Nona Lynn Simons
My Six Words: Have you ever felt different from everybody else? I have and sometimes I still do! In the fifth grade, I was different because I was part Jewish and my classmates weren’t. They went to church and I didn’t. During the last week of school, one of my nicest classmates used the word “Jew” as a swear word. Where did that come from, I wondered. How could such a nice person say such a mean thing? Later, I learned I was all Jewish; my mistake! Also, my parents knew that we lived in an upper middle class, church going area, and racism and religious bigotry were the norm. So, they told us to pretend we were half Jewish to see how people would respond. I got it all wrong and told my classmates that I was a Christian. My middle sister who was in the 7th grade said she was half Jewish. I can’t remember what my oldest sister said. Somebody who knew my middle sister was an older sibling to one of my classmates. Somehow, they put “two and two” together and found out that I had been lying about my religious affiliation. Ooops! That made for a miserable year. My middle sister was always harassed because she was “half Jewish,” and she would come home in tears. My oldest sister found a boyfriend and a girl who became her best friend, so things were okay with her. Then we moved, and we were now all Jewish again. We were in a better neighborhood, but I did not fit in with the crowd. Just when I almost had popularity in my grasp, I found out from my middle sister that a classmate who was being taunted mercilessly was having a hard time because her parents were getting a divorce. I knew what growing up in a fractured home was like (my parents fought a lot). So, I defended the girl who was being taunted mercilessly and my popularity vanished, along with a number of supposed friends. In my first junior high school, the seventh grade class had a caste system of sorts; the most popular girls and guys were at the top of the social ladder. Cheerleaders and football players came next. The intelligent kids were in their own group. There were a few other crowds of kids who were part of the social structure and knew their place. I was first a “reject” (kind of like being an outcast in India), and later on happily became an “independent agent.” I didn’t belong to a crowd but I wasn’t a reject; for me, that was a step up in the world. The next year, I befriended two older kids and we spent a lot of time together. I had a history teacher who made learning fun, and I started to do well in one class. Then we moved to a different school, and I had a clean start. In this school, there was no caste system; just different crowds of people. There were the popular kids, the cheerleaders and athletes, the folk singers and political activists, a few rejects, a Christian crowd, and a few other crowds. I tried being with the folk singing group but did not have a guitar, so I did not really fit in that crowd. Nor, did I fit in any other crowd. When I was placed in one advanced placement class, I did not fit in with the intelligent students who had been in the same special classes for several years. I found a few independent agents like me, and thus fared better. No longer a reject, but totally unique; the square peg in the round hole! When we graduated from junior high school, all of us went to the same high school. The social system was pretty much the same, as was my standing. I was a political activist but not as far to the left as the peace crowd. I was not in the Christian group, cheer leading group, or drama club. I was the only person in my two advanced placement classes that took art and was not in any other advanced placement class! The art students were not academically inclined. Still a square peg in a round hole, but happier; I had more of a sense of myself. I knew where I was headed and who I was, and that was good enough for me. In college I met people from all different walks of life, from different places around the country, from outside the United States, from different racial groups. I realized that everyone was a human being, each unique in his or her own way, but still members of one family, the human family.