My Two Worlds

There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised—your family, home, neighborhood or community—and how it influenced the person you are today.

I grew up in the most All-American suburban town imaginable. My father, a former quarterback, married Miss Talladega County; they settled down in Vestavia Hills with the expectation that their first child would be a sweet, Southern belle with a passion for Alabama football and Lily Pulitzer dresses.

Imagine their surprise when, through some accident of nature, their little girl became a bleeding-heart liberal with a passion for Politico and a bookshelf that nearly collapsed under the weight of its extensive Maya Angelou section. I sulked for a week when my freshman report card contained two B's. (The rest of the family only sulked when our team lost the Iron Bowl.) Despite my family's never-ending support, I felt alien. My friends and I were fascinated by everything from geometric proofs to the practice of salutary neglect in colonial America, and I struggled to understand why the rest of our community was not.

Eventually, I began to understand how akin the joy of learning was to the joy others derived from sports, country music, or dance. Being a liberal in Alabama and a C-SPAN junkie in my politically passive family forced me to understand other ways of life. Instead of feeling isolated, I learned to respect other people's...

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