Sarah Zitoli

This past November, I watched a video online of a TED talk. This TED talk, given by Ash Beckham, was about coming out of the closet. In the opening of the talk, Beckham explains that the experience of coming out of the closet is not limited to the GLBTQ community, but rather, she suggests, that we all have closets, and that “all a closet is, is a hard conversation.” This definitely struck a chord with me.There are fundamental parts of who I am that I—for the most part—stay silent about out of fear of judgment. Namely, my two learning disabilities. The first is referred to as slow processing. Basically, the speed at which my brain is able to take in, make sense of, and output information is much slower than average. In fact, it’s in the second percentile. I also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Now, I know you are probably thinking, “Sarah, you are supposed to be talking about how wonderful it was to be raised at First Parish.” And don’t worry; I’m getting there. But in order to understand what I gained from growing up in this community, I first need to give you some insight into the parts of my childhood that weren’t so wonderful.

In school, teachers either treated me as though I was stupid and incapable or as though I was too smart to be receiving accommodations. To make matters worse, having disabilities didn’t exactly elevate my social status. Conformity was the name of the game, and I was different. Being bullied was a part of my everyday reality.

Luckily, every Sunday I came here, a place where my differences were not merely tolerated, but embraced and encouraged. People thought it was great that I was bursting with energy, and no one ever begrudged me for defying gender expectations and being rambunctious instead of sitting still like “nice little girls” were supposed to.

One memory in particular that sticks out to me is when I went to rehearse my coming of age speech. As many novice public speakers do, I rushed through the delivery of what I was reading. Then Reverend Bob told me to try reading it again, but slower. “Take your time Sarah; there’s no need to rush,” he told me. It was a stark contrast to, “you need to learn to go faster Sarah,” and “you’re holding up the rest of the class.”

Some churches teach people to have faith in God. First Parish taught me to have faith in myself. So, despite any struggles I’ve faced in my life, I count myself very lucky to have grown up in the church of the open mind, the giving hands, and the loving heart.