No Gene For the Human Spirit

Clicking heels on a sidewalk. A fast sprint to one classroom as red brick buildings spun. Hoping that the judge would be waiting. Because I was extremely late. Getting lost on the way from Anderson Hall to the Wendell Phillips Center and tired of walking quite so much. Nervous anticipation thrummed inside as I approached the door. Putting my ear to the door as though I were eavesdropping on a secret conversation. I slid down the wall to rest for a second before my turn to speak. I entered the room, minimizing my body frame as much as possible. To decrease the magnitude of the interruption. But there I was, and it was time.

The judge said,” Thirty seconds to choose a topic and two minutes of prep”. Impromptu speaking forces your mind to speed for just that time, almost like a test you didn’t know you were taking. Yet, for me, it means far more.

It’s a chance to slip out of my skin. To speak orotundly, firmly, dramatically for once because that’s the last thing I would do in ordinary situations. It feels so much easier to shrink into my mind instead of forcing unwelcome, unheeded words out. Perhaps this was because I have boxed my true self inside since I was a child. Eons ago, I found myself on a larger stage in an intricate green, bejeweled, and most importantly itchy outfit, clumsily attempting to match alternating jumps to a tune. All I could think of was the overwhelming humiliation of it all. I didn’t decipher that nobody cares about your most extended stutters or off-beat steps, for the longest time. So I made the illogical decision to restrain myself from the things I lack an instinct for. Still, I repeatedly conjured convoluted self-justifications to guard my self-esteem against the truth: when I’m left out, I quash loneliness with stories of elusive people who can do everything I can’t.

Conversation is yet another form of dancing I stumble at because the steps of social niceties go unnoticed when it’s so much easier to escape into my head. When I find a way to put on the costume of small talk, it fits as well as the green churidar in the long-ago performance. I realize that the words you define yourself by matter: they can box you in or free you. That I can reframe the past in the mirror of perspective to see that being a clumsy dancer is fine as long as I let my heels tap with flair. After all, everyone shines the brightest magnifying glass on themselves with the judgments on others being a small glint in the lens. Around those who have known me for years, I’m the smart but quiet one, and that shield still grips me tightly. Ironically, only around complete strangers will I break into expressiveness instinctively.

Subconsciously, I wove a quilt of inadequacy and fear into my soul, and I’m just beginning to untangle the knots. “Thirty seconds”, came a voice out of nowhere. The topic: “There’s no gene for the human spirit”. Amidst conflicting thoughts, a path reveals itself. For five minutes, I argue that humans can do whatever they put their mind to, even let go of their deepest fears. Halfway through, a realization collides with my words: that I never follow my own advice. That I give speeches full of unrealized philosophy. If humans can do whatever they imagine, I too can knit another persona for when I can’t decode the rhythm of the crowd. Not to flee, but to dance between selves agilely, walking the tightrope with practiced ease.



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