Greetings, Papa Bear!
I stumbled across your site while browsing Fur Affinity and have been reading the letters here for about an hour or so now. After some examination I've decided I'd like to ask a question, and hope you can offer me some advice. Typically, I'd ask my mother or counselor, but I don't want to for personal reasons.
Let me inform you of a few things to get started. First, I'm a female furry [my peers and teachers do not know I am such, but that doesn't concern me] going into eleventh grade this September. I absolutely adore my school and its staff, and the adoration goes both ways, thankfully. I'm very well known and a lot is expected of me—when I'm not trying, my work is above average, and when I am I pass easily into superior levels. Teachers and principals think I'm some sort of genius, but at the same time, consider me an “old soul” for whatever reason.
I haven't really been in school for the past year, however. My father, whom I was very close to, passed away due to lung cancer. This was back in October of 2012. I watched for about a year, give or take, as he fell away into nothing and died. I don't mean for the theatrics, but that does something to a person, no matter their age. I have no regrets on that regard; I even spoke at his funeral without breaking down in the middle of what I was saying.
I consider myself to be a very powerful and strong person; however, here within does the issue lie. No matter what I—or others—think of me, my emotions are worn on my sleeve.
So enough battering around, I ought to ask my question already.
Papa Bear, I'm not very good with my own age group. I've recently gone through an awful experience and missed quite a lot. Now, I have to return to a school—albeit one I absolutely adore—full of kids I never fit quite right with. I have no friend group, only a single friend who I occasionally tag along with. Always have I ended up making myself look like someone to be revered; I demanded the respect of my peers and fancied myself better than them because of praise listed above. I've been marked as prude and snobbish, something I only inflicted on myself.
I'm rambling again, forgive me. When I return to school, what should I do? It'll be like entering it for the first time as far as other students go—almost. I don't want to be questioned about my absence the year prior though it's likely inevitable. I'm still grieving. I don't want the world expected of me by my teachers. I want to be able to move on and make friends, but not risk being hurt, which leaves me going in circles leading to nowhere.
How do I move on when my peers see me one way, though my recent experiences have changed me so much?
I'm really sorry for the long letter and hope it makes sense. I also apologize for the lack of "furry" this letter holds. Thank you for reading and replying, I'm very grateful for it.
* * *
Papabear is sorry for the loss of your father; I lost mine to bone cancer, and it was, to say the least, horrifying to watch him in his last days. It’s okay if this letter is not directly related to furry, specifically; it’s about life, so it is relevant to everyone.
Yes, your letter is a bit rambling, so let me see if the ol’ bear has this straight. You had been a high achiever in school, and then your father became very ill and you left school to be with him (I’m guessing you set up some home-schooling option in the meantime, as you are required by law to stay in school until a certain age—depending on the state—unless you have permission from your parent or guardian to drop out). Now you are returning to the same school and, since you are quite bright, expect to return to your former pattern of academic success. It sounds like, before you left, you may have had trouble making friends and now, upon your return, expect the situation to be exacerbated by your long absence and renewed feelings of alienation because of your experience with death and the fact you were out of touch for so long. So, how to make friends again, yes?
In a way, your absence may work to your advantage because you have an opportunity to recreate yourself into a more relatable person for your peers. In the past, because of your intelligence, you related more to the adults at the school. Also, you evidently enjoyed being admired by the students for your academic achievement—indeed, you state you demanded their respect. However, this likely also alienated them from you, and you are insightful enough to recognize that you perhaps deserved the labels of “prude” and “snob.” You don’t want to come across like Sheldon Cooper (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hm87ZLMMFss).
It is time for you to adjust your attitude if you wish to make lasting friendships. The loss of your father could help by putting things into perspective as to what is important in life. When the time comes for you—as it does for all of us—to move on and leave this world behind, would you like to be remembered as the intelligent woman who was revered by her peers but died without gaining their hearts, or would you rather be remembered as a kind and loving person who gave of herself in order to make the world a better place?
You have been given the gift of an intelligent mind, but what is the purpose of intelligence? Should it be worshipped by others who are not as smart? Should you be put on a pedestal because you get good grades?
I am reminded of the story of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (based on an old story and one with which you might be familiar). Faustus makes a deal with the devil: he gives Satan his soul and, in exchange, receives the knowledge of the universe. Instead of doing something good with this knowledge, he becomes a show off, wowing people with what, to them, are incredible magic tricks in order to gain their admiration. Wasting his gift, he refuses to repent and is taken off to Hell by play’s end.
Like Faustus, your intelligence is (though less demonically) a gift. It was not given to you so that you may strut around and feel important in comparison to your teenaged peers. It was given to you so that you might do something good in the world. Everything that we have in this world is given to us, including our brains and our lives—they are all on loan. The only thing that is truly ours is the spirit within us that gives us the ability of free choice, gives us our character.
Who you are, therefore, is not determined by your intelligence, Cass, but by your choices in how to use that intelligence. If you use it merely to gain attention and praise, then you are not really the admirable person you wish to be; if you use it to help others, then you will become a person worthy of true respect and friendship.
One way to achieve the latter would be to become a tutor. Since school is so easy for you, you can use the extra time you don’t need for studying to help other people who need it. Talk to your school and explore ways that you can help. There may be other opportunities at your school, too, where you can help others.
In doing this, you will reinvent your image and people will see you as a kind person who has changed since she was last at school. You will also interact with more people as you get involved in tutoring in other activities, which will likely lead to friendships. Finally, doing this type of work can help you, personally, because when you start applying to universities you can list it in your application. Universities are more likely to admit students who have well-rounded high school experiences that deal with more than just academic achievement.
As for the last part of your letter, I am not really sure why you think you are at risk of being hurt. If people ask you about your absence, tell them what happened. You were taking care of your father during his final months. If anything, this will get you much sympathy from your peers. Allow others to express their sympathy, thank them kindly, and tell them that you will be okay and that you have grown because of the experience.
Hopefully, that is true. There is a lot more to life than getting A’s on high school tests.
I wish you luck,
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.