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I grew up being called the ‘smart, quiet one’. The bookworm. Somewhere between elementary school and grade nine, I slowly began to morph into – not one of the popular girls – but someone with more of a sense of herself, an honour roll student, a budding writer. Why? Back then, in the early 60s, I don’t recall that there was much to be afraid of. Not having that burden of fear was liberating, although we didn’t know how lucky we were. Was it because my mother believed in my potential, encouraged me, loved me unequivocally? Perhaps it was the discipline of the nuns and priests who kept us on the straight and narrow. Spending hours and hours in prayer on your knees would make anyone contemplative, but not necessarily an achiever. Perhaps it was the lack of distractions in 1962. I wasn’t into the Beatles or Elvis. Reading, learning, track and field and family stuff were important. Those were all elements, parts of my foundation. But after grade ten, nothing was ever the same.

Actually, the most momentous change in my life came about when I was 15 and I met Jessie. Her father had been transferred to St. Catharines from Quebec, to manage the downtown Zellers store. She arrived at Denis Morris High School in mid-February wearing low boots, a short snazzy jacket and no stockings. Shocking, eh? Compared to my muscular plainness, Jess was tiny and beautiful. So francophone-stylish, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted. She wore makeup – eyeliner, pale pink lipstick, foundation. I think I’d just graduated from braids and an undershirt to a short bob and a training bra. She had a killer smile and wore a french twist in her hair. Hair-sprayed into place. Hung out with me in Glee Club and track and field. Didn’t give a rat’s ass for the snooty Glenridge sorority girls who chased her to pledge with them. A real firecracker behind that sweet-faced appearance.

Jessie was my friend. More than 50 years later, she still is my best friend. What an exotic, compelling creature she was to this innocent little convent-school small town girl. (Still is.) Always thinking, scheming. Fantastic in so many ways! Totally a Scorpio to my Libra. In large measure because of Jessie’s friendship, the introvert that was moi turned into a confident, very competitive over-achiever, a jock, a rifle-wrangler in the Majestics drum corps colour guard…the new me. For the first time in my life, I skipped school (we penned each other’s notes. One time, when her mother actually sent a note to the school, Sister Mary Bernita accused Jess of forging it.) With her beloved sister, Colette (taken too soon), we would sneak her dad’s Export A cigarettes (you’re a Boomer if you remember the dark green packaging with gold letters). We’d crowd into the rec-room half-bathroom and fog up the windows with smoke. Smoking? Dad! No one’s smoking! Things sure were simpler then. Some thing are constant, though.

Photos of us sit beside my desk – we’re leaning into one another, shoulder to shoulder. Jess is on the right, me on the left. We dressed in snazzy white blazers at 15 and sober navy blue sweaters at 50: we smiled our innocent smiles and clasped our hands in our laps. We’ve leaned on each other through decades of life’s traffic jams. We’ve saved each other in more ways than I can say. Jessie freed me to be me. I think of her every day, with joy and gratitude and love.

Susan Cain says: In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.