was a warning that she was in peril of collapsing. The prescription? Build her cache of friends and confidants.
Now look down. How many legs are on the seat on which you’re sitting?
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