February 17, 2009

Journey out of fear

My 20th reunion (high school) is coming up this year. There's a group on Facebook, a separate networking site, photos, memories, etc. Looking through the pics that have been posted is very strange.

Our school went from 7th through 12th grade. From 7th-9th grade i tried SO hard to fit in. I couldn't afford the 'right' clothes, wasn't from a middle class background, was too weird, too awkward, too shy, so overall, I was miserable and unsuccessful. The only photo that includes me is from our 8th grade honors trip to Washington D.C.

In 9th grade, I finally found a friend that fit, MT. We were in the honors classes together, but ended up hanging out in the art room or with the stoners by the soccer field during lunch time. She grew up in the 'right' neighborhood, went to Cotillions with the popular kids, but had divorced parents and an alcoholic Mom. In her own way, she didn't fit in either. By the end of 9th grade and beginning of 10th, we found the skate punk crowd and started thumbing our nose even more at the 'in' crowd. Which of course meant that more people liked us. I took one of the popular guys to Sadie Hawkins in 10th grade, was asked by one of the popular juniors to go to Senior Prom. The whole time I was both out and in. But, by then, I just didn't care. As has been my pattern ever since, I was good friends with individuals in the various groups, but never part of my own constant 'group'.

At this point in my life, to my husband's constant chagrin, I don't care that much what people think of me. Yet looking at those photos takes me back to a time filled with insecurity and fear. I was SO afraid of what people thought of me, even through my first couple years of college, I retained some of that.

From 7th-9th, I wanted to be noticed and liked. 10th grade was my "F__ You" year; it was so liberating to Just. Not. Care. End of 10th I became a Christian, and then I was TERRIFIED to talk about my faith. Scared of rejection. Scared again of what people thought of me because of that. Here I was, growing up in one of the most Christian cities in the country, but was one of only three Christians I knew in my high school class.

In college, first I learned to talk about my faith on a personal level, but was still terrified of any public venue. I had a philosophy class, taught by an African man who hated Christians. I never opened my mouth no matter what he said. Then, my junior year, two huge things happened. The first was in an art class: we had to use a piece of 4x8 foot plywood sheet to make a collage. I had a sense God wanted me to make a crucifixion, but I was totally resistant to the idea. Then, when I looked at the plywood, the body was already there in the wood grain: knees, groin, shoulders, two knots for nipples. All I had to do was outline it. So I did.

I used newspaper headlines to make the crown of thorns. The idea of the black swirls was of sin being consumed. I worked on it for 60 hours in a 72 hour period. Was TERRIFIED going into the critique. Yet, the integrity of the piece spoke for itself. I barely had to talk about it. People saw a stream. They saw an egg in fallopian tubes. All valid and evocative responses.

That same semester, I was in a literary journalism class. We had to write autobiographical pieces about each phase of our lives. Then in class, the teacher would randomly call on students to read their raw piece. The class would critique and then the next week, you'd read your revised work. I wrote a hilarious story for ages 5-12 about Valentine's Day. Wasn't called on. The next week was 13-18. The only thing I could think to write was my conversion story. I totally resisted, but could NOT think of anything else of greater consequence. Wrote it the night before. I used humor and honesty, so it didn't feel like a tract. And, of course, was called on! I was shaking as I read the story. I think I expected people to jump all over me and yell at me or reject me outright. Instead they responded to the writing.

Both of those experiences were hugely liberating for me. There have been other moments in the long, slow journey from fear to confidence, but those were big.

It's just weird to look back at photos from that time and be launched back into a visceral, gut-level fear response. I can't believe how much I'd forgotten the depth of paralysis I used to feel.

Phew! I'm SO glad that life is a journey. I can't wait to look back in 20 years at the things I think are huge now and see them as irrelevant to life then.


Rachel said...

You seem really confident now. It's funny how things that loom large at a given time can look so small in hindsight.

OTR sister said...

What is interesting is when I go to an event (play, basketball game, etc.) at the high school where my husband teaches, simply walking into the room takes me back to that FEAR. You can feel it all around and within you.

I don't know anything about these kids, and it is presumptious to think they care about me (although T always gets comments the next day.)

I don't have that fear and panic anywhere else in my life, but high school is a unique place. There is a lot of judgement constantly going on. Thank God we grow up and out of that.

I liked your stories about college and sharing your faith.

Mama Nabi said...

I think my journey is backwards... I was so confident back then and now... well, not so much. I like hearing about how you came about - you seem so unflappable now.

blackbelt said...

Having gone to my 30th reunion last year, what I suspect you'll find is that issues won't be "irrelevant" but growing experiences. Corny? Maybe, but I suspect you're a pretty thoughtful, insightful person not afraid to parse out your inner self.

Asianmommy said...

I'm with you--I so don't want to think about high school anymore!

mary said...

Thanks for sharing. That collage is awesome. And yeah, professors who are anti-Christian are so oppresssive. It's like, it's "cool" to hate on Christians. I once went to the office hours of a famous evolutionist and he totally creamed me. Didn't even give me a chance to speak really. I like to think that I'm more confident about my faith and better able to articulate as well. =)

Anonymous said...

We all had to go through those fears and traumas at school. I don't suppose there's much of a way for parents to warn or shield their children from terrible growing experiences.

In my growing up, there was the additional trauma of moving. We moved to new cities when I started the fourth, sixth, seventh and tenth grades. It's tough to be new, and I'm still inept at joining groups.

I think grade school children are among the cruelest creatures out of captivity.

I wouldn't go through freshman year at college again for a $100,000 salary.

I had neither seen nor heard of your crucifixion
collage before. It was a joy to see it. Thanks.

But, in the midst of it all, I trust that your Mother was a real comfort to you. I know I was mostly oblivious -- in spite of my own experiences.