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Standing Out in a Crowd

With all the rules and principles to be followed as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you might justifiably wonder just how they get through the day, because, like it or not, they still have to attend school or go to work where they must rub elbows with “worldly” people.

For children in school being a JW is a heavy burden.  It means that they will stand out in the crowd, and not in a good way.  For starters, a JW child will likely be dressed like a dork.  I’m not totally up on current children’s clothing trends, but when I was in school mini-skirts were the fashion of the day, an immodest garment that would never pass muster at the kingdom hall.  So, while all the other girls glided through the school halls with their patooties barely covered, my knees peeked out shyly from beneath the hem of my skirt.  My father required me to wear a dress or skirt to school at least 3 times a week, but I could wear pants the other two days.  Adding to my humiliation, Daddy felt that at 13 I was too young to shave my legs and wear nylon stockings; I wore knee socks.  In this stand he was at odds, apparently, with every other father in the school district, a fact which my observant classmates never failed to point out, repeatedly.  I’m just lucky they never beat me up for it.

Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot share in holiday- or patriotic-themed activities, so they’re a pain in the butt for teachers who have to provide an alternative craft project or game for the JW kid in their classroom and excuse the child from any holiday or birthday parties.

JW kids cannot participate in patriotic ceremonies, such as the flag salute (due to political neutrality) and so must make a spectacle of themselves by being excused from the classroom to stand in the hall while the other students perform that rite.  I totally lucked out in this regard, my JW school years occurring at the end of the Vietnam War and during the Watergate scandal, when most of the country was angry with the government.  We never did the pledge in my school.  Until one day when I was taken by surprise at a school assembly that occurred on Flag Day.

We were all assembled in the auditorium for some announcements when the principal ambushed us with the national anthem.  Everyone else rose to their feet, but I remained seated.  That’s protocol for JWs.  Unhappily for me, I was conspicuously seated on the aisle.  A teacher saw me showing apparent disrespect and angrily hissed at me, “Stand up!”  My school friends, likewise, tried to get me to stand up.  Since this issue had never arisen before, I had never explained it, so they didn’t understand.

Then, the principal wanted everyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Now, that one I was able to stand for, but I wouldn’t put my hand over my heart or say the words.  At least now I wasn’t the only one seated in a crowd of 1200.  After the assembly I had to explain my behavior to the teacher and my friends.

JW children have the most boring entries in the class yearbook.  That’s because they can’t participate in any extra-curricular activities.  Period.  No sports, no student council, no prom committee (and no prom), no cheerleading, no nothing.  It’s straight home and do your homework.  Oh, and prepare for the next meeting at the kingdom hall.

It’s a little easier for adult JWs in the workplace.  Mostly, you just look like a bad sport.  You can’t sign the birthday cards, you can’t sing “Happy Birthday” or eat the cake, you can’t participate in Secret Santa or attend the office Christmas party, you can’t buy Girl Scout cookies (it’s a paramilitary organization, don’t you know), and you can’t go with the gang after work to…whatever.  I did that once (yes, I broke the rules, although that one has a little wiggle room) and paid for it dearly.

I had a coworker, Gerri, who was a twice-divorced single mother barely scraping by.  Her parents, as she had told me, were JWs in another state.  She was about to remarry one of her exes, and we all chipped together to take her out to dinner to celebrate.   Wanting to be supportive and possibly help her into the cult (glad I didn’t succeed there!) I agreed to go to dinner with them.  We had a fun evening together, and one of the other girls planned to drive Gerri (who didn’t have a car) and me home.  We were only about 2 miles from the restaurant when another driver turned left, crossing our lane and attempting to occupy the same space as our car.

I wasn’t belted in (the belt was underneath the seat somewhere, this was 1982) and was catapulted into the windshield at 25 miles per hour.  Ouch!  I thought I had broken my neck.  Everyone else, in both cars, was unharmed.  An ambulance was called, and I went to the ER.  Everything was fine, but I had broken a bunch of blood vessels under the skin and my forehead filled up with blood – I looked like an alien.  It took months for that blood to drain down through my face and be absorbed, so I went about my days looking like I had been tattooed by a drunken Maori.  I didn’t believe that the accident was judgment from Jehovah, but you can be sure that I buckled up without fail after that.  And I never went out with my coworkers again. No sense tempting the Almighty.

I was in the seventh grade when my parents started to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I can’t write with authority about the long-term effects of attending school as a JW child, but I know from reading others’ accounts, there is lasting damage to the psyche.  Surviving the adult work world as a JW is pretty much just tiring and a bit uncomfortable at times.  It has been such a relief, since I left the cult, to be able to participate in birthdays and holidays.  In fact, a couple of Christmases ago, nobody else showed any interest in decorating the office tree, so I recruited an Indian coworker to help me, and between us, the ex-JW and the Hindu decked the halls that year.


9 responses »

  1. I’ve gotten used to the no birthdays, holidays, no celebrations, no FUN…in your posts, but I’m actually, kinda shocked that you had an entire school that didn’t do the Pledge of Allegiance! Just wow! and yes, I do recall the anger against the government in those years…..unless this was more commonplace after I’d finished high school (1970).

  2. I always hoped they would have the flag salute before the national anthem. We were allowed to stand for the pledge and could remain standing for the anthem. I usually had a belly ache and managed to rub my chest so it looked like my hand was on my heart. What a bunch of “Happy Hosshit”! Wishing you a Merry Christmas and any other pagan holidays you might enjoy!

  3. It’s hard to believe your father, such a carefree youth full of jokes, became a rigid memeber of the JWs. Do you think if he had studied for the ministry in another more mainline denomination, he might have found an easier path to fulfillment? Did your parents both choose the conversion together, or did one pull/push the other along? Just wondering, since I had a midlife conversion myself. Thanks, Sally.

  4. I had a sweet JW boy, Bill, in my second grade class. He couldn’t attend classroom parties, receive a Xmas gift from me, etc. I would always save him a cupcake or cookie or candy cane, stating it wasn’t a birthday or Xmas gift, but I was giving it to him because I liked him. and he was a great kid. That was okay to do.
    Oh, the Pledge: He would stand, and be so uncomfortable and looking ashamed, with his hand sort of rubbing the spot where it should go. So one day, I took him aside and explained that there are many ways of showing respect, and that his standing so tall and proud with the group was a good way, and he shouldn’t worry about the rest. He felt better after that.

  5. As a non-US citizen, I’ve got to admit that the entire idea of an organized flag salute and pledge of allegiance in school seems utterly bizarre to me.

    So this would be one of the extremely rare cases where I’d concur with the JW stance, if it wasn’t for the fact that their refusal is not really a personal decision but another authority-imposed rule.

  6. This blog…bought painful memories. I was a JW kid from preschool through college (yes my family allowed college).

    The shame and humiliation that you felt with this utter nonsense. I have never fully recovered from. We were very fashionable and was even allowed some limited activities…like band (but having to put my flute down when the national anthem was played). But still the going to the library when birthday, Christmas parties, trying not to make friends…because then you have to explained why you cannot go to their house to visit.

    I really Hate the JW religion…and then I feel shame for hating something so badly.


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