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Friday, September 5, 2014

The Lessons She Learned

Some years ago, in a big city, a little girl was born. Her creation probably came as a surprise; her siblings were six, seven, and nine years older than her. Her family were poor immigrants, and while they were not stupid, they were also not intellectuals. She was not a pretty baby, and she did not turn into a pretty little girl. Her nose was a bit too large and her forehead was a bit too high. She had an overbite (commonly called bucktoothed) and a gap in her front teeth, and even though she was very thin, she had inherited a double chin from her mother.

Her father told her at an early age that she needed to work hard and learn well and get good grades in school. He loved her even though she was not pretty like his other two girls. When she was still very young, a tragic event took away her mother and resulted in her father being sent away to pay the price for the crime he had committed. She learned about pain, death, and uncertainty. She was sent with one of her sisters to live in a place where there were other children with no parents. She sought out love from her caregivers and, along with the other children, was told that everything bad that had happened to them was their own fault, the results of their terrible sins. She learned guilt. She learned what it was like to be unloved.

There was a day, suddenly, when she learned that there were relatives far across the country that wanted to give the two sisters a home. She was eager to please the new family, to share her boundless love with them, to have them love her. She was told that she was not what was wanted. When she told her school friends about her imprisoned father, she was told that she must never speak of him. She was told that nobody would want to be around her if they knew about him. They would know that craziness ran in families and that she was crazy like her father. She was beaten and berated. She learned to live in fear. She learned to be ashamed. She learned how it felt to be unwanted. She learned to tell lies to protect her abuser. She was seven years old when she learned to wish that she would die. 

She was sent away to live with someone who was not a relative, but still gave her a loving home. She eagerly went to school and tried to make friends. Some of her classmates learned about the nickname that her family and neighbors used for her. They told her that it was a cute name and that she was too ugly to be called by such a name. There were other matter-of-fact pronouncements. She was very ugly, she was told. In fact, she and another girl were so ugly that the war that was currently being fought across the world was started over which one of them was the ugliest. She learned to be ashamed of her appearance. She learned sadness and loneliness.

She always had a few friends, and got along well with the neighborhood kids. She did well in school because it was the only way she could excel. She felt awkward around other kids, and she wasn't remotely athletic. She had the ability to be an actress, but the one who brought her across the country and hated her would only allow her to perform very infrequently. It was not something that good people did. Nor did they socialize by sleeping away from home; people who did things like that were tramps. (Apparently sleepovers are a gateway activity. Spending the night with the kids next door must lead to loose morals or something.) She learned resentment.

As she grew older, though, the lessons she learned made her have more empathy for others. When she met people who were less than beautiful or handsome, she sought out their personalities rather than their appearances. She appreciated intelligence, a sense of humor, sensitivity, creativity. She grew to see others with the eyes of her heart and soul rather than simply with the eyes in her head. She still had people judging her based on her appearance, and it still hurt, but she knew now that it was the way of the world. She felt more pain on behalf of others who were treated cruelly for not fitting into the beauty standards of a world that couldn't see them through the proper eyes. She felt even more sorrow for those whose lives were wrapped up in, or ruined by, such shallow perceptions.

She continues to read and write and learn and love, and tries to always remember the lessons she learned. Some of them were wrong, and she knows this. But all of them formed the person that she is today. She hopes that the lessons she learned, although some of them were painful, can help her touch others' hearts and lives. She hopes that she can help others see with their hearts instead of just their eyes. She hopes that she can share the best part of the lessons she learned. She always hopes...