To this day, I can feel my grandmother (whom we all fondly called “Ba”) put her knee in the middle of my back, pull my shoulders back and say, “Stand up straight!” At the time, I was in that oh-so-awkward gangly state kids go through around age ten or eleven. There was a sizeable space between my front teeth (the only reason I could see for having that space was that I could spit through them), my feet were huge, I had permanently dirty and knobbly knees and elbows, freckles across my nose, and, no matter how I combed my hair, my bangs often stood up in sweaty spikes. I spent a lot of time in trees, I wandered in the woods behind our house looking for may flowers and Jack in the Pulpits, and I loved animals, reading and writing.
When I had weekend overnights with my grandparents, Ba was always telling me to stand up straight and walk tall. At that time, all I wanted was to flit around unnoticed; I always felt huge and out of place, not to mention graceless as a goose. But Ba was adamant about my standing tall, and, because I didn’t want her to keep kneeing me in the back, I did stand up straight–at her house, anyway.
At the time, I didn’t realize that this would become an anthem in my mind (“Stand up straight!”) whenever I felt nervous or afraid–I would hold myself up as tall as I could, mentally thanking Ba for drumming this into my head. Just straightening up gave me a kind of courage I couldn’t explain.
Now that I am about as old as Ba was when I first met her, I understand more fully what it does to us to mentally and physically stand tall. Doing it somehow aligns all our cells to a higher purpose, and to be as ‘present’ as possible. These days doing it makes me feel younger, stronger, more confident, and more engaged in the world by meeting it halfway instead of letting it come to me.
What I call ‘putting myself out there’ is the invisible knee I still feel in my back, urging me to stand tall. I truly believe that just about everyone we see in the world has their own insecurities and secret demons they fight each day. So I, like many, do the ‘fake it til you make it’ routine. When I feel insecure, I act as if I’m not–and believe it or not, standing tall reinforces my confidence. I’ve lived long enough to know that, while there is a great deal I know and a lot that I’ve learned, there is so much more to learn. But at least standing tall puts me in perfect alignment to be aware, to be present, to be in a place where I can absorb and retain new knowledge.
As I approach my 64th birthday, I can laugh at many of my past mistakes and assumptions. I can also plan to occasionally make a ginormous ass out of myself from time to time as well. I can take myself far less seriously, yet be prepared to throw myself out there and be as straight and tall as I can.
Thank you, Ba, for that knee in my back when I needed it the most.