Exclusion is a form of bullying and needs to be talked about. To not be included, to not be chosen, to not be invited, to be left alone. Exclusion comes in all forms.
Yes, words hurt. Being made fun of is the worst. But for me, being excluded is far worse. Growing up, I dreaded gym class. There were always ‘Captains’ and they had to choose who was to be on their team. One by one, they would pick their choice. I was always the last one to be picked. Grade school dances-absolutely dreadful. Back in the day, we had ‘dance cards’. Girls would sit on one side and the boys would sit on the other side. The boys would walk up and down the girls side and pick someone to dance with. The boys had to sign the dance card. For me, I would sit there and watch others dance and my ‘dance card’ never had a name written on it. Recess-time to go out for an hour and play. I would always choose the swing. I would swing up and down and watch the cluster of kids playing catch or tether ball. When I would get off the swing, I’d head to the monkey bars and try and play with the kids. Suddenly, they all ran away and started playing at another part of the playground. Now, I don’t know if I was excluded because I had a cleft lip, my nose was crooked, my ears stuck out from my hair or I talked a little funny. But, I’m pretty sure that is why I was left alone. I was different.I had a secret Santa in 3rd Grade. But, while all the other kids found presents on their desks, my desk had nothing on it. I remember looking down and praying that I could become invisible. Maybe the person was sick that day or maybe they forgot it was the day we were exchanging gifts. But, for me, it felt personal and it made me sad.Exclusion just didn’t happen in grade school. It happened in high school and in college. And, it continued to happen in my professional career. Unfortunately, it still happens today. However, I am older and I hope wiser. It still hurts but not nearly as much. After being on this earth for over 55 years, I learned to cope. To deal with it. I surround myself with people who lift me up. People who like me for who I am. It’s a mutual respect and love for each other. Few people are in my inner circle and that is exactly how I like it. I know I can count on them and they can count on me-in times of struggle and disappointments but also in times of celebration and success. We embrace our differences. We accept one another.I was never a popular kid in school. I was always chosen last. I was the one who never got invited to parties. I was the one who never had a boyfriend. In high school, I would attend ‘sock hops’ and would just stand at the side watching people get invited to dance or to pulled in to join a group dancing. In college, I went to ‘Catholic Alumni’ dances because, well, that’s what you did. My parents gently encouraged me to go. And, so, I went. But, again, I faced exclusion. I could not even get a guy to talk to me, let alone ask me to dance.I’d come home and my parents would anxiously see if I had a good time and I would just meekly say I did. But, in all honesty, it was dreadful.Now I look back at high school and laugh. I laugh because, I had a silver front tooth where my cleft was. I guess, back then, that was the only thing solid enough to pull my braces. I would smile and this silver tooth would blind you when you looked at me. My God, of course, I didn’t get asked to dance or have a boyfriend. I looked freakish. Picture this, I was tall for my age so I stood above the rest. And, I had this misshapen nose, scar down my nose to my lip, braces and was not pretty compared to my classmates.I had a great sense of humor and loved to make people laugh. I used my sense of humor to pull people in. I may not have been the most beautiful person on the outside. And, that was ok. My parents and brothers and sisters made me feel loved and safe. They lifted me up. They tried to protect me so I would not get hurt. But, they also pushed me out the front door and wanted me to experience life with all of its ups and downs. They helped define the person I am today. They always included me and because of that I always felt supported. Our house was a safe place. A place that you could shed your tears and vulnerabilities. A place where there was unconditional love. It was also a place where I always had friends. My brothers and sisters were my first friends. They taught me about life.I was also very fortunate in that I had become friends with a girl in grade school-Karen Walsh. She never made me feel different. She included me when she was going to a party or to go bike riding. Simple things. But they meant the world to me. Through Karen, I met and became friends with her friends. Thankfully, they also accepted me and included me whenever they would go roller skating, ride their bikes or go to the mall.In high school, I had to meet new friends because Karen and my other friends went to a different high school. I remember the day when I met Pauline Rahr. We were in German class freezing because Sister Marie Barbara had the window wide open in the middle of winter. I was goofing around and our eyes met. She was laughing as well. And, well, an instant friendship developed. Pauline got me. She got my sense of humor and always made me feel good about myself.I went to an all-girls Catholic High School. Beautiful, over achieving, popular girls all trying to be the class President. There were ‘klicks’ and that was to be expected. I just wanted to survive and get through four years of being surrounded by drama queens, cattiness, and bullies. Yes, bullies. I was made fun of. I was also excluded. But, I was able to form some wonderful friendships with girls who were genuinely nice. They liked me and I liked them. We formed a solid bond. A bond of accepting each other for who we were-our flaws and our differences. But, also, our inner beauty. Donna Wilk, Shannon Sullivan and Pauline Rahr-thank you for the gift of your friendship.Something happened to me in high school and it carried me through the rest of my life. I became secure in who I was becoming. I accepted who I was. I became confident. I liked who I was and became comfortable in my own skin. I owe this to my wonderful, supportive family and close friends.In Nursing school, I met two wonderful people. Jean Klein and Mary Osterberger. We were in the same boat. We were paddling towards the same goal and that was to survive nursing school and become a Nurse. We had fun along the way. We laughed at our failures and supported each other when we didn’t pass a test. We were there for each other. And, boy did we celebrate when we passed the test and was able to move on to the next nursing class.As a nurse, I also met and became friends with some terrific women. Karen Modica was someone who I clicked with. We worked 12 hour nights together and as we fed the babies, we would talk. Really talk-about life, hardships, hopes and dreams. As a Traveling Nurse, I met Sherry Tackett. A free spirit. A woman who opened my eyes to so many new and wonderful experiences. And who taught me it's ok to be different.I am in my mid fifties. I have decided to take off my seat belt. Time to take off my training wheels. I am ready to forge into unchartered waters. I’ve never written a book, or a blog, let along write lyrics to a song. But, I feel like I have a voice. A positive, powerful voice. It takes courage to do the right thing. It takes support from your family and friends to support you and your dreams. But, what have I got to lose? Nothing really. There is so much bullying going on today. So much exclusion. Who are we to think that we are better than someone else? Who gives us the right to be mean to someone? To make fun of them? To decide they should not be invited to sit with you at lunch or being asked to come to a party? I am, by no means perfect. I am no angel. I have made mistakes along the way. I have treated people unfairly. But, as I’ve gotten older, I look around and see how divisive we have become.
Thankfully, I did not grow up in the age of social media. There were no Iphones, blogs, Facebook postings, on line dating or Twitter accounts. Just the good old land line phone, TV with 7 stations, a doorbell, and you better be home for family dinner at 6. There was no caller ID. There were cameras that took film and you had to bring it with you if you thought you were going to take pictures-usually for a vacation. We had bikes and we walked everywhere. We knew our neighbors and the names of everyone on the block. We had pay phones. We wore the same clothes and there were no designer labels. There were no reality TV shows. Or, rolling ticker tapes that would play at the bottom of the news station to give nonstop information as to what was happening in the world. We had encyclopedias. There was no Google or Yahoo to look things up. You went to the library instead. You took a typewriting class in school and learned how to type on a typewriter with paper and make carbon copies. There was no Apple or Dell computers. You learned how to write in cursive. You used flash cards to help you learn how to count and multiply. Toys were simple-play dough, crayons, easy bake oven, and board games like Monopoly. There was one type of dog food for your dog-Alpo. There was usually one grocery store that you would go to. Folgers or Maxwell House was the only coffee to choose from. There were no Starbucks or fast food chains at every corner. There were no supersize drinks or food options. There were no fat free, sugar free, grain free foods.Times do change. There are advances in technology. Both scientific and medical advances. Specialists to treat multi-faceted problems associated with facial differences as well as other medical conditions. We have so many choices in what we wear, shop, eat, vacation, work, or major in at College. So many choices. Maybe too many.But, some things don’t change. Being a respectful, trustworthy, loving human being will never go out of fashion. Recognizing that one person can make a difference in someone’s life. A positive impact. A simple smile, an invitation to sit with you at lunch, opening the door for someone-common courtesy. Remembering to include someone instead of not inviting them because of your own selfish reasons. Saying kind words and standing up for yourself and others when you have been wronged. Having a voice and using it. These things make us great. They feed our soul and keep our heart happy. We were not placed on this earth to tear people down. We are here to make a difference. To connect rather than to disconnect. To hug and embrace someone instead of pushing them down by our words or actions. Or, by excluding them.I can’t change anyone from acting badly. I can only be accountable for my own actions. I choose to surround myself with family and friends who share the same vision. I still stay close to the friends I made in grade school, high school and in nursing. They know me. We have a history together. I know their family and they know mine. We’ve had our ups and downs. But, we know we are there for each other-always.I can share my message of being kind to one another and walk the walk. Bullying and exclusion is not the way to go. It makes for a very hurtful society. We are better than that. Let’s join forces and lead the days ahead with the theme of ‘doing the right thing’. If you do that, you won’t have any problems sleeping at night. You will be surrounded by good people and you will have a happy heart that smiles. So instead of exclusion, let's practice inclusion. Yes, we are all uniquely different. And, that is what makes life so wonderful. Let us set the right example, so children follow along in our footsteps. One person can indeed make a difference😊