Angel the Outsider

by Morgan Pilgrim

In the mass of brown-skinned and dark-haired children, a small speckle of bleach blond hair and vanilla latte complexion caught my eye. This little speckle was Angel, an outcast in the Nicaraguan village of Chacraseca.  While the other children played soccer, Angel sat by himself and watched. In that moment, I saw my past as an outsider and desperately wanted to help him.

I was, I still am, and I will always be Morgan: assertive, curious, outspoken, energetic.  These qualities shape me. Yet they often kept me on the outside, just as Angel’s ethnicity did him.  We were ostracized for reasons that made us…us.

My “Angel” moment came in seventh grade when I jumped from public to private school. My peers could not withstand my outspoken energy. My bright, talkative personality made it easy for me to make friends, but keeping them was difficult.  I have never been one to conform to the “norm” and many tweens do not like a blunt brainiac who says the first thing that comes to her mind. Thus, my spunky personality caused some problems in my social life. For example,  when my “friends” rushed to ostracize a peer, my lone voice defended the victim. “Who votes to kick Casey off the island?”  Every hand at the lunch table shot up except for mine. All eyes darted in my direction; I stated my case without hesitation.  “Casey didn’t do anything bad.  She just has different interests. Y’all have no right telling someone they can’t sit some place.  This is unfair. Just stop.”  My defense shocked everyone including Casey, who looked bewildered. I paid for my actions when I was the next one voted off the “island.”

What could I do?  I needed social interaction but suppressing the ball of fire that bounces inside of me would force me to explode.  I begged my mom for help, but she could only dry my tears and tell me to figure it out on my own.

I learned to channel my fire in a positive direction. Today, I frequently engage in debates with friends on technology, politics, and pop culture. During the 2008 presidential campaign, I debated the Iraq War with Eric, a staunch conservative. The debate started reserved and polite, but soon our voices escalated. When the bell rang, our classmates could not leave their seats; everyone wanted to continue watching the debate. The spectators were shocked when Eric and I stopped, gathered our things and walked out of the room together as friends, talking about our plans for the upcoming weekend.  Despite our differences, Eric and I have created a friendship based on our shared assertiveness.

That first time I met Angel, I looked into his eyes, and said one of the few Spanish words I knew: “Hola!” Immediately, a small spark ignited inside of him.  I took Angel’s hand and ran over to the soccer game.  He was apprehensive to join in but I reassured him by mouthing “Esta Bien.”  Angel’s face lit up; he ran toward the ball, jumping and screaming.  I saw a glimmer of confidence in him. Or maybe it was just the excitement of the soccer game.

I may never see Angel again, but I hope our small interaction helped him gain more courage to embrace his differences. It will be a struggle, but he must trudge through it and remain true to himself as I did. People may have seen me as an overly confident individual, but fortunately I did not let those views suppress this fire in my belly. I have found the place and the people that accept me for me. I hope that one day Angel finds this comfort.

Morgan Pilgrim is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2012 graduate of Long Island Lutheran High School.