Today, I laugh and say the reason I am short is that I have a twin brother so half of me is a professor at Boston College.
But it wasn't always funny. In those dreaded days in Catholic school when they lined up by size, I seemed to inevitably lead the parade. That wouldn't have been so bad but it seemed that the rest of me fell way behind the others. I was the only one to wear the ugly brown "sensible" oxford shoes. I was the only one with thick ugly glasses and a mouth filled with metal braces. No one else in my class had either. I was "ahead of my time" and also ahead of the time when such items would be "cool".
To say I didn't fit in would be an understatement. Worse, my twin and I were smart. My peers didn't mind a smart guy but a smart girl-- no way! Needless to say, my self-confidence and self-esteem were in the toilet.
Just prior to the start of high school, we moved to a town far away. Since no one knew me, perhaps I could have a fresh start. Easier said than done. How I remember standing in the corner of my first Freshman dance and wishing I could magically disappear. Unbeknown to me, the school was in a wealthy section of town and instead of the regular school uniforms, students could dress up for a dance. My loafers which mom has dyed red and my inexpensive olive green dress with red belt seemed old and dated. No one, girl or boy, even talked to me. How I remember coming home from that horrid dance and sobbing while Mom rocked me.
Then, a fateful day that fall, Sister John Margaret cornered my after World History class and asked that I stay after school.
"Why? I haven't done anything wrong?" I am sure my lower lip must have trembled.
Her eyes twinkled and she said, " Of course not. I want you on the debate team we are starting!"
Trust me, when you grow up Catholic, you NEVER say no to a nun.
Sister John Margaret was only at that school for one year. But in that year, she moved me through debate, extemp. speaking and oral interpretation. She entered me in every speaking competition. And I won many. She saw something in me that I did not and made it her mission to help me transform from a caterpillar into a butterfly.
Decades later, I contacted Sister John Margaret, a Franciscan from Joliet, IL . The phone range at the home for battered women which she was then managing.
" Sister this is Eileen McDargh. I don't know if you remember me but..."
" But of course I do. We had many special trips to speaking tournaments!" I
" Sister, I owe you so much. Because you saw something in me and would not take 'no" for an answer, I now speak for a living. I've lectured before groups ranging from 25 to15,000 and it's a magical experience. How can I ever thank you?"
She paused. "The go and do likewise with your work. Help people believe in themselves and their God-given worth."