I should have realized years before that I was an alien, but I was always in denial. Growing up in Southern Indiana in the 70s, I thought I didn’t fit in because I was the only Jewish kid. But it was more than how the others treated me; I didn’t like anything the other kids were into. All the other students would attend the assemblies to cheer on the football team. I’d slip into the band room office, stack plastic chairs onto a desk, push open a ceiling tile, pull myself up into the crawlspace, and sneak my way over the assembly hall to wait it out. I never got caught because no one ever noticed I was missing.
When I went off to an Ivy League college, I was the only kid into punk rock; everyone else was a deadhead or a Doors fan. I thought graduation would make a good time to protest corporate greed, so I mixed up a giant vat of fake blood and stood at the front of the line of marchers asking my classmates to dip their hands in the blood of the victims of US corporate crimes in the developing world, as a symbol of their successful training as a cog in the machinery of capitalist oppression. No one took me up on the offer. I had also built a coffin, draped it in the flag of the African National Congress, but no one would help me carry it on stage. So, I was alone.
I became a teacher in rural New Hampshire. Not only was the Pledge of Allegiance mandated by state law, but teachers late to school, caught out in the hallway, would stop and put their hands over their hearts during the Pledge — even of no students were there to see them!
Before becoming a teacher, I trained as a leader of workshops in nonviolence. Part of the training involved a so-called values clarification exercise, where participants would discover that everyone — all humans — shared the same values. I assumed that was true for me as well, but when I got to my New Hampshire school I had the painful realization that it wasn’t the case. Outside of a general agreement not to kill and eat the kids, I had nothing in common with my colleagues. They chatted about sports; I was opposed to all competition. They led celebrations of our nation’s “heroes” on Veterans Day; I was opposed to all wars, even wars allegedly of self-defense, and I didn’t support the troops. I didn’t support anyone who joined any military organization for any reason. I was opposed to all the basic practices of my profession…