At the start of middle school my best friend ditched me for a popular new girl. Confusion turned to shock, hurt and then anxiety when Popular Girl got my ex-BFF (and pretty much the rest of the class) to turn against me. They teased me, started rumors, blamed me for stuff. I was drowning in a sea of social garbage with no clue what to do to help myself.
When our teacher announced we were putting on The King and I, Popular Girl and ex-BFF let all the girls know they had the two female leads sewn up and no one else need apply. Despite their mind-games, I tried out for the lead role of Anna. Looking back, that took guts… and stupidity. Oh, I knew I could sing (though no one else did at that point), and I had confidence in my acting ability, but I also knew none of it mattered because the other students would be “voting” on the cast. Screw ability, it was going to be a popularity contest. I didn’t have a chance.
We each auditioned for the roles we wanted. Then we all voted. By some twist of fate, I got the lead.
Playing “I” in the King and I provided life-altering education. For the first time, I found something I could do well that transported me into someone else’s life. And through my performance I could take an audience along with me. Magic! So began my life-long passion for theater. And since Anna was a teacher, it may also have started me thinking about the delights of working with children. The role was challenging and joyful, but dealing with the off-stage drama in class was very hard.
Thank goodness for Rudyard Kipling. He was another part of 6th grade that’s still with me because our teacher required us to memorize and recite Kipling’s, If. Line after line that poem served as my life-preserver during that Year of Social Garbage.
That’s why, whenever I get emails from girls and guys suffering at the hands of enemies, friends and “fren-emies” I think of this bit of wisdom from Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise
Today’s challenge… keep your head about you.