No child wants to be different. To be taunted for something you can’t change.
I wanted dark hair, like everyone else. Instead, during childhood, I had flaming reddish hair. “Reds” was the kindest of my nicknames.
I loved playing — boisterously — with my sisters and friends. Suddenly, I was struck with childhood epilepsy, and — over several years — would have to frequently retreat to quiet spaces. While my friends played, I read books, kept a journal and sometimes wrote little stories.
I grew to love reading and writing and — thank goodness — my family nurtured this love. I read so well that my mother and grandmother sent me to read the Bible and newspaper to elderly patients in the local infirmary.
It was my first “job” as a volunteer, but a weird role for a small child. I didn’t want to do it at first. I wanted to be out playing, like the other children.
How was I to know that the very things that made me odd would also make me strong?
That having reddish hair in childhood would strengthen my empathy towards “different” people, persisting long after my hair colour had gradually darkened on its own?
That having epilepsy — being forced to slow down and read — would nurture my love of stories and words and expand my view of the world outside our small village?
That all of it, even reading the news to elderly people, would help prepare me for rewarding careers in television, community service, and — more recently — in publishing?
If I could, I’d tell every child in the world:
Don’t hate the things that make you different. Love them. Because the very things that you’re teased for, even excluded for, will provide some of your greatest strengths.
See the teasing and strange looks as proof that you’re wonderful.
It’s painful now, I know.
It’s hard to believe now, I know.
Try to believe it anyway.
Dedicated to every child who feels different, including a very bright young girl with purple glasses whom I recently met.