One of Us
I’m not exactly certain where to start with my story, so I will begin at the beginning.
I was born a long time ago, in California. My father was in seminary and my mother was working for the same institution where my father was. I was rather unexpected since my mother had been told she could not have children. My parents adopted my brother, and bada bing, I came along.
My brother was always the outgoing one and the athlete of the family, whereas I tended to be quieter and less prone to athletics. I did, however, play baseball and church league softball, just not very well. From the very beginning, I had a sense that I was rather odd and different from the other kids. When our classes would go outside for recess (way back before videos games and cellphones were born), I would take a book and find a tree to sit under whilst I read.
I would read books on history, biographies, mysteries, and some imagination churners such as The Hobbit. I loved to sit quietly and read. That made sense to me. Jump ahead a few grades and I could be found sitting in some shady spot with my book and notebook (I had begun to write things down which I found interesting).
All through my school years and even into college, I was not a particularly good student because I didn’t like talking in class, so I would never raise my hand. When called on to answer a question, I would stammer and turn red and felt like throwing up. I became the object of ridicule by my classmates. I hated school and I resented my teachers for forcing me to embarrass myself simply because I liked being quiet.
Middle school and high school were nothing but torturous years. Not only was I ridiculed, but I was beaten up frequently in the library and had to try to explain my torn clothes and bruises when I got home. My mother thought I was the clumsiest child.
After graduation from high school, I went to a college out of state where no one knew me. It was here I discovered theater! I quickly understood that in theater, I could learn to be vocal and to express myself. I fell in love with it and even spent time working in a theater off Broadway for a summer. Yet, outside of the theater classes, I returned to my shell of solitude and quietness. I joined an intramural softball team and did okay, I guess, but I was still feeling like an “outsider.” I never got the feeling that I really “fit in” anywhere, always feeling as though I had walked rudely into someone’s home during a family reunion. I just never felt comfortable around people because I found people exhausting and draining.
After college, I did a stint in the army because I hoped it would help me with confidence. Yet, again, I was so wrong! Basic training was a breeze. Advance training was a breeze. But then, I got promoted and was expected to be in charge of a squad, which terrified me. Needless to say, my army days were much like my school days but worse. That feeling of being an “outsider” was strong in me. I would give the order to “Fall In” and my squad would simply laugh and keep talking until the First Sergeant came growling up, roaring at me for my inability to take charge of my team. Then he would turn on my squad for making me look bad because all of us were making HIM look bad. Eventually, we developed a cordial relationship whereby I would give the order and they would follow it…when in public. In the barracks, I remained the butt of all their pranks and jokes.
After I finally was released from the army, I took my college degree and decided to follow my father’s footsteps and go to seminary. I did wonderfully on all the papers and writing assignments. And my roommates tried to help me not feel like an outsider, but when it came to oral exams and defending my thesis, I was awful. One of the Deans told me that I would never make it in ministry because I just didn’t have what it takes. What a blow that was! This was the same man who had such wonderful things to say about my written assignments and my thesis.
I finally graduated in May of 2005 and in July that same year, I had a heart attack which resulted in an emergency quadruple bypass surgery. I was out of commission for six months. During that time, I was visited by one of the hospital chaplains (someone responsible for providing pastoral services to patients and their families) who happened to also be a Law Enforcement Chaplain. We started talking and I told him that people wore me out as did small talk, and he told me that most Law Enforcement Officers were much like me. That stuck with me for some time. Finally, I got up the nerve to apply as a Volunteer Law Enforcement Chaplain, stumbled through the interview and was brought on board. I felt so out of place. Once again, I felt like I had dropped my drink in someone else’s punch.
It took almost two more years before I began to feel not so outsider-ish. One evening when I was riding with one of the Deputies, the squad met up at a rally point to discuss the plan for the evening. I stood off at a distance so as to remain unobtrusive. The Shift Sergeant saw me, called me over and said, “You are one of us, so come hear this.” That one phrase, “you are one of us,” was my “aha” moment! I no longer felt like an outsider, because I was accepted for who I was.
It’s been 11 years and counting since I began as a volunteer, and for the last eight years I have been employed as a full-time chaplain and still am accepted and welcomed as “one of us.”
This is the story of Paul St. John
Paul currently resides in Columbia, South Carolina with his wife. After years of feeling like an outsider, Paul has finally reached a stage of life where he is accepted and welcomed for who he is. He works for a local Law Enforcement Agency as a full-time chaplain. He feels content knowing that he belongs and that he is “one of them.” In his spare time, Paul likes to meditate, read, and watch movies. He enjoys many types of music including opera, classical, rock, and polka. One of his favorite places in South Carolina is the Pineapple Fountain, where he likes to feed the seagulls and feel the peace. Another way he relaxes is through crocheting blankets which he calls BUBBAs (Butt Ugly But Big Afghans). Paul looks forward to officiating his daughter’s wedding next year.
Life Log #81
| Writer: Paul St. John | Editor: Manqing Jin |