When I heard that Donna Jo had passed away, I didn’t feel badly. I didn’t feel anything.
A long time ago, I wrote a column called “So There, Donna Jo Jefferson!” It was about a girl I knew in fifth grade who was the most popular girl in school. Donna Jo (not her real name) was short, cute and had bouncy curls just like Shirley Temple. I described those curls as going “boing-boing” as she walked.
Oh, how I wanted to be like Donna Jo, and oh, how I wanted Donna Jo to like me. But she had her own clique of friends, all of them short but not as cute as Donna Jo. I was the tallest girl in school, with stringy red hair and long, skinny legs.
One day at recess, I was so desperate I got up the courage to walk into her circle of friends. They all stopped talking. Donna Jo looked at me with disgust and said, “What’s the matter with you? You got nose trouble?” I was crushed and never forgot feeling so devastated and rejected.
But the big lesson I learned was never making anyone else feel excluded. When I received the following from a reader, it somehow triggered old memories of Donna Jo, perhaps because I heard she passed away. Read on.
• • •
Two monks, on a pilgrimage, come to the fjord of a river. There, they saw a young girl dressed in her finery, obviously not knowing what to do since the river was high, and she did not want to spoil her clothes. Without hesitation, one of the monks took her on his back, carried her across the river and put her down on dry ground on the other side. Then the monks continued on their way.
But the other monk, after an hour, started complaining. “Surely, it is not right to touch a woman; it’s against the commandments to have close contact with a woman. How could you go against the rules of monks?” The other monk, who had carried the girl, walked along silently but finally remarked, “I set her down by the river an hour ago. Why are you still carrying her?” (From the wisdom of Zen Masters)
• • •
So here I am, still thinking of Donna Jo and that terrible day in fifth grade? The pain of her rejection caused me to pray that I would wake up and be a cute, short girl with Shirley Temple curls and lots of friends. Those feelings followed me into high school. I remember praying for the day someone would refer to me as “cute.” I was 16 before anyone used that word.
When I wrote that 1980s story about Donna Jo, it was inspired by gossip that she was living in upstate Nebraska, a farmer’s wife who had become extremely obese. Once again, I did not feel badly, but the news inspired me to write that column for the News-Times.
When a reader sent the not-quite-a-day brightener about the Two Monks, I thought of Donna Jo Jefferson and realized I was still “carrying her” and the old painful memories. It’s time to let her go, but when COVID-19 is over and we are able to socialize again, I will certainly continue my long-time practice of making sure no one ever feels excluded.
I do remember the day I finally started being grateful for being so tall. On my 17th birthday, I got stuck behind a crowd of people at the Pasadena Rose Parade. I did not miss a thing though because I could easily see over all the heads.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor.” The book, with all proceeds going to the Rotary International Foundation, is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]