Can I Sit with You?

Sunday Short: Left Out
November 4, 2007, 5:07 pm
Filed under: bully, cruelty, Jesus, popular crowd, religion, self esteem, sunday school, supportive parents

by Victoria Davis
Age 11 at the time

The little girl sat at the edge of the classroom — sensing the excitement but knowing her only form of participation could be observation. Squeals of delight came from the popular corner as white and pink tissue paper flew from the gift boxes wrapped in lots of curly ribbon.

Oh, she would get a gift too. But if she squealed it would be met with ridicule and various mimicking of whatever sound she made.

No, life was better for her if she was invisible. Teachers were oblivious or chose to tune out her peer-enforced solitude.

She loved people. She loved to tell jokes and laugh. But right now in this classroom — she was the only joke. What would she do wrong today? Oh, it would be something.

And she’d see these girls at church again on Sunday with their curls, angelic smiles, and stockings, looking like the apples of their moms’ eyes. Not saying anything, they would steal glances at one another as she spoke up in Sunday School — oh, what fun they’d have tomorrow about this lesson!

And yet, there was one place she could go with complete acceptance. Her mother and father adored her and enveloped her in their respect, love, and care the moment she came home.

And — in her room at night — she’d open her Bible and read of her Saviour. He was a “man of sorrows.” Enemies hung on his every word looking for their next point of contention with him. This man — this Jesus — knew what it felt like to be alone, to be made fun of even in church. To be left out and not fit in. He understands. He knows.

And snuggled under her covers beside a small lamp in the darkness, they met in conversation, talked about their day, and became best friends.


A Non-Catholic Upbringing
October 18, 2007, 7:01 am
Filed under: elementary school, peer pressure, popular crowd, religion

By Lea Cuniberti-Duran
Elementary school years

I was born in Italy in the year 1967, just a year shy of the rising of the Student Movement and the beginning of the political rising, which in Europe, led to the blood stained 70’s. Italy, at the time, was very much a Catholic country; kids were named after saints, and prayers were taught in school.

I was born the odd kid out: my mother is Jewish but was raised Catholic, in an attempt to escape the brutality of WWII, and my father was a Catholic turned Atheist. It was decided that I would not be baptized. The official line was that I was “given more choices”, and I would be able to pick my religion as an adult.

In the mean time, my dad forbade me to go to church. I guess he did not want me to cloud my judgment or give in to peer pressure. Never mind that for the vast majority of people being part of a group is some sort of security blanket, and for a kid, blending-in is key.

Blending-in for me was never very easy. For one thing, my name is Lea (can you find a name that’s a bit more Jewish, please?), and then there was the fact that I was not baptized and I didn’t attend church.

I don’t remember anybody giving me too much grief about not being baptized until I hit grade school. Enter Mrs. Renata Manzoni, the woman who was going to be my teacher for a very long four years. Mrs. Manzoni was one of those human beings that takes it upon themselves to straighten out others. As an extremely devout Catholic, she could spot good from evil, and saving souls was high on her priority list.

It didn’t take long for Mrs. Manzoni to find out that I was not Catholic. At the beginning of the school year, she called me to the front of the class introducing me to everybody: “Class, this is Lea. She is not baptized and she is going to hell.” Whispers spread across the class. Suddenly I was not viewed as just one of the other kids, but more like a newly discovered alien species.

The news spread quickly to the playground, and I immediately felt like a celebrity; but I was not the “she can jump double-dutch” playground celebrity, I was more “here comes the she-devil” kind. It goes without saying, that being six years old and pointed to as the “spawn of the devil” is no fun; and although I felt that I was like everybody else, I was told that I was different.

I don’t remember being teased because of my lost soul, but I do remember being shunned by some of the kids at school. One time I was having an argument with another kid, when we were interrupted by one of her friends who came to her rescue and shut me up by saying, “Don’t talk to her, she’s not even baptized.” I remember feeling stunned, then livid, my ears red and burning. I watched their group as they walked away, gazing back at me, looking and then whispering and giggling.

Some other kids talked to their parents about my impending damnation; I guess that Mrs. Manzoni had struck a chord with some of my classmates. Some of those kids told me that I was not actually going to hell; rather, I’d be in limbo, where non-baptized, innocent souls spend their eternity. To me, the limbo deal seemed very much like a technicality, and not much of a consolation.

My parents, of course, were doing a ‘bang up’ job in letting me know that “hell” is merely a form of social control enforced by the church, so I ended up not worrying too much about it.

As every major holiday and religious celebration came and went, I felt deeply alienated from the rest of my community. Although I attended a public school, we went to mass as a class a few times a year. Many of the social and community activities rotated around church; it was the major catalyst. At a certain level not being able to be a part of it, made me almost not be a part of the community at all.

I felt very lonely; I was literally the only one that I knew who was not at least baptized, even within my immediate family. If my parents had belonged to a different denomination, I could have had at least a few people that shared our same beliefs, but being the only one raised Atheist was one of those things that forge one’s personality in ways that I am still discovering.

A few times I snuck out behind my father’s back (with my mother as an accomplice) and went to the after-church activities with the other kids. I really craved feeling, experiencing and seeing what everybody else was doing on Sunday. I remember hearing all about the after church programs on Monday at school, and to me, watching a movie, buying some candies, hanging out while some of the older kids played foosball, sounded nothing short of fantastic.

One time, I was invited by my friend Bruna to join her and her family after service. I was thrilled; it kept my mind occupied for several days. Finally Sunday came, and everything was just as I expected: religious movie and the opportunity to buy liquorices and marshmallows. After the movie was over, we all exited the small room, which was outfitted with benches and an old projector. To my absolute terror, I spotted a priest who knew of me; I really could not escape his look of disapproval. He looked at me as though I had just stolen something. I felt so humiliated and ashamed.

When it was time for first communion, it was clear that I was the only one in the entire school (read: in the entire country) who was going to skip it. I lived vicariously through the other girls, listening to their descriptions of their white nun-like dresses. Some of them would give me that look of “ugh, what does she want?” if they realized that I was eavesdropping.

Others didn’t say anything, I think they felt bad for me and didn’t know quite what to say.
I stayed up late thinking about how it would feel to be part of that–to have that dress, to go to the rehearsals– to feel like I belonged. My best friend mercifully didn’t talk about the whole thing, and tried not to make it too much of a big deal.

After First Communion Mrs. Manzoni gave a gift and her teary-eye congratulations to every one in the class.

Except for me, naturally.

Sunday Short: Choices, Choices
October 7, 2007, 6:12 pm
Filed under: "Can I Sit With You", DoubleTrouble, religion, school bus

Sometimes we get entries that don’t quite fall into the thousand-word essay category, but which need to be told, all the same. We think they make good Sunday Shorts, so don’t forget to cruise on by on Sundays.

Also, apparently now we are the playground bullies in asking DoubleTrouble to share her tales (see #7). And we thought we left peer pressure behind once we left Junior High! Thanks for participating, DT!

My CISWY Options, In Chronological Order
By DoubleTrouble

1. Spent my entire lifetime believing I was fat, even though it’s probably only really been true for the past 7 years, and for a time in college. Why? Because of the catty girls behind me in the water fountain line who said that my belly was getting so fat as I was drinking water. In retrospect, they were probably just hot and thirsty and wanted me to hurry up.

2. Requiring speech therapy in first/second grade because I couldn’t pronounce the “sh” sound. Came out as “s.” Not too big a deal, unless you know my name IRL.

3. Second grade school bus. I got on the bus at almost the last stop, and no one would let me sit with them. Happened repeatedly. Although I wasn’t aware of why at the time, in hindsight and conversations with my brother, it was probably because I was one of the few Jewish kids on the school bus.

4. Fourth grade. Chorus tryouts. Basically all the kids get to join. All the time. Except for me. Did it have anything to do with the fact that all the other kids were given familiar Christmas songs to sing, together in a group, and I was given a Hanukah song that I didn’t know, to sing by myself?

5. Sixth grade when two classmates taunted me (endlessly), claiming that I stuffed my bra. And that I did such a poor job that the two sides were uneven.

6. Junior high, and the perpetual lunch time fear that I wouldn’t have anyone to sit with in the cafeteria.

7. Adulthood, challenged to take on a creative writing project and terribly fearful that I don’t have the ability or the wit to produce anything publishable.