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My Lifelong Sense of Difference

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As a child I always felt like I was missing something, as though everyone else was tuned into a common understanding of life to which I was oblivious. I first realized this when, in the third grade, I was sentenced to a fifteen minute “time out” session for asking too many questions. My teacher ordered me to think about my actions and my utter inability to follow the rules. The rules, I learned, included don’t ask why.

I was an inquisitive nine-year-old, unable to take anything for face value. I yearned to know where language started, how the universe came into being, why things must die. Other students wondered why I insisted on asking meaningless questions and refusing to just go with the flow. Teachers felt that these inquiries disrupted the classroom. I often sat in my chair with my hand raised for what seemed like an eternity, twitching and waiting desperately to be called on while teachers did everything they could to ignore me. They did not understand my need to understand things on a deeper level, that I would never be satisfied with superficial knowledge.

As I grew older, I discovered a medium through which to cultivate and satisfy my desire to know. Writing became a silent outlet, one that allowed me to question and think analytically, to engage the world and explore the scope and substance of human thought. I indulged my intellectual fervor by writing essays about works by Faulkner, Joyce, and others; I found catharsis by articulating my innermost thoughts and inquiries.

I still felt like that girl with her hand poised mid-air, the child who didn’t know – or wasn’t willing – to act according to others’ rules. But in high school there was more space for questions, more time to discover the deepest recesses of truth, beauty, and courage. No longer was I punished, but was instead rewarded for attempting to see beyond. I began to see how my inability to fear “time-out” or failure translated into a certain fearlessness that few of my classmates could experience. The idea of “time-out” no longer resembled a punishment, but instead began to mirror its original definition; a break, a time to collect and take a breath, to think.

My lifelong sense of “difference” has proved to be an asset that allows me to approach the uncertainty of life with excitement, not fear. As a child I continued to ask questions regardless of what teachers said, and I still yearn to understand why. The difference is that now I have the confidence and spirit to pursue the answers without hesitation; I strive with joy toward continued intellectual growth.

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