It was junior year in high school and we were sitting in the stale air of our religion class. My friends and I were trying to stifle back our laughter as our teacher coughed so loudly that it sounded like she was going to have a hernia. After she finally got it under control, she started teaching the class. She was talking about World Youth Day, which happens every few years and would be taking place this July. I had never heard of this day but I was fascinated by its concept. It was a weeklong event that the Catholic church held where young people from all different cultures united to learn about love, community, and our faith. After looking at pictures from past years of people camping out and looking genuinely happy to be apart of this community of strangers, I wanted to go.
I tried to look across the room at my friend but I couldn’t catch her eye. As I looked around I saw that none of my classmates had budged. I could smell the stench of sharpies from those that were creating elaborate Zentangle doodles around their powerpoint notes. I noticed others holding their faces in their hands and I could hear the heavy, even breathing of those who had decided to take a quick nap. This moment caused me to question why I cared so much about this event when none of my classmates did. Why did I have such a different mindset than them or were they just pretending to be bored but actually listening too? Was I willing to stand up for my faith yet be an outsider? Why did I care so much about what my classmates thought anyways?
Throughout my whole life, the people around me have always impacted the way I think and the views I hold. My Catholic faith is one thing that has been subject to this manipulation. Years ago, when my whole family would go to church, I would notice my older siblings not participating in the prayers or hymns. I looked up to my brother and sister because they were very tall and intimidating. Also, because they were years older than me and top of their class, I believed they were always right. Therefore, I wouldn’t participate in the mass either. For many years I continued to do this, pushing God away.
As I entered middle school I realized I didn’t have to stay in the shadows of my brother and sister. I always felt that people paid more attention to them because I was the youngest, however once I discovered and pursued my talent in the visual arts I gained more confidence, and friends and family were happy to see I had found my passion. Because of this, I shed the beliefs that what my brother and sister did I had to do too.
I had always felt a calling to God in my heart so at this point I was ready to give Him a chance. I went to Sunday mass every week and I started taking my religion seriously. I prayed to God when I needed help, but I also thanked him for my life and the people in it. Every time I genuinely participated in church or prayed I became overwhelmed with emotions. I was filled with love and I became teary eyed because I had acknowledged my flaws and put others before me. For a couple moments I was being the best person I could be. This time in my life not only strengthened my faith but helped me determine what values I hold. I experienced truly joyful days when I had a strong faith.
Even though I had overcome my brother and sister’s influence, my classmates were another story. Throughout high school I was not one of the popular girls. I was quite reserved but all I wanted was for people not to think I was weird or shy, so I went along with the crowd to try to fit in. Everyone thought that our religion class was a waste of time so when my classmates would drag their feet to get to class late I would too. Or when they were scheming up ways to get out of class, I would play along. That is why that day in religion class was such a pivotal moment for me. While I was intently listening to my teacher describe World Youth Day, my classmates couldn’t have seemed more bored. I was torn. Should I act interested but not fit in with the common beliefs of my classmates? Should I be myself and express my faith in God or will my peers think I’m weird for believing in something they don’t care about? By acting along with my peers I was still not allowing God totally into my life. I yearned to feel how I did before high school when my faith was strong. In this moment of indecision I finally realized I felt more passionately about freely believing in what I wanted to than fitting in with others. From then on, I decided to stop participating in the negative conversations about our religion class. I started vocalizing what I believed in and I tried to convince my classmates that if they let God into their lives their mindsets might change and they might feel differently about the class.
As I finished junior and then senior year, my classmates started respecting and appreciating me more because they knew I wasn’t afraid to speak up. In the beginning of high school they thought I was shy but by the end they knew I was a genuinely good person that was not afraid to defend myself and others when faced with negativity. I had finally disposed of my concern for what others thought of me. As a result, I acquired friendships with people that respected my views and opinions. I realized that having one friend that you trust and love is more valuable, as opposed to a group of “friends” that influence you to not be who you are. This moment in religion class helped me to overcome my worry of fitting in and it taught me that doing what the crowd is doing is not necessarily cool. Being yourself is the most rewarding thing you can do. I had finally broke hold from other’s opinions. I was my true self and I believed in all the things I wanted to without other people’s influence.