At least in my family, I’m the short one. Standing at 5’4″, I’m pretty average. But my husband is 6’2″. My son towers over me at 6’4.” My daughter is a measly 5’5″. But she’s growing. Soon, I’ll really be looking up at her.
People say I’m smart. I’ve taken some online IQ tests which suggest I’m smart. Looking at my grades, I’m pretty average.
I’m not great looking. I’m not horribly ugly. Right now, I have a healing zit on my chin; it kind of looks like a scabby beauty mark. I’m overweight which definitely does not appeal to the good-looking measuring stick. According to the size jeans I wear, I’m average.
I’m the second child in a two child family, the traditional American nuclear family. I’m average.
I’m actually kind of content with my averageness. I can fit in my car without a problem (my husband has to lean way back because of his long torso; my son has to have the driver’s seat all the way back to keep his big-clown feet from pressing down on both the brake and the accelerator). I don’t have to bend way over to prepare food at my kitchen counter. Sofa cushions hit me just right in my back…because I am so average.
My personal measuring stick is a bit skewed when I compare myself to my above-average family. Their shadows are so huge; their shoes far exceed the lengths of my tiny feet. Sometimes, standing in their solar eclipse causes my skin to shiver, the self-image to tremble. I forget that I can take an average step in any direction and find myself again, hold up my own measuring stick and realize that I’m doing okay.
This morning, a former student’s personal measuring stick broke. She wasn’t good at physics. Her friend was. She wasn’t. End of story.
It’s the end of the year when everyone is done. Just done. But we have another month to go and the state-wide standardized testing has just begun. But we’re done because our fatigue levels are above average and our energy levels have depleted that using the concept of average doesn’t even attempt to give justification to the emptiness within.
The students are husks. They have been filled and filled and filled with knowledge. And now they are emptying themselves into assessments and projects and in-class activities.
The teachers are exoskeletons. Within our carapaces are nothing more than bit of intellectual dust floating. I keep on grabbing at mine but my hands are, on average, empty.
So when this young woman broke, I knew it was time for construction…maybe a little reconstruction.
She confessed to having little to no self-worth. That she didn’t have the drive anymore to push further and try beyond the average in order to succeed. She wasn’t giving up…but she was so exhausted that she couldn’t do anything beyond the average.
This is no average young woman. This is an incredible young woman who has a really skewed measuring stick. She keeps on looking at the wrong shadows and the wrong marks on the stick or the wrong shoes and wonders why she doesn’t melt into the parameters set by other people.
I hugged her. Wiped away a tear. And then told her that she needed to stop measuring herself against other people’s definitions. I asked her what she wanted to do for a career, silently praying that it had nothing to do with physics.
She wants to be a nurse.
Praise God for instant answers to prayer.
This young woman will be a perfect nurse. Not because it has nothing to do with physics. But because it has everything to do with compassion and goodness and selflessness and dignity and honesty and love. All the most important parts of nursing are already within this young woman. She just needs to take the “how to give a scared child a shot” class. Or the “how to draw blood from a person waiting on cancer results” class.
But she’ll succeed in those classes without a problem. Because this young woman can empathize with others. She understands the nuances of pain and will lovingly care for those who are experiencing it. She won’t shove aside the grievances of her patients and tell them to “buck up sissy pants.”
She won’t complain about first-world problems (like I do).
She’s the person who will travel with Doctors Without Borders. She’ll be the nurse in the mission field. She’ll be the first hands laid on those who are victims of atrocities. And she will be their healer.
Because she cares. Because she understands. Because she is more than a set of grades or a collection of classes or study guides. Because, in the end, the concept of average doesn’t apply to her.
It’s not that average is a bad thing. But when my sense of average is thrown up against the greatness of others, my sense of average becomes a heavy yoke and I pull the burden of my inexcellence against me.
Today, I perfected a ruler. On one side, I wrote 100’s over the numbers. In the middle, I wrote the young woman’s best characteristics. On the other side, I wrote how this was her true and most accurate measuring stick.
I gave it to her.
For once, I did something right.
Against all the mistakes I have made, all the times I have emotionally stumbled on my own words and slumped my shoulders against my idiocy, I did something right.
Most of all, a young woman has a new way to measure herself. She needs only to compare herself against what really matters and see that she already “measures up.” Maybe, she’ll turn around and see how well her own shadows fits her. Maybe, she’ll recognize that her shoes conform to her feet.
And with that, she’ll take one step forward.
And then another…