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Overcoming Shyness (for the sake of Sarah)



Professor Legarre describes the fruits of making connections

I have been trying to overcome shyness ever since I can remember. An additional struggle has been that most people think I am not shy, so I often find myself first trying to prove that there is something I need to overcome.

Last month I visited my sister who lives in Key Biscayne with her husband and their eight kids. One Saturday morning I went to Mass at St Agnes, the local parish. As the priest was about to start, I noticed movement and noise in the pew just behind me. I turned around discretely to find a very large family. When later they filed up for Holy Communion, I was able to count… eight kids! We had all thought my sister was the only mother of eight in the whole island of Key Biscayne. Were we wrong?

The only way to find out was to talk to them after Mass. But for this to happen, I needed to overcome shyness. As I debated with myself what to do, I could hear the voice of the older of my nieces – a teenager: “How can you be so crazy, talking to strangers like that?” I tentatively decided I wouldn’t reach out to them and after the Mass ended I sat down for a few minutes. These guys sat down too. “Well,” I thought, “maybe this is a sign that I should talk to them after all.” One or two minutes later, however, almost all of them followed the father to the back door. Meantime an old lady courteously greeted the mother, while she watched in amazement the numerous kids who were leaving with their father. Now, without thinking further – if you want to overcome shyness, it is important not to overthink – I turned around and asked the mother, who had stayed behind with a very small baby: “Are you guys from here?” I had done it. That was it. Now the rest would roll swiftly, as I knew from many past, successful experiences of overcoming shyness.

Monica, the mother, explained they were from Kansas as she smiled at me and at the baby. “We brought her to a special hospital here; she has eye cancer.” This was one of those situations in which any reaction would be unfit. I asked if I could kiss the baby and, once the permission was granted, I told her about my sister and her own eight kids. “Let us go out and find my husband.” Monica was excited.

Tony, the father of eight, was waiting with seven of them in the parking by one of these huge vans one can only rent. He was stunned by the coincidence between my sister’s and their family and told me how, on the previous day when they went to Mass to the Cuban Shrine of La Caridad the priest had stopped before giving him Holy Communion and asked him in Spanish, in amazement as he inspected the troop that followed behind: “¿Cuántos hijos tienes? ¿Cinco?” It would seem that five is an amazing number even for a priest these days. Tony had struggled with his limited Spanish and uttered “ocho” in response, worried that he was delaying the Communion line.

Given that they had time and were eager, we went straight from the church to my sister’s house, after I reassured them that we would not be intruding upon her. I know, you can hardly not intrude when you come by surprise with ten new visitors. But I could not resist the temptation, or rather, the opportunity. And of course there was Sarah, the baby, and the chance that we might be able to help these guys who were foreigners in an island (Key Biscayne).

Murphy’s law had it that when we got to the house, my sister and my brother-in-law were not there; they had gone on an errand and would return any minute. As I went around the house in search of water for the pilgrims and of signs of life – it was still a tad early for a Saturday morning, and my nephews and nieces seemed to be sleeping – I spotted Simon, nephew number seven and my godson. His eyes were stuck to that magnet called a screen. I wanted his help to deliver the glasses of water and to show my new friends that my nephews were real. I didn’t have time to explain and didn’t want to run risks, so I tried to counter the almost irresistible screen temptation with another one: “Simon, would you like a donut?” Yes. “Then come with me one moment.”

As I came out with Simon, my sister and her husband had arrived. There was an amusing exchange – they had come to realize that the age gap between number one and number eight was the same in the two families: fifteen years – as I interrupted with an air of triumphant proof: “This is number seven.” Tony in return patted one of his own on her head and exclaimed: “And this one is our number seven,” only to be corrected by Monica: “No! She is number six…”

My sister took their contact information, and they all agreed they should keep in touch. Mostly, of course, this was about Sarah and about supporting them in their transition while she received her burdensome treatment, one with uncertain chances of success. It had been worth overcoming shyness, I thought. There is always someone who can benefit from that effort.Santiago Legarre is a visiting professor of law from Universidad Católica Argentina. Legarre’s academic interests include constitutional law and jurisprudence. You can reach him at salegarre@yahoo.com.

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