Cheering the one in the arena: how my friends helped me realize a cheerleader career

I tried out five times.


At the time (middle and high school), I don’t think I wanted anything as much as I wanted to be a cheerleader.

Five times I learned and repeated cheers for hours on the back lawn. Five times I practiced projecting my low decibel voice. And, five times I arrived early at school to check the list posted on the principal’s office window naming the new squads.

My name was never on it.

I never made the cheerleading team.

Well, I shared this story with a group of gals, fond friends. We meet regularly to read out loud. We encourage and nurture each other. We listen to problems or woes without offering suggestions or advice. Because of lots of practice, we’re able to send a silent message to the person sharing, one that says, “I’m here, it’s okay no matter what awful, silly, brilliant thing you tell, I’ll love and celebrate you.”

These friends listened to my cheerleader longing and telling.

After that circle share ended, someone said, “Susan, do a cheer!”

And soon they were all chanting the invitation: “Cheer, Susan, cheer! Cheer, Susan, cheer!” I felt like I was at an impromptu sixth tryout.

So I stood up and moved to a spot with space.

Channeling my high school-aged inner girl, and with an intention to bring forth a rowdy, believe-in-yourself spirit, I cheered:

Fire it up, and up, and up,
Fire it up (clap, clap)
Fire it up (clap, clap)
Fire it up, and up, and up!

I ended with my best spread eagle jump—my arms and legs forming an X.

As my feet hit the ground, antiphonally, those beautiful friends clapped, yelled, and exclaimed, “You’re on the team (clap, clap).” And then louder, “You’re on the team!”

I made the team.

It was that easy.

On my ride home, I thought about my dream come true. And here’s what I realized: we all can be on the team. We all can be cheerleaders. In fact, such a desire can be one of our highest callings.

You know how Brené Brown opens her book Daring Greatly with that Teddy Roosevelt quote? The one about the courage it takes to be in the arena of life when it’s tough? (To be that person, “...the man who is actually in the arena marred by dust, sweat, and blood who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

You know the arena I’m talking about, don’t you? When something happens to you that brings forth the raw, every-hair-rubbed-off-Velveteen Rabbit-feelings after a pain or triumph?

Well, I’m thinking about that situation from another angle.

A cheerleading angle. I’m thinking about myself cheering that person in the arena. 

One of my greatest joys is being with that person. 

I treasure, no it’s more than treasure—I hold sacred the kind of trust given when another marred in dust and sweat or spent in a worthy cause chooses to share. And I get to circle round with heart and be there. 

My cheers are silent and strong.