“Time doesn’t have an off switch.” JSM
I’ve been put on the spot three times in my life, and the end result was always the same. I clam up. Shut down if you will. Go silent.
A communications class in college once forced me to give a presentation on a subject I was interested in. A mandatory exam. It was tough but I aced it; speaking about Disk Golf and how much I loved the sport to my fellow classmates. I got through it unscathed as I had time to prepare, research the topic, write it all down on cue cards and utilize my provided time effectively. I was able to practice before hand.
I may have stuttered or forgot to breathe but I received high marks in the class, and that’s all that really mattered.
I didn’t clam up and shut down in the classroom as I was more comfortable with the topic I chose and I had an inkling of what I was discussing.
Today, however, I organize and head staff and team meetings if asked. I speak at fundraisers, funerals and some community events and have pitched ideas to our major sponsors. It took a long time to reach that point, but it’s night and day from the old life.
My first clam up was during the blood disorder situation in my youth, when I was asked to stand before the congregation of my church and pray for a young child who was diagnosed with a life threatening illness.
I believe I was… ten? Maybe eleven? I think in hindsight the original idea was based on a concept that because so many had prayed for me, and continued to do so, I should do the same for another.
I get it… Now. Today.
Back then I was terrified.
I found my eyes pulled to a tile on the floor between my feet and I stood there staring at it, hands stuffed in pockets, mouth zipped shut and the bowed heads of the seated members to either side of me waited in silence for me to say something.
To say… anything.
I never spoke a word. I can’t say I didn’t pray for the kiddo in my own childlike way… but I never uttered a sound. Scared to the point of shaking.
If I remember correctly a (super long) minute had passed before the pastor opened his eyes, clapped me on the shoulder with gentle taps and whispered, “You can go sit down now if you want, thank you.” I scurried out of the room and disappeared down the hallway to join the others in the kid area. Zipping right on by my seat.
The second time was the afternoon a mechanized contraption spat out a dollar amount indicating what my child support total was per month.
All was fine until that moment.
My face and ears reddened, my eyes went bloodshot and I couldn’t look the judge in the face. I lowered my gaze to the table’s surface and snapped my mouth closed for the remainder of the proceedings, knowing if I spoke a word the nice officer standing off to the side, would haul me away in cuffs. Other than the final swearing, I was as silent as humanly possible.
Refusing the opportunity to speak publically at the Computer Seminar, is the third.
No matter what, I stood firm on my decision not to engage. Keep it all inside and don’t give them what they want. Don’t feed the collective hierarchy.
I don’t think I belong here. But let’s ride it out till at least the end of the day.
Gill continued his presentation, gliding back and forth across the stage with his sparkly suit. His ongoing speech comprised of subtle goading and micro manipulation, “Nothing to worry about. It’s ok to be shy. Everyone in this room started at the bottom tiers and worked our way to higher status, didn’t we? We’ve all shared our stories and it’s made us stronger. Haven’t we?! We can all rise from the ashes like a phoenix reborn and turn those moments of struggle into something better! Something fulfilling! Something new and amazing! Is it hard work? Of course it is. None of us ever thought it was a walk in the park. We had to improve our lives to advance!”
I leaned forward in my seat and fought the urge to leave the room. It was almost unbearable.
“We’re going to take a ten minute break and when we get back, we’ll continue with a few more testimonies and later on we’ll bring out Phil for the future projections. We’ll see you in a few minutes.” The DJ turned on some low elevator music, the center screen flashed with a statistics report and a side screen activated to show the image of a multi colored pie chart.
The adrenaline dropped away to the floor and I found myself exhaling in relief, slumping back in my chair.
Grinning ear to ear Bill appeared from the moving and mingling crowd and approached me, “Jeremy, please come with me. I have someone I want you to meet.”
“Sure.” I rose from my seat and apologized, “Listen, I didn’t mean to shut down like that. I don’t do well in that kind of atmosphere. Sorry.”
Our pace slowed and he turned to face me. “It’s ok. We all have our moments. I told Gill and the others all about you and what I think will work for the future. He’s really interested in you and wants to meet you face to face before we talk about the boring numbers. He’s just around the corner over here.”
Bill sped ahead of me, approached the big man waiting in the back hall behind the stage, and the two shook hands. Gill’s sweaty face shined and his jacket twinkled in the light and I slowed down to give them their moment alone.
The events of the night before were discussed between the two, and the leader shook his head in disbelief at each part. He clapped his hand over his mouth, placed a palm on the forehead, crossed his arms, slowly moving the head side to side and said stuff like, “My, my, is that so? Oh my. That’s quite a story. Worth sharing indeed. I can’t fathom what everyone has been through.” He finally turned to address me, “Jeremy, it’s so nice to meet you. I hear nothing but good things from this guy. How do you like it so far?”
“It’s quite the gig, sir. I appreciate it.”
“Don’t call me sir, call me, Gill.” He reached out a meaty paw and grasped my hand.
Maybe I am special after all. A meeting with the bug guy? Ok… let’s see where this goes.
“Bill and I have been discussing some ideas on ways to move forward with this and I think you could quite easily be the thing that ties it all together. Just based on what you’ve been through the past couple days coming all the way up here. You don’t give up. You have tenacity. You fight through the obstacles. You know how to talk with a customer. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders and you see the bigger picture. This is what we need. BizarroTech needs someone like you.” He folded his hands over his abdomen, the pitch now over, and he stepped back.
“Do I need to stand and talk about myself?”
They both chuckled, “No. Not if you don’t want to. It’s just an icebreaker. Nothing more. You’ll get more comfortable as time moves on.”
“So… what now?”
“I’m glad you asked,” The big man reached into an inside jacket pocket.
Thinking he’s about to retrieve his sweat rag again, I became curious, when instead he pulled out a thick envelope. “You can look at it now, or wait until you get back home, but we believe that should cover it.”
Nervous excitement welling up, I turned the blank envelope around, “I can open it now?”
What the devil is with all the secrecy around here? Can’t look at a piece of paper. Have to save it for a “special day”. Something sealed inside an envelope…
I wriggled it open, glanced inside, and my eyes flew up to his.
He cocked his head and smiled, “anything we can do to help, anything at all, Jeremy, you name it.”
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