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Nerves shook through my body as I prepared to introduce Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to 400 people in my town. I closed my eyes, drawing in a deep breath. Senator Sanders cleared his throat, and I looked up with concern. “Your shoes are beautiful, Miss Danaher, but be careful not to trip on your way out there.” He said, eyes crinkling at the corners with a smile. I laughed, looking down the red satin heels I had chosen for the event. I knew that, despite my inherent clumsiness, I would not trip. These were my lucky heels.
I received my heels one morning before a piano recital in sixth grade. They were a gift from my mother that also served the practical purpose of helping me reach the pedals of a grand piano much larger than I was used to. Standing before the full length mirror in my parents’ bedroom, I slipped on the heels. That’s when the magic of the heels began for the first time. I felt like a princess, and in my world of Cinderellas and Snow Whites, no harm ever came to princesses. I imagined myself simply unable to be anything less than perfect in those shoes, and like a true princess would I conduct myself with infallible grace and charm. I performed Fur Elise that night, and my fingers remembered everything that my brain had memorized but, in every recital before, had become twisted by nerves. My recital had not ended in tears, but with an double chocolate banana split (with two cherries on the top) and a set of beaming parents at Friendly’s. When I got home that night I tucked my shoes into their box and slipped them up into my closet, preserving them for the next time my confidence failed me.
The next time I wore those red heels it was with a black dress, a string of pearls, and a grave face. The heels clicked on the wood floor as I walked around my grandfather’s casket up to the podium and turned to look into the puffy faces of my aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and grandmother. My hands shook, and when I spoke my speech sounded wrong and fragmented. When I looked to my grandmother, widowed after 56 years of marriage, my voice escaped me entirely. I was not the person to be presenting my grandfather’s eulogy; how could I ever do him justice? I looked down at my feet, humbled, and saw the red satin of my heels winking in the afternoon light. I remembered preparing for the piano recital that afternoon years ago, how I was just a small girl who became a princess when she put on her shoes. This time though, it wasn’t about becoming someone else. This time, it was about allowing myself to exude the confidence required to present the eulogy of the man very dear to me; a man who knew me and my passion for history so well that he had left me his purple heart and B-52 bomber wings in his will.
I know it sounds materialistic to give a pair of shoes credit for my self-confidence. After all, a girl shouldn’t need a pair of heels to make her feel beautiful or smart or invincible. Surely, that is the media’s toxic influence on my perception of what makes a woman strong. I’ve though a great deal about this and have come to the conclusion that my confidence belongs to only me. Confidence is a deeply personal thing, something that is a strong force inside all of us. But life throws challenges that can make you forget who, and how strong, you really are. And when I forget, I slip into my red heels, because they make me remember.
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