I'm so impressed with Chana, for so many reasons delineated in this post (and other reasons that have nothing to do with the post). In reading it, I was struck by the knowledge of why I did NOT grow up in an Orthodox environment.
I've always done my own thing, been a bit different (not weird, just different). Never a follower, but not a leader either. There were times when I wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else. And there were times when I tried. But it never really took. I'm not sure why it never took; I guess there's something inside that just didn't want to be like everyone else, that pushed back at the face of conformity and fitting in and copying what the rest of the world was doing. But I just never could do it. And that was way hard sometimes. But I couldn't help it.
I was incredibly lucky though. I went to a public high school. But not just any public high school, an excellent public high school, one that really nurtured every student and allowed them each the individual care and interests they needed. I was encouraged to formulate my own path, to explore whatever interests I had, to be artsy and creative and to learn to critically think and question. It was a unique experience and I feel incredibly fortunate, especially when I read Chana's tale, to have had it.
Because when I was in high school, if I had gone through the experience Chana did, I don't think I would have made it. I don't think I would have been strong enough at that point. It has taken me a good part of my 29 years to be comfortable and really embrace who I am, and that it really is ok, and good, to be different and myself regardless of whether that fits anyone else's mold. Because while I always did my own thing, for a long time it hurt and made me lonely and sometimes sad. It still does on occasion. But in general, I feel like I've become a strong enough person to handle it now.
So when I read Chana's account of what happened in her high school, which, from what I have heard, is not particularly unusual for Orthodox schools, I am in awe of the fact that she held on and has been able to come back. That she searched and found a light in that which turned her off so much. It would have been incredibly easy to walk away completely. But she didn't. I know others like her who have been so hurt - some did walk away, some didn't. Some became stronger because of it, some weaker. I think I would have fallen into the category of those who became weaker.
So I guess it does all work out for the best. As much as it is sometimes challenging to not have grown up in this denomination that so highly values the lineage of its participants, that has so much emphasis on family participation, which sometimes leaves me feeling outside the arena, I see why I didn't have the experience of growing up that way. Why I found it later, and could appreciate it, since it hadn't been ruined.
As much as we wish for our neighbor's lot, and the grass seems greener on the other side, I'll take what I got.