The woman with the mole had a point
Updated: Mar 13, 2019
Junior year lit class, 1979. The scene, a parochial high school in the Midwest on a warm spring day. The buzzer hums, signaling that class is now in session and we wait, wait, a group of 25 pupils, for our teacher Sister Mary Katherine to arrive. We are silent, probably all longing to be outside on this sunny afternoon so close to the end of a school year.
Sister Mary Katherine enters the room with her usual stern disposition. No smile and a pale look which accentuate her bland appearance. Her short hair and the mole residing on her upper lip add dramatic effect to her humorlessness aura. She is known to be tough and curt with her directives.
The girl by the window
I’m the girl in the second row of desks, sitting closest to the window. I flip through the pages of the book, probably wishing I had read it. I abandoned working to be a good student somewhere in elementary school and settled instead on what I could do easily. I received a message somewhere along the way that trying could lead to disappointment and that I was just not cut out for some things.
I do like to talk in class, however, which seems strange because I’m cognizant that I’m a social outsider among my peers. At this point, it’s not even that I’m bullied, but rather disregarded entirely. I have few friends and work 30 hours a week with limited extracurricular activity.
To look at me you can probably see some issues going on—big nose, pimpled oily skin—which might make me a target for unkind treatment. But mostly it is the way I talk, the energy of awkward that I exude, and my over-the-top absorption in my head that keep me distant.
Small-group discussion and the shame that followed
Sister Mary Katherine wants us to break into groups to talk about our book. She divides us by rows to form circles for a small group discussion. We are to organically talk amongst ourselves and then reconvene to share our answers to the full class.
My group of two girls and three boys seems silent to me. Have seconds passed? I take the lead and start talking. I even seem bold in attempting to elicit answers from others in the group by monologuing until something occurs to someone to say. In my mind, I’m helping this group that does not want to converse to get into the swing and contribute.
Roughly ten minutes in Sister Mary Katherine asks me to step out of the room. We are in the hall and she talks to me in a quiet voice. What she says exactly I don’t recall, but her message is that I am to stop talking and allow the others in the group to talk. We step back in the room and I return to the chair with my group. I sit there saying nothing. My face is hot. My neck is warm and itchy. My eyes are moist. I feel embarrassed and ashamed.
As I look at that girl through the lens of my 50-something self, I wish there had been a mentor she would have listened to who could have helped her with her social skills. For years I saw Sister Mary Katherine as the unkind messenger, but I’ve never forgotten the point of what she said. Perhaps my own words aren’t the only means to inspire conversation. And as I’ve aged and grown more comfortable with myself, I no longer submit to the pressure to talk, but choose to listen.