- I have a liking for pioneers, for experimenters, for people who do not follow the crowd. I always admired the first ones, the early ones, the beginners, the originators. Even in my derashot, I prefer to speak about Abraham, Joseph, or Moses. They were the early ones, the biblical figures who defied public opinion. They disregarded mockery and ridicule, and blazed new trails in the historical jungle of pagan antiquity.
~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav: The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Volume 2, Page 65
The role of the outcast (which is often synonymous with the role of the leader or creator) is a difficult one to describe, but a common one throughout literature and the Bible. I think one of the reasons I love literature so much is because of my ability to relate my entire life to it, to find characters I identify with, and to realize that in some ways I am not alone.
I've been an outcast for most of my life. At first this was a terrible thing that haunted me and made me unhappy- elementary school can be very hard for someone without friends. I was always irritated by the teachers' assumption that we could "take a friend" and go someplace. I will admit that I was somewhat of an intellectual snob during my elementary years, but I was a well-meaning and cheerful one. The problem was, people didn't see me the same way I saw myself.
As I grew older I became more upset about my status. People were not cruel to me, exactly; it was just that we did not share common interests. There was one point in time where I was part of the Popular group because of my ability to tell stories. However, when I saw the girl in the vanguard brandishing a large stick and warding off all those who tried to join us when we went in to daven mincha, I was disgusted and refused my status as a member of the elite, going back to my fellow outcasts, both of whom had been much perturbed by my sudden switchover.
I remember saving swings for my good friend in Kindergarten, and making up stories/ acting out stories through grades three or four with three other girls. However, when we were separated (the classes were divided) we drifted apart, and I was left drifting on my own unhappily. This was made worse by the fact that there was one girl in the class who really had it in for me. She bullied me, picked on me, her tongue acerbic and acidic, a mercenary for hire when it came to upsetting Chana. She made jokes about me and she frightened me. She was the bane of my existence.
She was also shorter, slighter and less physically adept than I was.
So how could she scare me so much? How could this girl have me in tears day in and day out?
It was her words, her remarks, that cut me. Mean, cruel remarks that I could not stop. I told my parents, and they tried talking to her parents and the principal. Of course neither of those attempts worked. When we were called to the principal, he just told us to try to get along. And I wasn't going to be the one to tattle-tale on her; I was far too scared of her to do so.
A brilliant book that I found in the library one day and that helped me very much is called Sticks and Stones: When Words are Used as Weapons. I highly recommend it to anyone who is ever bullied, put down, or hurt by other peoples' comments.
How did I deal with my status as outcast? In elementary school, it was through my favorite movie, Beauty and the Beast. From a very young age I used to dance and sing, and I would always sing Belle's song, which you can view and see here: (Obviously, this is licensed to Disney and I do not claim it in any way, shape or form)
The clip is here (it won't load when I embed it on the page) so please go watch it.
My favorite words from this song and from the reprise were, "I want much more than this provincial life."
This was always my feeling. I identified with Belle; she and I were alike in every way. We liked books and stories, we were somehow "different from the rest" in ways that others thought strange, we didn't seem to fit within our immediate communities, and we both wanted so much more than we were given.
What I found special about Belle was her ability to see the beauty in everyone, even in a Beast. This led me to my fascination with Beauty and the Beast type stories, such as The Phantom of the Opera (the book, the movie and the musical, although I prefer the book) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
My second-favorite Disney movie is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I don't know how many of you pay attention to the themes and lyrics of the songs in Disney movies, but I have always found the opening to the Disney Hunchback movie to be brilliant. The question, "Who is the monster and who is the man?" is one that has intrigued me throughout my life. I also felt (and still feel) vindicated by the fact that it is a supposedly holy and religious man, Judge Claude Frollo, who is the true monster. After my experience at Templars the words of the opening song struck me even more. Here is the piece I am referring to- please pay close attention to the words and imagery:
Judge Claude Frollo longed
To purge the world
Of vice and sin
Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)
And he saw corruption
Isn't this what happened to me? I am thinking of this in light of my Templars experience, but this song is written for so many people. This was exactly the problem with my teachers- they "longed to purge the world of vice and sin" but did not see the innate corruption and or hypocrisy in their approach. Notice that later on Frollo feels a "twinge of fear for his immortal soul" but even then he cannot release the power and control he has seized. The irony in Frollo bringing prisoners to the "Palace of Justice" is also wonderful.
Hunchback as a Disney movie focuses very much upon outcasts (obviously, it veers greatly from the sexual relationships and the recluse that are the firm focuspoint of Victor Hugo's masterpiece). Quasimodo is an outcast because of his ugliness. Esmeralda is an outcast because she is a gypsy. She even sings a song, "God Help the Outcasts."
The third most powerful influence on my life as an outsider is the famed musical Wicked. This time, it is Elphaba, a woman, who has the "Beast" status, not the male figures of the Phantom, the Hunchback or the Beast. Elphaba is a rebel who practices that which is good and true but who faces a false and slanderous campaign by higher authority figures in order to malign and blacken her name. Elphaba in the musical (and not Elphaba of the book, who is an entirely different character) is brilliant.
The following is the very famous sequence, Defying Gravity. Everything about this song appeals to me (though it is my second-favorite, with No Good Deed being my first). The fact that Elphaba hears herself being slandered and falsely accused, her expression when she states, "The Wizard should be afraid of me," her statement that she is through "playing by someone else's rules" and her desperate avowal that Galinda "had nothing to do with it" allow us to see her as someone whose strength matches her idealism ("but until I try, I'll never know.") Here it is:
In truth there is no need for me to discuss what happened at Templars- everything is modeled in media that we see; the story is an old one that is constantly and sadly renewed. Belle, the bookish girl who finds herself in a world where Judge Claude Frollo reigns triumphant, and finally decides that she must react to the false accusations made about her, the fact that she has been termed a "Wicked Witch" when in truth she is the only one doing what is good and correct, flees in an attempt to fulfill her idealistic goals. Of course, the details make the difference in my case, but the story is the same...I am Belle, I am Elphaba, and I am living in the world of Judge Claude Frollo and Madame Morrible.
At first I was assigned the label "outcast," now it is more of my choice. It is not necessarily a desirable role but I have accustomed myself to it. I am confident that one day I shall meet more people whom I can easily interact with. Perhaps this will be soon! Even if not, I am very blessed to know the people who are my friends today. In many ways, they are all the friends I will ever need.