Even though my grandma wants me to be, I am not a Christian. Additionally, my parents aren’t Christian so, this past summer, I wondered why I was attending a Christian-horse camp. I wasn’t in completely over my head, since I had some basic bible knowledge like, God created the earth. But, when my counselor told us that there would be a “Jesus Quiz,” I started to panic. I didn’t know enough to ace a quiz! Heck, I hadn’t even opened a bible before! The first question was, “What is your favorite Bible verse and why do you like it?” I was sweating from everywhere that could sweat. Besides it being a boiling 114 degrees, I was also very nervous. I looked around at the motivational posters and they all had quotes and which Bible verse they were from. I quickly wrote down a random one—I think I wrote down John 3:16, but I honestly have no idea. Regardless, the next day we got the results. My counselor said, “Wow! I was impressed how much you girls knew about the Bible!” She glanced over and me and smiled. “Jennah sweetie, can we talk during free time?” Oh no. When free time came I went to go talk to her. “How are you feeling?” She asked me. “Fine. Why do you ask?” I responded. “Well I only ask because on your quiz, I sensed that you were not in touch with God. When was the last time you talked one-on-one with our Lord and Saviour?” That’s around the point when I stopped paying attention and I started answering with “uh huh” or “yes, I agree.” I don’t think I’ve ever felt so out of place. I felt singled out and honestly, it was a bit scary.
This whole Jesus business was kind of freaking me out. A girl in my cabin told me that something along the lines of, “Only Christians go to Heaven.” It was only a week so I vowed that I would power through it and shake it off. What really just burst my atheist bubble was when I asked my counselor if she would come back next summer. She responded with an answer I have never heard before. “I’m not sure yet. Where God wants me to go next I guess.” Needless to say, I was extremely taken aback. Wherever God wants you to go? What about what you want? Is there a difference? I wanted to ask her about it but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
If my counselor had asked about my experience with God and asked if I had any questions, I would have felt much safer, knowing that she accepted my views. She didn’t though. Instead she forced her views upon me which wasn’t right. My safe space at this summer camp was around the horses. It was meditative. When I was riding horses, I didn’t think about anything but what I was doing. The rhythm was very peaceful. But, whenever I would have a good ride, they would always say, “Wow, Jennah! God gave you a very wonderful ride!” To that I would roll my eyes and sigh.
This experience made me feel lonely. I can’t help but imagine what other people might go through when they hide something that’s crucial about their personality or their views. Hiding can be physically taxing. It was for me. When asked what she remembered about the 1970s, Billie Jean King, a world-famous tennis champion who hid her sexuality from the public, said “I was tired...I was exhausted every moment.” She was tired and lied to everyone because they wouldn’t accept the way she was. She could have been less tired if everyone accepted her and her sexualtiy. King said, "My poor parents are homophobic. I grew up homophobic, so you can imagine this challenge. I didn't get comfortable in my own skin until I was 51 about being gay.” She had to hide her true self from the world, making her very uncomfortable. She wasn’t comfortable living in her own skin until she was 51. I only hid for a week and I was miserable. I was uncomfortable and I felt out of place. When I finally told some of the girls in my cabin that I was an atheist, they were very supportive. Luckily, my cabin mates were very accepting of my religion; I cannot imagine having to live with a secret like that for so long. Having to hide something that separates your from perceived norms, can be a struggle that will only be resolved by telling the truth.
Many people feel excluded or disconnected from the rest of society on a daily basis. A blogger wrote on myasperberger, “Due to their “odd” behavior, these young people are misunderstood and not heard by their peers. They are trying hard to be accepted, but they simply don’t know how to do it.” My mom was excited to tell me that she knew a girl who would be going to my new school. Her name was Sasha. My mom’s friend told her stories about Sasha that were very strange. My also told her that Sasha is on the autism spectrum. She has mild autism which makes social interactions hard for her. In my interactions with Sasha, I’ve noticed that, if two people are talking, she will stand directly behind one of the people, just listening. Behaviors like this, as well as her eccentric fashion choices, make it hard for her to fit in. Since Sasha is considered weird, nobody wants to sit with her and have interactions with her. She doesn’t seek interactions with others, so she gets lost in the crowd of 90-something other freshmen. At lunch I usually leave campus with my friends and eat with them. Sasha eats alone in the silent room, eating and reading. I can’t imagine not talking to anyone during a free period. I can’t imagine how she handles that. We, everyone, shouldn’t pick on her or make her feel less appreciated than she really is. We try to imagine what it feels like to be Sasha. If we all did that, I’ll bet we wouldn’t want to be mean to her. She has no one to talk to. Nobody that can do things with her—things I took for granted before this, like laughing and playing with my friends. Sasha’s Asperger's makes her social life a daily challenge. We should all feel that the environment around us is an accepting and safe environment, not a lonely environment where we need to hide our true selves.
My time at horse riding camp really made me feel isolated due to my beliefs and my differences from the other campers. I felt so alone. The counsellors weren’t accepting and they seemed to dismiss my beliefs like they didn’t matter. Many people have to live with these kind of differences everyday. There is nothing they can do to stop themselves from being isolated from the rest of society. Sasha, a girl with autism at my school, sits alone and has no friends. Billie Jean King hid her sexuality from the world until she was 51. She could never quite be herself. Being an outcast based on something that you cannot control is the worst feeling. In the end, I found the best idea was to be honest. I told the campers that I was an atheist and they were very accepting. I suddenly felt way less lonely. It was as if someone had lifted a weight off my shoulders.