Saturday, July 13, 2013

Never Say Never

When I was a teenager one of my soccer coaches organized an entire practice focused on the art of "follow-through".  We didn't get to run the field or play a game, we just took turns shooting goals for an hour.

One by one, we stepped to the line and launched our best shots towards the back of the net.  The only thing standing in between each of us and a little taste of victory was Theresa Vernetti.  She was the team goalie and she was impenetrable. No one got the ball past her on the first try.  Or even on the third.  It took a fair bit of fortitude and imagination to catch Theresa off guard. You couldn't beat her with power, she was the strongest girl on the team, and you couldn't give up...because everyone else was watching.  You just had to keep on trying.  I scored one goal that day.

I remember being bored and frustrated by the repetitive exercise, but I also recall learning how to not run away.

During the next game, when I took my first shot I didn't spin on my heels and jog towards midfield as had been my habit.  Instead, I rushed the goalie and when the ball bounced out of her hands I took a second shot.  She caught it again and I didn't score, but she did seem a bit startled by my perseverance.  I was actually pretty terrified of being knocked over or getting hit in the face with the ball, but I felt like a badass just knowing I'd stuck around to take another chance.

I thought about my little soccer lesson yesterday while listening to Malala Yousafzai speak to her peers at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York.

At sixteen, Malala advocates for education with the sort of follow-through that defies comprehension.  She's a student who rushed for her goals and was brutally rejected in the attempt.  But no one, it seems, needed to teach this young lady how to not run away.

Despite being shot in the face while attempting to simply go to school, she's recovered and she's coming back with fire in her step.

Words like fearless and resilient are easily attributed to her, but what she said yesterday revealed remarkable wisdom.  Her final line, "One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world" will be the hallmark of her first public speech, but the entire text is a fascinating study of insight and understanding.

In it, she talks about her attackers and their fears, but not of hers.  She knows exactly why she was shot and she isn't afraid to say so.  She celebrates education, not revenge.

The bullet that crushed part of Malala's forehead seems to have only knocked her back, not down.

She's a marvelous example of hope, but she's also a reminder of how much we need to do if we truly believe in what she says.

I was a teenage soccer player over twenty years ago.  Surrounded by privilege and opportunity, I never had to ask for an education - it was handed to me.  It took many years for me to realize what a gift it was to be able to get on a bus and go to school.  And only recently did I understand how scary a woman can seem to others who fear her power.

But Malala knew this early, and on her 16th birthday she said it eloquently.
With very little time spent in an actual classroom she has already become the teacher.

To some her desires may seem audacious and even threatening, but she's really just a girl with a goal who refuses to turn and run away.

I want to be on her team.

Full Text of Malala's speech:


  1. We should all want to be on her team. Amazing and inspiring. And your analogy is fantastic.