Today's Challenge is from my friend "K" who prefers to remain anonymous. She is a young woman who one day soon will change the world with her writing, her heart, her well just awesomeness. K was a contributor to the Challenge program at Abby's school. Allowing us to use her essay, The Little Dancer, that had such an impact on the Junior High students.
"K" has Cerebral Palsy. She is one of the reasons the What's Your Challenge? program at Abby's school was so important to me. I wanted people to stop looking just at a disability and see the person first. I thought for sure I knew what her challenge would be. Of course, per usual, she surprised the heck out of me.
I sat in the corner of the shoe store and broke.
"I can't do this anymore."
I was surrounded by boxes and boxes of shoes, shoes that weren't made for people like me.
Somewhere in the background, the sales associate was staring at me, and there was an odd expression on her face. Pity? Revulsion? Embarrassment? Or maybe she was just grateful that she wasn't my mom, who stood over me with an armful of rejected shoes.
It was 5:00 p.m., the evening before I was to give my senior project presentation, a presentation that determined whether or not we would graduate from high school. The rubric for the presentation included a phrase that made my heart sink: "Must wear formal footwear."
To make matters worse, as I was leaving, my teacher called over his shoulder: "Remember, no boat shoes and no sandals! The guys should wear dress shoes and the ladies should wear something like a nice pair of heels."
Many girls my age owned a closetful of shoes that fit that description, but I only had two pairs of formal shoes that I could wear safely: a pair of boat shoes and a pair of sandals.
"I can call the school in the morning," my mom offered, "and ask them not to penalize you for your shoes."
"I don't want them to make an exception for me," I said, my tone desperate.
So my mom took me to the mall for a last-minute shoe-shopping trip, my own personal version of hell. Each store was the same...the sales associates approached us with their fake, overly-cheerful smiles, all too eager to help, and returned with a pair of shoes for me to try on. Then they'd hover over me, watching closely as I tried to cram shoes on my feet, and their chipper smiles would fade into blank stares as they watched me walk.
I had told myself that I would be strong, and I managed to keep it together for four stores in a row. And then, at the fifth store, the associate brought out a pair of heels.
"She . . . those won't work for her," my mom said.
Tears sprang to my eyes, and I turned away to hide my face.
"It's not fair," I whispered. "I just want to wear pretty shoes like everyone else, and I'm tired of people staring at me like I'm some kind of freak."
My mom set down the shoeboxes and looked me in the eye.
"Listen to me," she said, just loud enough for me to hear. "This is your challenge. I know it's hard, but I've seen you overcome so much in your life and I know you can overcome this. Shoes don't matter. You could wear a pair of sneakers with your dress and you'd still be beautiful."
With that, she took my hand and turned to the still-gawking sales associate:
"I think we're all set, thanks."
The next day, I slipped on my boat shoes and presented my project to the panel of judges: a teacher and three members of the community.
As I presented my project—I had joined an acts-of-kindness group whose mission was to help others with their challenges—I spoke of Tanner, a boy with cerebral palsy who was homebound after surgery. His mother didn't have the financial means to purchase Christmas presents for him and his sisters, so our group banded together to buy them gifts. I bought Tanner's present—a basket brimming with DVDs and popcorn, because he was a movie buff—and signed an anonymous note explaining that I had CP as well and I understood what he was going through.
When I finished, one of the judges looked at me with tears streaming down her face.
"Thank you," she said, her voice breaking. "For Tanner. My daughter has CP too."
Just then, I knew that what my mom had said was true. Shoes don't matter. Shoes don't define us.
Alright, who wants to take K shoe shopping with me? As in shop til she cannot shop anymore. And if we cannot find shoes that are beautiful and comfortable we knock on Manalo Blahnik's door and demand he design something immediately. Or some other famous shoe designer's door. I'm sure we can find at least one.
"K" is one of those gorgeous people. Inside and out. She is the reason I wrote the letter for Boo. I am happy to call her friend and hope that my daughter Abby grows up with "K"s character. You can read more of "K"'s writing at her blog, Transcending CP: Shattering the Limits of a Disability.
What's your challenge is a series that was inspired by a program I created at Abby's school. I am amazed at how honest and hopeful the challenges have been. Thank you to all who have contributed. To submit your challenge, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org