Wonderful Strangers (Model UN)

(Meet the charming strangers I encountered in Europe and on the Fourth of July.)

This weekend I went to a Model United Nations conference.  It wasn’t consistently fun, for explicable and inexplicable reasons, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about an empowering, positive revelation that felt like a fucking burst of light.mun

As an introspective and socially-awkward person, MUN is definitely out of my element.  I needed much persuasion to try a conference last year, and I actually liked it.  Not because I’m interested in international relations or winning awards — all that stuff is way too pro for me — but when listening to all the delegates talk in their fancy-speak and act so sharp…I’m just impressed by the sheer nerdiness of it all.

So usually I prefer to recreationally absorb the debate and everyone’s suave professionalism.  But, somehow, miraculously, I accidentally led part of a resolution about internally-displaced people in South Sudan.  I honestly didn’t know much but people incorrectly concluded that I was competent.  What a trick!

One girl misled about my competence was the country of Jordan.  I could see her patterned hijab from her seat at the front of the room.  She was such a boss.  When she addressed the large room, I envied her a little — I’ve always wanted a strong, eloquent voice like hers to replace my shaky and timid one.  She also said, with practiced grace and ease, things like “Let me say one thing,” or “Can I say something?”  When Yemen inadvertently interrupted a discussion Jordan was having, she politely but firmly asked him, “Could you hold off for a minute?”  I remember being surprised and impressed and very aware that I would be too chicken to say that.

Tunisia invited me over to discuss their resolution over on the side of the lecture hall.  The aisle between the wall and the chairs was narrow — a nightmare for someone as clumsy and averse to awkward contact as I am.  I accidentally bumped into Jordan very ungracefully and un-gently.  “I’m sorry,” I squeaked.  She simply laughed and touched my arm.

Tunisia, Jordan, Zimbabwe, and I were in one of those tight circles where if one person turns slightly, the ring gets smaller and someone finds themselves slightly separated.  This happened when Zimbabwe shifted to let other delegates squeeze through the aisle we were clogging.  I was just beginning to realize that there was a gap between me and everyone else when Jordan made a little gasp and grabbed my arm again.  She gently swiveled my shoulders so that I was facing the others, reshaping the circle — and once again included.

It’s such a small thing, such a minor, minor thing.  But honestly, I’ve heard the phrase “lean in” so many times, but I could not conceptualize what that meant until she did that.  Suddenly I was leaning in for real, and the abstract idea crystallized.  I know I’m being overdramatic but it actually felt like the hand of God had warmly guided me and said, “This is how you become awesome.”  I am FLOORED at how simple it is, yet I didn’t even know!

With that one gesture, I quickly decided that I want to be just like Jordan.  Not only because she carves out room for her presence and emphasizes it, but also because she helps other girls do the same.  I can hardly think of a better mission for life, at the moment.

I think too much of my life has consisted of me eyeing the gap between me and others and wondering what to do with it.  I stress and fret about the disconnections, when all I have to do, apparently, is adjust to the dynamic, claim my time and space, and push back my shoulders.

-M.L.

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