From a young age, kids learn that people have different characteristics that make them unique. So, when I started preschool and the teachers gave my class that very speech, everyone could guess what “special and unique qualities” I possessed. The kids labeled me. They called me ugly, weird, “3-Finger” and the list goes on. So, eventually, I gave in.
Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Shira and I am the girl with eight fingers.
As a young child, it had been hard to make new friends. The people that knew me from the beginning did not care about my hand. But, telling new people? That was a completely different story. New people came into class, said hello and I grew nervous. In order to protect my feelings, I hid my hand for as long as I could.
At my Jewish Day School, they always taught us to treat others like you want to be treated. As a kid, I always wondered: Why doesn’t this apply to me?
In times of distress, my parents, teachers and counselors stood up for me. But, as I aged, it grew harder to stop peers from calling me the same names I constantly heard. Because then, people would not only see me as the girl with eight fingers, but also as the girl who needed her mommy to fight her battles.
Beginning in elementary school, I realized that I needed to have both resilience and creativity to overcome my differences. In fourth grade, my class started to learn how to type. The system that my school used taught kids to use all ten fingers. There was no option for less than ten. So, once again, school made me feel different. They set me up with a miniature keyboard and a special typing program. To my nine-year-old eyes, it did not look nearly as fun as the regular program did, but per my teacher’s request, I gave it a try. Years later, I am proudly able to say, that I am one of the fastest pokers in Maryland.
When I arrived into seventh grade, I met a teacher who eventually became my role model. She entered each room with confidence and grace that I had not yet learned how to possess. This woman not only had missing fingers and went through the same things that I did, but also encouraged me to stay strong and embrace my differences. In addition, she taught me that in order to accept other people’s flaws, you must first welcome your own. Finally, I think the most important thing that I learned from her is that G-d loves everyone and created me the way I am for a reason. Even now, years after the day we first met, she continues to help me and lift me up whenever I need an extra dose of courage.
In middle school, I enjoyed a life of tranquility and happiness. No one seemed to care about my hand. Sure, people asked about it. But, no one said any mean things or shared questionable looks. Of course, all good things must come to an end because last summer, fifteen-year-old Shira faced a new test. This hike was really special because it was the same path that Avraham walked as he professed his love for G-d and monotheism. Hiking a seemingly ginormous mountain in Israel, I chatted with friends while racing to reach the top. Then, after accomplishment our goal, we all crashed onto benches like we had not walked in days. As we continued to talk, a new, older boy with brown eyes and dark hair joined our conversation. He seemed excited to introduce the topic of the newest Star Wars movie to the group. I started to tune the conversation out until I heard my name. The new boy, I think named Jimmy exclaimed “Shira, you could probably use one of the new lightsabers. They only require three fingers!” Trembling eyes looked at this boy with surprise. I could not believe that a 16-year-old boy said such a thing! It hurt like a ten-pound-brick falling on my head from the mountains above. Now, honestly, because I had grown up and learned new vocabulary since kindergarten, I do not think I replied to Jimmy in the most graceful of ways.
But, can you blame me? I felt sick to my stomach.
To calm my nerves, I began to pace around the mountain top, away from my clueless friends. About ten minutes into my panic attack, my best friend heeded my prayers. “Shira, are you alright?”, she asked. But, unfortunately, I remained in my head, scared to face reality.
The truth remains that being the recipient of mean comments can be challenging. I wish I could say that the nasty and degrading words get easier to hear. I wish I could say that they stopped entirely. But, here lays one thing I can tell you. As I matured, I learned to love myself. Yes, people do occasionally make a comment about my hand. But, I do not let those people reach me. I only feel sorry that their “special and unique qualities” do not appear as visible as mine.
Shira Kramer is a sophomore at Beth Tfiloh High School in Baltimore.Mercurial Superfly Heritage FG