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Outsider Child to Outsider Adult: Full Circle

Recently I had a fun little experience that reminded me I will never be "normal" and even friends and people who like me will most likely never grasp who I am. I hope I don't come across as either whiny or elitist, but this is my life experience (edited for verbosity).

I was a gifted child. I got taken out of regular classes, was enrolled in advanced classes when available, and was pretty much always the teacher's pet. Despite being "the brain" and not hitting my growth spurt until college (my goal for high school graduation was to be five feet tall and weigh 100 pounds, which I made by one inch and two pounds, respectively), I was able to have a relatively decent social life. I had good friends and I was respected if not liked by most of my classmates. Naturally, I felt teen angst and isolation, just as they did, and I carried my memories with me.


Fast forward three-odd decades. I am not a religious person, but I attend a church (because the spouse wanted to do so, and it is essentially a couple hours of free child care). It is a large church, but would be described as very liberal. I shared with them that I was a "devout agnostic" and am still welcomed and liked there. I am part of a Sunday school class that likes to tackle some unusual approaches to religion; most recently they decided to read the Gospel of Thomas and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which are non-canonical (or gnostic) books of the Bible. The latter deals with stories of Jesus as a child, including some very bizarre and disturbing tales - imagine if a five year-old had omnipotence. These books were written roughly 140 years after the death of Jesus. As an agnostic, I often take part in these discussions as if Jesus were real, a theory I do not necessarily believe.

Our discussion first turned to the veracity of these stories, where I patiently sat on my hands and bit my tongue as my opinion is they are "fish stories" at best. Think back to the legends of what your great-grandparents may have been said to have done, especially if you have famous ones. But then the question arose as to what meaning these stories have for people. I said that these are all other people's impressions of Jesus as a child; for me, it would be far more interesting to hear what Jesus' own impressions were like. And here is where he otherness comes in.


In all these stories, there was a sense of awe about Jesus. He was always this "special" person, from infancy onward. At the risk of sounding egotistical or heretical, this is something to which I can relate. I was always "special" too, probably compounded that I grew up as a really, really smart kid in a very rural area. I had few peers (luckily I did have some). I, and everyone else, always knew I was different, and this "fact" was hammered home by how adults treated me. With Facebook came a lot of reconnecting with my middle and high school classmates. Here was what I learned - even some of the people who were not very nice to me have fond memories of me. Some of the people who treated me poorly were the first to seek me out on Facebook. I have some FB friends I barely remember, but they know me. I have some good friends who tell stories about me that I barely recall and ascribe statements that I made that touched them in some way.

I think this is true for all people; we never really know how we impact someone else's life until much later, if at all. I see now that the memories and impressions I took away as a young kid are often very different from what all the others took away. The stories I would tell of my youth are often quite different from those they would tell about me. So I imagine that the stories and memories people may have had of young Jesus would be vastly different from what he may have considered meaningful or important. So to me reading these gnostic books really is just a fun exercise in fantasy.


When I said this (not the last sentence though), I was pretty greeted with stunned silence. I got a few "that's a really good points", but mostly looks of confusion. I asked of any of them were pariahs during their youth (other than the typical feelings of isolation common to most kids). Even though there are a lot of smart people in there (at least seven terminal degrees from Ph.D. to M.D. to J.D.), no-one was an "other" as a child... except me. I think maybe I stimulated some thoughts on what it's like to be "othered" (not a term I like), but the main feeling I had was just like way back in school when I instantly understood the assignment and everyone else was still working and unable to comprehend how I knew it already. I suppose I will always be a bit apart from my peers and colleagues, and that's fine. I have learned how to find overlap and enjoy others and hopefully make positive impressions.

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