A Mirror Ugh. My cheeks feel hot and my stomach is churning; it’s three in the morning and I have to leave for Foundations of Leadership in four hours. I rest my chin on my knees as I squint to read the agenda for the hundredth time. Ropes course and team games, followed by lunch, classes and a “dance party and other surprises!” Dance party and other surprises? What kind of sick people are running this thing? I thought leadership camp meant classes and lectures and other structured events, not awkward social situations! As I sit alone in my dim room, squeezing my knees tightly to my chest, I no longer see myself as a college freshman; I am a skinny, brace-‐faced thirteen year-‐ old who chose to be “sick” because she didn’t feel pretty enough to go to the eighth grade gala with the “cool kids.” Irrational emotions that have been dormant since junior high start to slither through my chest; I feel them wrapping their hot fingers around my throat as I struggle to catch my breath. I shut my eyes and mutter to myself, “Shannon! You will not let your insecurities paralyze you again.” I nod in agreement and a stray curl falls in front of my eyes. Even in the hazy yellow lamplight I can see the frayed, chlorine-‐damaged strands, evidence of a summer that ended so quickly I didn’t have time to get a haircut. Groaning, I drop my forehead into my hands. The bumps I feel against my palms remind me of one thing I always seem to have time for: a breakout. I sigh and throw myself on my bed. Maybe I’ll just be sick in the morning.
Twelve hours later I find myself nestled deep in the Wasatch Mountains,
surrounded by strangers who are wearing the same t-‐shirt as I am. All 300 of us are crammed into ten rows of benches, and a cool, fresh breeze carries excited chatter throughout the pavilion. Everywhere I look I see cascading locks of shiny hair and clear, dewy skin. I try to gulp down the hot tendrils that once again constrict my chest. Running my fingers through my own coarse mane, I decide to focus on my split ends instead. Marie, a girl in my group, gestures toward the empty podium and asks if I know who is going to address us. I pull out my handbook, and, as I read the words “Vernon Heperi, Dean of Students: Forgetting Ourselves Through Christlike Love for Others,” I cannot help but think that this talk is meant for me. I say a silent prayer of gratitude, and for the first time I notice the strikingly green grass and picturesque mountains that surround me. I drink in the deliciously clean air. Yes, the Lord is good to me. I gaze forward as a robust, dark-‐skinned gentleman approaches the microphone. His generous smile crinkles his friendly eyes, and a wave of reverence reverberates from the podium. All heads turn toward the front and chatter gradually subsides, but as the silence reaches my row in the back of the pavilion, a boy behind me lets out an ill-‐timed guffaw. Marie and I giggle, and Dean Heperi simply broadens his smile. “Students,” he begins, “I would like to take a moment to personally welcome each one of you to Brigham Young University.” I marvel at his husky, yet gentle voice and delicate Kiwi accent, and poise my pen to begin taking much-‐needed notes.
The boy behind me laughs again. I pretend to be watching something in the sky and casually twist my head to the left so I can scan the row behind me for the perpetrator. There are two possibilities: a dark-‐haired hunk with a chiseled jawline or the young man next to him, an average-‐looking kid wearing red shorts and a black jacket with the hood up. I turn back to the front, and Dean Heperi begins to tell a story of his boyhood. About halfway into the story, a third laugh assaults me from behind. I grind my teeth and glance in Marie’s direction. She flexes her hands, takes a deep breath and murmurs, “Seriously, this is so rude.” I twist in my seat and shoot a disapproving glare at the boys; I want to make sure whichever one it is knows just how inappropriate he is being. “Who is it?” I squint at both of them and decide, “The one in the red shorts.” The next ten minutes are probably filled with profound advice and touching stories from Dean Heperi, but the only notes I take are intricate doodles of the word “Why?” Why, of all the 300 people here, did I have to sit by this child? Why did Heavenly Father allow this to happen – he knows the struggles I am having, and He knows that more than anything, I need to learn to “forget myself.” A few words from the podium fight through my distracted thoughts and try to reach my brain, but – There it is, again. How old is this kid? Why did he even come to Foundations of Leadership if he doesn’t want to learn anything? I gaze up at the sun-‐bathed podium, but my thoughts are focused on Red Shorts Boy. Why doesn’t he just leave? What could still be funny, 30 minutes into the talk? And moreover, why on earth
does his laugh sound so much like a bull getting ready to charge? I wonder if he knows that his antics are preventing me from feeling the spirit. He’s probably just one of those “broish” guys who feels superior to everyone around him, and he wouldn’t care even if he knew how much I needed to hear this talk. I shoot another glance backwards. Yup, there he is, the epitome of a bro: Not only has he pulled his hood over his head, but he is staring at his hands, which are hanging between his outturned knees. Probably texting. I shake my head and turn back around. How did someone who is so disrespectful and irreverent even get accepted to BYU? I put my notes away and spend the rest of the lecture in tacit acrimony, answering each of the boy’s chortles with a sideways glare or an audible huff of agitation. Dean Heperi’s voice mingles with the rush of a nearby creek and a cricket’s evening chirp; and I put all my effort into finding the worst split ends I can while doing my best to predict the boy’s laughs. I try to find a sort of pattern in the outbursts – five minutes, laugh. Five minutes, laugh. I get a perverse sense of satisfaction each time my predictions come close. As Dean Heperi closes his talk, the boy laughs once more, his loudest outburst yet. “He’s still laughing?” I hiss in Marie’s direction, without bothering to take my eyes or hands off my split ends. She shakes her head in disbelief, and we both shoot him a glare. Amid the shuffle of 300 students opening their handbooks to the closing hymn, a young man directly behind me leans forward and whispers, with more
tenderness than I possibly deserve, “He’s not laughing; it’s a thing he has – a medical condition.” My eyes blanch in the boy’s direction. In the waning sunlight I see anew his hands, straining white against his red shorts; his downcast eyes, focusing on the ground; and his shoulders, slumped under a burden I cannot begin to comprehend. My hands drop to my lap, split ends forgotten. I stare blankly at my handbook, and it’s not until the congregation reaches the second verse that I grasp the gross irony of my mistake. I can hardly croak out the words, “Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly? In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.”