I peek out at the crowd from my concealed spot at the side of the stage, my gaze raking over the infinite sea of bobbing heads all clustered in front of the stage and far out beyond it, I realize as soon as I do this that it's a mistake because my stomach savagely twists in protest. I will be presenting my speech in front of millions of people today. It's not some laid-back event I'm attending. No. There is nothing casual about this for me, or anyone, for that matter. I had never dreamed of stepping onto a stage and giving some famous speech to so many people, but here I am. It had started with a couple of small-scale articulations, not yet professional. Later on, they became more publicized until I started getting offers to present my speeches in front of larger groups of people from a few presentation institutions.
At first, I didn’t want to write speeches and deliver them to people. I mean, all of that work and time spent thinking of how to best convey the message. But my older brother, Dez, decided I had too much to say about society to just "let my thoughts aimlessly dart around in my head until they drove me mad." His words, not mine. I would’ve been taking advantage of this warm summer day, laying in a hammock, a book nestled in between my two hands while I drank a well-deserved sweet iced tea. The image fades, and reality slaps me back into focus as I realize it’s almost time. A whole new wave of nausea overcomes me. I decided to step away from the crowd to calm my nerves. Dez is out there, so hopeful and optimistic for me. I can’t let him down by deciding to dramatically pass out in the middle of my speech. That would be mortifying.
There will be no ostentatious preamble, just me, confidently walking onto that stage, hopefully in what looks like a felicitous outfit: A simple, formal black dress with matching black high-heels. God, here I am— about to give a speech about openly expressing ourselves to other people but all the while making myself even more self-conscious of what people might think of me. I think of some ways to calm myself down so that I’ll have the courage to at least walk onto the stage. Taking deep breaths? I’ve always been dubious of that method, but I try it now. Nope. Counting? This is futile. I settle on imagining myself out there, delivering my speech, calm and collected. Making gestures to help emphasize parts of the speech, smiling at all the right moments. This only makes me wonder if there’s food lodged in between my teeth.
I break free of these thoughts, realizing— once again— that I’ll be striding out there in about… thirty seconds. Shit. I anxiously smooth down my unyielding blonde curls with sweaty palms, wishing I had decided to do something with it. Fifteen more seconds, I think to myself as I look down at my watch. 3... 2... 1— a thunderous roar of applause erupts from the crowd, blocking out the sound of the rapid clicks of the cameras as I make my way towards the podium, praying I don't trip in these heels and faceplant onto the floor. I flash them my most dazzling smile and awkwardly fumble with the microphone, waiting for the commotion to simmer down.
"Hello, I'm Morianna Zolinder, a professional orator," I flamboyantly bow in mock honor, which earns me a couple of chuckles. "Thank you all for coming here today. I will be presenting to you a speech about the ability and power of expressing ourselves." My voice booms from the speakers located in hidden areas so that everyone can hear me, even those so far out from the stage. I hear the slight quiver of fear in my voice and try to smother it, but it's like dumping a puny bucket of water into a raging wildfire. I shuffle my neatly organized papers in front of me on the podium, clearing my throat.
“But first, I'd like to ask you a couple of questions... and I'd like for you to answer them in your head," I say using a pensive tone, making the audience even more anticipated. Then I fire off my questions in the most powerful voice I can muster: "Do you truly know who you are? Or do you only know what other people want you to be? Do you sculpt your life? Or do you let society’s influential ideals mold you into what they see fit? Are you going to let them see what they want to see, or what you want to see?"
I let all of their minds explore these questions. I let them develop their individual answers. I allow them to face the truth of them if they are willing to accept it first. Verity, it turns out, is inevitable. A hard pill to swallow, yes, but it isn't the pill that makes it hard. Rather, it is our own unwillingness to receive the truth. This reluctance wears, eventually, and the horror you've been escaping from catches up. You can run, but you can't hide.
"We can try to procure acceptance from others and secure it the best we can, but that is inconsequential. Accept yourself before expecting to receive the acceptance of others."
I allow my eyes to scan the faces of the people closest to the stage. They look at me with a combination of expectation and aspiration. And so I speak anew, with a raw sense of conviction.
"All of humanity has one shared weakness: Prejudice. We form these preconceived verdicts about people regularly, and that’s normal. I’m not going to say ‘shame on you for assuming that person was shy just because they’re quiet.’ Drawing these conclusions according to one’s demeanor is part of us humans. But it is a weakness because we eventually validate these interpretations. We start to identify people by these speculations, blinding us from who they are. What they stand for. And when we do this, some of us will approve of our prejudiced evaluations, and some will not. Whether we do or do not can affect the person who has been misrepresented. Make them continuously change themselves for humanity's approbation, or fully submerge themselves into the performance of their designated identity. And this is why it is important to express ourselves. For if we do not, we let these identifications become us if we see that people ratify it. In doing so, we trap ourselves in a cage of someone else’s personality. Unable to break free of your character because a voice inside your head is reasoning with you. But they commend you, they respect you. You can’t just throw this temperament away. They’ll stop liking you, it says. And here is the problem: At this point, you are lost to yourself, you can’t find who you are. Why? Because you’re too busy being someone you’re not. Too busy relishing in the admiration that is not delivered to you, exactly, but to someone else. It’s like stepping into a glorious ray of golden sunshine after being in the cold, unwelcoming shadows. I would know."
I pause, letting my words sink in while preparing myself to share with these strangers what I have been keeping locked away from anyone's knowledge for a while now. My family knows, but anyone excluded from this inner circle wouldn't know. And I'll bet money they would have never even guessed. I search every face in the crowd closest to the foot of the stage, looking for Dez. I need encouragement right about now, and I ensured that he'd get to stand somewhat near the dais, though I could not do the same for the rest of my family: my all too supporting mom and dad. He must have seen me desperately inspecting every face in the crowd because I saw a hand fly up and wave at me. I caught his eye before he gave me a goofy grin and a thumbs-up. This uplifting was all I needed to venture on into my story.
“When I was in high school, I was a nerd, a geek. As you have already concluded, I was also extremely unpopular. I only had one good, close friend to join me in the shadows. That was not enough for me. I wanted to be affable. I wanted to be congenial. I wanted to be popular among the students. So I took on an entirely new person, donning this personality like a second skin. I started going to parties, started drinking, and trashing myself. I hung out with a whole group of backstabbing highschoolers. My grades plummeted down, and at this point, I'd like to say I hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Not yet, at least. My friend, I won't say her name due to privacy reasons, she left. Actually, it was the other way around. I abandoned her... for what? To fit in with the rest of humankind. For those blissful rays of pure gold sunshine that everyone strives to bask in. But they are not gold, and they are not blissful. And, most importantly, they are not worth losing the only truehearted friend you have. You have to be careful not to fall for the trap; the illusion. Don't get ensnared in the intoxicating jaws of idealism, because they never let go of your essence. It sinks its impossibly potent teeth into your character, and once that happens, it is incredibly difficult to get yourself back. To break free."
I take a deep breath. Exhale. Take another deep breath, and try to control my trembling hands. A round of applause explodes but quickly dies as the crowd sees me put the mic back up to my mouth.
"I want you to see that we're all hiding from ourselves. Were all trying to disown our unique personalities. That seems harmless, right? Just trying to fit in? I think that from my shared personal experience, we can all understand that "fitting in" is not in our best interests. I am here today to tell you all," I say, a sliver of boldness creeping into my voice, "that it is okay to stand out."
I close my eyes, letting the words come to me without having to search for them.
"I know it's scary. I know that it won't be easy, but if we all act and look the same, if we keep pretending to be someone we're not, the world will be one-sided. We'll all be too afraid to put our thoughts out in the public, agreeing to the most popular opinions and wearing what everyone else is wearing. The world will be like walking into an art museum composed of all the same paintings. None of them will be unique or interesting. There is a wonderful, magnificent thing inside of us all, waiting for liberation. Waiting for someone to find the buried key to its prison and set it free of its captivation. And guess who has the key?" I ask, my voice taking on a level of passion I've never spoken with before.
"You. You do, and you have had it for a while now. So I am begging you to be capable of breaking free. To stop allowing fear and anxiety to eat away at you. To stop fading and come back. Because we need you. We need people who aren't afraid of publicly displaying who they are. Humanity needs a bright, burning flame to lead the way out of this constriction."
"Camouflaging ourselves to resemble the people who have the most admirable qualities is not the solution. Neither is concealing our true selves, locking them away. But they will never vanish. They will pursue you until you accept them and are willing to sacrifice your borrowed personalities." These last few sentences I say with a finality that I hope leaves their mark. With one more deep breath, I say, "you can run from yourself, but you can't hide."
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Very deep and meaningful. Braided out neatly, enjoyed this thoroughly. No critiques from me. 🤗
Thank you so much! Your feedback is much appreciated.
No problem. :)
I love this story so much! :) P.S. Happy Valentine's Day! Have a Magical day filled with happiness and love. <3
Thank you! Happy Valentine's Day to you as well :)
Aww, your welcome!!!! :)