The first person called on was Brad Williams. He proceeded to stumble through a poorly prepared essay which had obviously been thrown together, only moments before. Ms. Johnson had a real knack for spotting the slackers. She pressed them harder; in a misguided attempt to embarrass them into applying themselves. The sad fact is that embarrassment had little impact on those who didn’t care in the first place. He was given a “D-”
Next up was Paul Jones. He nervously spoke of the day his father was killed while battling a building fire. The other firemen were unable to save him because he was trapped in a room after the hallway roof collapsed. Paul mostly gazed at his shoes and made little eye contact but still received a good grade. The quality of the essay itself and his effort more than made up for any deficiencies in delivery. It took a lot of courage to open up about it to the class. He received a respectful applause and returned to his seat. He was very relieved to have it over with.
The next student called on was Shelly. The entire room snapped into full attention in anticipation of what they were about to learn. She raised up from her seat and faced the class with impressive confidence. Had the school been on fire and bells around them been clanging, no one would have noticed. The moment they had all been waiting for had finally arrived.
Shelly clutched her essay tightly and swallowed hard. 26 pairs of eyes stared at her; intently waiting for her first syllables. Those first words echoed in their eardrums like thunder….
“The worst day of my life was three years ago when I lived in Fort Benning, Georgia. My father is a career Army officer so my whole family was transferred there. We had just moved in about three weeks earlier when my dog ‘Rusty’ was hit by a car. The vet said there was nothing they could do but put him to sleep. I didn’t even get to tell him goodbye. It was the saddest day of my life.”
26 mouths flew open in confusion, disappointment and bewilderment. She didn’t say ANYTHING about losing her leg! It was inconceivable that losing her dog could be any worse than that! Shelly was still standing beside her seat grinning impishly. She recognized their collective disappointment.
“I suppose everyone is wondering why there isn’t something else in my life that I consider to be worse. Well, it’s time to get this out in the open. I’d like to get it over with. I know you are all extremely curious but too afraid to ask me about my leg, so I want to clear it up once and for all.
I wasn’t attacked by a shark in the water, nor was it amputated because I had cancer or was in a car accident; despite what you might have heard to the contrary!” Teresa and Tracey both blushed. Bobby just hid his face in his hands. Robert expected her to say something about his ‘wild bear attack’ but she just picked up her teddy bear from the desk and ‘growled’ at him, knowingly. Her message was crystal clear.
Shelly had obviously heard all the rumors and theories circulating about her. Judging from her amused reaction, she wasn’t hurt or offended. There was nothing suggested by her new classmates that she hadn’t heard a dozen times before. Over the years as her family moved from place to place, she had heard it all. Her directness and sense of humor made everyone like and respect her. She learned it was the best way to remove the stigma about being different.
“I was born with only one leg so I’ve never known what it was like to have both! Naturally I see others running and having fun and I wish I could too; but I have to accept things as they are. I hope you can all accept me for who I am. If you ever have questions about anyone, you should just ask them instead of guessing.”
Needless to say, Ms. Johnson gave her a perfect score for her “worst day” essay. From that moment on, Shelly was accepted as ‘one of the gang’. It actually turned out to be one of her best days!