My parents were good Catholics, at least, as good as divorced parents can be, and I was sent to Catholic school. But it was staffed by a teaching order of nuns, so there was no real accountability outside of class, and Divorced Dad either took us to the guitar mass at the rich parish or the high Latin mass at the poor parish, so there wasn't much chance of my 9-year-old self being moved by the Spirit on Sundays, either.
Still, every week, I did the drill: kneel, cross, sit, stand, cross, sit, cross, stand, sit, stand, walk, cross, walk, kneel, sit, stand, eat pancakes. And honestly, outside of the pancakes (which were exceptional those rare weekends we went to the super-boring mass with my grandparents in Wilmette and were rewarded with Dutch Babies at Walker's), only two instances stand out.
The first was sometime after my First Holy Communion, putting me at around nine years old. This was circa 1970, post-Vatican II but pre-whenever it was that they let you take the communion wafer in your hands and stick it in your mouth yourself. Being a normal nine year old, I was dying to know what this Body of Christ actually looked like. I mean, come on: someone sticks actual Jesus on your tongue, you don't want to know what it looks like?
So I hatched a plot.
I would bring a plastic box with me to mass, clear, and with an EZ-open hinge. Since I'd already determined that the Savior had an extremely fast melting point, I developed an advanced mouth-breathing technique that would effectively keep my tongue dry from placement until I was back at my pew and could safely stick Him in the box. I practiced the maneuver from tongue grab to pocket in the privacy of my room until I was certain I could execute it with the necessary stealth. For once, I couldn't wait to go to church.
The day rolled around and I was stoked. It was cool enough that I could wear a coat with big pockets, not so Chicago-cold yet that I'd have to wear mittens in the drafty Cathedral. At the designated time, I walked to the front of the church, proffered my dry, sticky tongue to the priest and then, in a single, fluid move, ducked down my head, glided to my seat like Martha-Goddam-Graham and secured the Son of God in my emptied travel sewing kit with a click.
I was glowing with anticipation, Jesus throbbing away in my pocket like a hunk of infidel kryptonite when I felt The Claw, my mother's hand, surprisingly strong, biting into my tiny, stick-like arm. The Voice of Death followed swiftly: Put. That thing. In. Your mouth. NOW!
When people harumph about the abysmal math and science scores of American girlhood, blaming the patriarchy or gender favoritism in the classroom or Malibu Barbie in her overaccessorized beach house, I feel like waving a plastic sewing kit in the air and crying out No! It's ignorance! It's fear! It's the smothering of the exploratory impulse by the frightened executors of the status quo! I especially feel like doing this on those rare occasions where death (or death by sacred union) finds me in a church. Also, I itch like a sonofabitch, and in places I cannot safely scratch in a House of God.
The Church and me, you see, we are not so much for each other. Which brings me to the second incident, far briefer (thank GOD) and more to the point.
One day, while sitting in church, bored out of my skull, it occurred to me that these people around me, standing and sitting and kneeling, actually believed. They believed that Jesus was the Son of God, born of man. They believed that he was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. They believed he was coming back at some point, and that anyone who wasn't in this room was in for it when that came down.
I would like to say that from that moment on, I was free. That on a cool, gray Sunday morning at Holy Name Cathedral on Chicago Avenue in 1970, I pulled my head out of my ass, saw the light, and was free.
Alas, it was not so. I was weak; I was nine. Divorce, its attendant difficulties and one particularly scary nun had already stripped me of whatever fragile self-esteem I'd managed to build up thus far. I saw the light, alright. And then I quickly stuck my head back where it couldn't get me in any trouble. It would take another 32 years, worlds of pain and a cosmic whomp in the gut for me to extricate it once and for all. 32 years. Oy, what a waste.
I'm not sure if talking about what I went through and what I learned from it will help anyone, but I feel like it's wasteful to not try. I started my blog two years ago with the vague notion of getting some of what was inside of me out there for other people to see. It seems to have worked, here and there, but it's time to make a larger effort. These words are one small part of that effort.
One small, pompous, but incredibly earnest effort.
Be well. Be strong. But mostly, don't be like me...
NOTE: I'm doing this elsewhere, and this entry will probably be the only cross-post to the blog. I hesitated even putting it up here, but I figured if I'm going to be true to my word, I not only have to be transparent, but tell people where they can see (through) me. We now return you to your regularly scheduled communicatrix...