In high school, I applied for and was accepted to Leaders, a club for athletes and dancers who taught part of the huge gym classes while the teacher stood on a kind of pedestal and watched. After being in Leaders for a time I decided to try out for Varsity, a prestigious club that accepted very few people.
I worked hard to fulfill the requirements as a dance applicant, teaching, choreographing, and performing with the dance group. I had great recommendations from teachers, especially the dance teacher who refused to recommend most who asked her. I thought I had a pretty good chance of being accepted.
Each applicant had to be interviewed by the group, something that sounded formidable, but I wanted to join so badly I practiced answering questions I thought I might be asked such as: Why do you want to be a member of Varsity?” The real answer was because it’s the best and highest club in the school, but I knew I couldn’t say that. I decided to say I wanted to join because they provided important service to the school.
The day of the interview I wore my Leader’s uniform and tried to quell my nervousness. The door opened at the appointed time. As I entered, the girls in their varsity uniforms stared at me. I sat down in a chair across from them and waited for the first question, which was why I wanted to join. I gave them my answer. They did not look impressed. The interview was short and when it ended, I thanked them for the opportunity to apply.
When I was told I wasn’t accepted, I felt bad but consoled myself by remembering how many tried out and how few were accepted. The next day, one of the varsity members, with whom I had worked with in Leaders, came up to me and said, “Nancy, the reason you didn’t get in to Varsity is that they don’t want Jews in their group.” I think she was trying to make me feel better—nothing I could do about being Jewish—if I’d been Christian, I would have been accepted. I could tell she was trying to be kind so I thanked her.
I held myself together until school was over, but on the way to my piano lesson, I felt so bad about myself I started to cry and couldn’t stop. Once again, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t good enough. The reasons might be different yet the result was the same. Poor Mr. Kanterofsky, my piano teacher. He tried his best to console me but I was beyond consolation. He called my father, whose pharmacy was close by. When my father came, through my sobs, I told him why I didn’t get into Varsity.
His response was immediate and harsh. “Stop crying! Those girls aren’t worth your tears. Besides, crying never solved anything.”
I was 16. My father’s angry words filled me with shame and stopped my crying as quickly as a faucet turned off. His judgment made a miserable situation worse. The power of his words stayed with me. No matter the situation, my eyes might water, but I couldn’t allow myself to cry.
64 years later, at a vison quest when I was 80, surrounded by a group of people who carefully and compassionately listened to me talk about my life with no judgement, I was able to cry. Since then, no.
Do you cry? Easily? What makes you cry?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.