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I got my first pair of glasses when I was in second grade. By sixth grade, I’d graduated to a C cup bra and was the tallest girl in my class. As the smartest girl around, I lacked intolerance of less speedy learners; I skipped a year of school when I was 12. Looking back, I was generally favored in genetics and nurturing. But, I didn’t escape the cruelty of kids. I keenly remember being called four-eyes and teacher’s pet…a lot. My out-of-sight-but-not-out-of-mind bra was a most alluring temptation to little boys. They snapped my straps as often as they could get their horny little fingers close enough to my back to grab one. I hated boys.

I was the only person in college I knew who didn’t drink and in my 20s I struggled with a weight problem and obscene acne. As a young girl, I spent many nights crying, wishing I fit in. As a “big” girl, I learned how our society demoralizes people of size. I went from four-eyes to brainiac, big boobs, buzz-kill, and graduated to being a “fat” girl by the time I was 25. Mom taught me early in life that a girl shouldn’t change things about herself simply to fit in. Rather, a girl should aim to fully be the unique and beautiful person God made her to be and wear her values like a badge. Every child should be so fortunate to have a mom like mine. Alas, I don’t know anyone who does.

Nonetheless, I have shouldered the weight of social marginalization. I understand the depth of the Grand Canyon that separates pretty girls and outcast girls, the popular and timid. To dream of crossing the chasm is audacious and terrifying when peering across it from the “wrong” side.

The level of empathy I feel for those who eat alone in public or who are the center of conversation, but who are not invited to join in the discussion, is deafening to me. The world knows me as a size 4 and I know myself as a recovering 16.

~~~

I had several social choices for this fine Saturday night: 1) I could go to the 45th Annual Biker Valentine Ball hosted by Denver’s 81 (Hell’s Angels), 2) I could go to Pathways Church’s Love Story Ball, or 3) I could go home. An excellent set of options.

As tempted as I was to get dolled up and head to the Biker Ball, I ended up in jeans and thermal winter wear at Pathways. The ballroom teemed with people from all walks of life, but mostly those who travel along society’s side roads.

We danced, threw darts, tossed bean bags and danced some more. Regularly tithing church-goers served up punch and heavy appetizers to people for whom church is a building. I asked strangers to dance…and they did.

What’s a ball without playing Michael Jackson’s Thriller? Nothing, really.

Dancers at Pathways Valentine's Day Ball

I stood at on the outer circle of jovial dancers watching – Thriller with strong bass overhead – as a young woman with Downs Syndrome vogued a set of moves that give Madonna a run for her missile bra. A man worked that dance floor like Lance Armstrong commands a bicycle, but his wheels were attached to a walker. Another woman who has clearly studied MJ’s moves held nothing back as she mimicked his repertoire. My feet moved, hands clapped in unison with the electrified crowd, and my eyes welled up with tears as my heart swelled up in that rare moment when the unexpected glisten under a well-positioned spotlight.

Isn’t it what every person craves, popular and outcast? To be encircled by a community that genuinely and generously encourages, cheers, and celebrates them all the way until the last beat of the song drops? It’s what I wanted when I was a little kid and the cruel neighborhood littles made fun of me for some of my beautiful qualities. It’s what I wanted all the times men looked over, through, and around me as an invisible or unsightly chubby girl.

It feels better to give encouragement, cheer someone else on, and celebrate their successes, joys, and dreams than I might ever have imagined in my younger years when I craved a little for myself from my friends. Tonight, the generosity of Pathways which hosted a ball for those who rarely get invited to parties and glamorous events was alive. I remembered what the joy of generosity feels like as I looked on from the sidelines, clapping and whistling at the performances and unabashed thrill of people who generally find themselves on the margin.

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