Where I was raised, most, like my family, were Irish. I was sent to Catholic schools. You’d think it would have been a time of comfortable conformity. Instead, I was constantly teased for being “different”.
It started early. I was taught cursive handwriting in first grade; Sr. Alexis wanted to submit mine to contests and made me promise to remember, because my writing was “so beautiful”.
Sadly, at my next school I was publicly scolded for “thinking I was better than my classmates” who could only print, and punished if I even wrote my name. The kids followed the teacher’s lead; I became “Martian Murphy—beep beep”. I never heard anyone say, “Stop that! Different is not the same as wrong”.
When the new school taught cursive, of course I had forgotten. Decades later, I hope my spirit has recovered from the intense shame of that involuntarily broken promise; my handwriting, however, will never again be beautiful.
Later, I switched schools, but was afraid to trust other kids. I was teased for stupid things, like the length of my uniform skirt. In High School, I was glared at for admitting I liked classical music; put down for enjoying calculus; teased for reading science fiction. But, I wanted to protest, different does not equal wrong.
Now, I know people who cover their bodies to honor God, and people who believe our bodies are sacred, and that “going sky-clad” best honors the Deities. Others wear clothes, even at a clothing-optional campground, simply to avoid sunburn in sensitive areas. Different does not equal wrong.
Some religions teach Sundays are holy; others honor Saturdays, or let the turning of the seasons and moon mark their holy days; some people honor the birth or death of their God or their ancestors; others honor no day more than any other. Different does not equal wrong.
Some people paint or make dolls or fighting robots; some play video games or cards or ball. Some desire no hobbies beyond work and family. Different does not equal wrong.
Some speak English, some Spanish, some Japanese; some speak aloud, some in sign. Some people prefer to speak in person, others prefer the internet. Different does not equal wrong.
Some people like hair long, some short; my mother thinks bald men are sexy. Different does not equal wrong.
Looking back, I think the foundation of this conviction is a brief snapshot of memory, a look of raw hatred on another small child’s face. That boy knew nothing about me except the color of my skin. 40 years later, I can’t forget that look, or the bone-chilling shock that someone who had never met me could hate me.
Remembering that moment, when one difference was allowed to instantly and irreconcilably divide, I wish I could instead say, different does not equal wrong, and become friends.
Because this I believe—that different is not the same as wrong, and that we _can_ choose not to let our differences divide us.
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