56. To Be King

56. To Be King

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

To Be King

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

~Lao Tzu

As I took my seat at the pep rally, I looked around the packed gymnasium and thought this was completely and absolutely ridiculous. The four other boys sitting with me were the captains of the football, basketball, soccer and track teams. They were also voted best dressed, most athletic and best looking during the senior superlatives. I, on the other hand, was none of those things. I ran cross-country and, while I always tried hard, I wasn’t really good. I could also guarantee that I wasn’t going to get any votes for best looking or best dressed anytime soon. I wondered if this was all some sort of weird joke, because I could not comprehend what I was doing sitting with them.

During the ceremony, my mind wandered and I thought back to the last six months. I know that high school students tend to over-dramatize things, but I honestly can say that those six months had more highs and lows than most high school students experience in such a short time.

It all started in April when I and three other boys were selected to represent our high school at a national conference on politics in Washington, D.C. While the trip was fun, I had a hard time connecting with people and by the end of the week felt pretty lonely. A few weeks later I ran for the only thing I had ever wanted in school — Student Government President. It was a very close election, but when it was over, I had lost. That night was brutal as I spent hours on the phone with, of all people, my chemistry teacher. I wondered if there was something else I could have done, and he tried his best to reassure me. But still it hurt.

Things got better a few weeks after that when I and three of my classmates were chosen to represent the school at Boys State, a leadership program intended to bring the best and the brightest male students together. That week, though, was a disaster. I was ridiculed by almost all the other boys except for my own classmates. In a blatant attempt to ridicule me further, I was nominated for the position of State Treasurer. I knew it was only to give my tormentors another chance to poke fun at me, as I’d have to speak to the whole group of a few hundred students.

So with the help of a friend from school on the trip, I gave a speech where I called them out on their behavior and expressed my disgust at what the supposed best and brightest had done. Shockingly, the speech was almost unanimously well received. I received a standing ovation, and the award for best delegate.

The summer passed by fairly uneventfully, until August when I was T-boned while driving my father to the airport. I was lucky to escape with minor injuries.

Through all of these events, I grappled with a choice. I had been presented with an opportunity to change myself, but it was not going to be easy. To put it bluntly, I’m short. I stand barely five feet tall, and have been since I was probably thirteen years old. When I was younger it wasn’t that big a deal. But as I went through my teenage years, I stopped growing while everyone else continued to do so. The choice was to undergo a complex surgery. It involved breaking both my legs and then inserting pins between them to lengthen the bones. If it sounds painful, that is because it is. I would need to take a year off to deal with the medical issues. During those past six months, I wondered if things would have been easier if I were taller. Would I have won the election? Would I have not spent a week being ridiculed by a couple hundred teenage boys? Would that have somehow prevented the accident?

I snapped out of my funk and my mind stopped wandering when I heard my name called. I needed to run one of the pep rally contests. As I walked to the microphone, I searched the crowd for a particular young lady. I had fallen for her and was hoping she would go to the senior prom with me in June, assuming I’d get the nerve to even ask her. Dating for me was nonexistent. While I had some good close friends, I was never part of the “popular” crowd and spent many nights at home. The school had a semi-formal dance every year in which the girls ask the boys, and I had never been asked to go with someone, even as a group thing. I often wondered if girls would be more interested if I were taller.

The contest was over and I went back to my seat. Thankfully, this whole ceremony would soon be over. A short time later, I heard a shout from the crowd and the girl sitting next to me elbowed me and whispered, “Stand up, we won!” For a second I didn’t move, but as the throng of people came to congratulate us, I realized what had happened. Somehow, I had been elected Homecoming King. The rest of the afternoon was a blur until I got home and my chemistry teacher was on the phone. He remembered our conversation from that past May when, in tears, I had asked him if I would have won the election if I were taller. This afternoon, he wanted to make sure that I finally realized none of that mattered.

It has been twenty-one years since that day. I’ll never really know why the students voted the way they did. But to each of them that did, I owe a big thank you. They taught me that the biggest obstacle I needed to overcome wasn’t being short. It was being okay with who I was. And that if they were okay with it, then I should be too.

We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. For many of us, the challenge is seeing the good in ourselves. I had been myself during high school and that had been enough. My classmates saved me from choosing an unnecessary and painful surgery. I opted not to have the surgery and graduated on time with my classmates. When the senior superlatives came out, I didn’t get best dressed or best looking. But I got something just as good: friendliest. I also did ask that particular young lady to the prom and she accepted.

~Rajkumar Thangavelu

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