When I was in third grade (I know I said I was going to write about something I did in 8th grade, but this is the necessary backstory), I went to a new school. The Catholic elementary school I attended for 1st and 2nd grade closed, much to my horror, because I was very happy at that school, so my parents sent me to the Catholic elementary school one town over. And -- frankly -- I was miserable at that school. It was awful for me. I got bullied incessantly all through 3rd grade. I had no idea what I did to deserve it, and I was too young to realize that being bullied is never the fault of the victim. The horrible bullying died down in 4th grade, and beyond, but I never really -- shall we say -- "fit in with the 'in' crowd." I really didn't care all that much, because I had a wonderful, marvelous, big, extended Italian family. That family provided me with all the support and companionship anyone could hope to have. And I did manage to make a few very close friends at school, even though the class I was in still contained a pretty big percentage of bullies. I managed to keep the bullies off my back -- and my friends' backs, to some degree -- by being willing to punch them, when necessary. Of course, nowadays I would have gotten suspended, but this was in the 70's, so... ya know... things were different. And the teachers in that school never did anything to help us victims of bullies, and the bullies didn't seem to be interested in my powerful words, so power of the fist prevailed.
My day-to-day life in this particular Catholic school, combined with the support of my Italian family, served to have a certain effect on me. And the effect was this: I learned to not really give an "f" about what people thought of me. If I was happy with myself, that was enough. And -- of course -- my good friends in that school made my heart happy. I have also always had a very strong spiritual life, and Jesus has always hung with me, no matter what. Sometimes, certain people try to make me feel like Jesus is unhappy with me, but I have learned to ignore those people. My parents were EXCELLENT teachers of conscience formation -- I really have never known anyone who is better at that task -- so, I know when mean, judgy people just need to be blown off.
This is what happened when I was in the 8th grade...
My teacher decided that it would be a good idea to have a class debate about abortion rights. The anti-abortion-rights team was quickly populated, but ABSOLUTELY NOBODY wanted to be on the pro-abortion-rights team. So, me -- being who I am and not giving an "f" about what anybody would think of me -- volunteered to be on that team. And it ended up that I was the ONLY person on that team. Everybody looked at me in the most judgy way, but -- hey -- you cannot have a debate without both sides being represented, and I understood that, even if none of the other Catholic school 8th graders did.
So, I went to the library (because there was no internet in those days) and scoured the place for information on why people thought abortion should be legal (because nobody had ever told me why people thought abortion should be legal). My family was very Italian and very Catholic. Nobody in my family could be described, even vaguely, as an "anti-abortion activist," but my grandmother put the family philosophy very simply -- "It's okay to keep them from getting there (meaning: contraception is okay), but once they are there, you leave them alone." End of conversation. And I was cool with that. I also must say that NOBODY in my family had any objection to me supporting the pro-abortion-rights side in the debate. My family was pretty awesome about bipartisanship. Therefore, I researched the heck out of the subject (I was determined to win, after all), and I prepared, and I rehearsed, and I pretty much destroyed the anti-abortion-rights side in that debate. The arguments the other side used were lame-ass. Admittedly, they were a bunch of Catholic school 8th graders, so there's that.
After that debate, I was pretty much treated like a pariah by my classmates. But, everyone recovered quickly. My class was, actually, fairly good about not holding grudges, and there was kickball to be played.
I learned a lot of important things from that experience, and one of them was what it is like to be treated like a pariah for your opinions. Because -- in my Italian family -- nobody ever got treated like a pariah, even the hippie cousins who hitchhiked around the country and didn't have jobs and espoused communism. They were still welcomed with open arms for dinner and card games and all kinds of fun. My dad did tell me, though, that I was not allowed to be a hitchhiking, unemployed, hippie communist; but, he did say that my cousins were really "nice kids." My dad was probably the most awesome person, EVER.
Anyhow, to tell you the truth, I was pretty amused by everyone's reaction to me after that debate. As I said, I had learned, over the years, not to give an "f" about what people thought of me, as long as I had searched by conscience and believed in myself.
I'm not exactly sure what my point is in telling you this story. It just came to mind today, and I felt like telling it, so I did. ;-)