I realise as I’m writing this blog just how angry I was as a child and then later as a young adult.
I was raised in a Roman Catholic home where church every Sunday was compulsory. No matter the fights at home, the tears, the accusations – we would always attend. After even the most raucous fights we would all dutifully go up to the altar and receive Holy Communion and pray and sing as though we believed in the sacredness of life.
I remember being about 10 or so and going to first communion classes. There was a monster German priest – we’ll call him Father Rip & Tear who insisted on greeting all the children by giving them handshakes. The problem with Rip & Tear was that he was a sadist AND an idiot. He would grab your hand and squeeze it until you gasped in pain. No amount of telling the folks would help. We were all forced to endure this monster week after week. He was a man of God after all, how could we possibly be right?
I think I could have almost tolerated that if he had served some spiritual purpose. He used to drill us on the bible. It fascinated me but I always questioned the things I didn’t understand and he never had answers, never! The great hold-all that God is God and his ways are above our understanding only really fits for a few miraculous occurences, the rest require real information.
Rip & Tear refused to engage us on even the most basic level, and then after class we would often still have to go to confession with the idiot!
Each week the pattern was repeated, Rip & Tear would hurt us, then frustrate us, then expect us to beg forgiveness and say a million Hail Mary’s to prevent us from going to hell.
Dude, we were already there!!!
So that being the background to my religious experience, I eventually started High School. In those days I was still sweet and kind, but I had a few immovable blockages, one of them being religion. Religious instruction was part of the syllabus and into this disaster walked a new teacher, we’ll call him ‘Schoolboy Sir’. He was a small man with the sweetest, youngest face imaginable. He walked in wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. We all thought he must have been an exchange student.
The poor wee man was in fact a new teacher, part of his workload – religious instruction! It was feeding time at the zoo and little did he know it, but MY lunch was carrying a briefcase!
Oh heck, Run Forest Ruuuuun!!!
I fortunately don’t remember All the things I did and said, but two incidents I’ve never forgotten.
We were being taught about the walls of Jericho and when all the other kids were drawing lovely pictures of brave, faith-filled souls, I launched into an artwork of manic proportions.
My picture had the walls bursting into flames, with an enormous monster hand clawing it’s way through the earth with blood dripping off the long fingernails in great big globs! and of course the dead people were piled up everywhere, awash in a deep crimson tide.
Schoolboy Sir was HORRIFIED!
And then of course there was the time that he wasn’t able to answer my questions, though in his defense he did try. Eventually of course after I had gone on in an anti-religious rage he had sent me out of the class.
I picked up my bible …..and threw it at him!
Now if you’re still young you might think that my rebelliousness was the worst thing, but it wasn’t. In those days throwing a bible was completely sacriligous and unforgiveable. I was in a world of trouble! Detention became my home and whatever chance I had to explore my spirituality at that stage, was lost.
It’s a strange thing being unjustly unkind to a loving human being. It doesn’t fill you with joy. Ugliness simmers in your mind, sometimes for years and definately pays no rent to make it worth it. I know I have said many thousands of hurtful things in my life, but they haven’t stuck like this episode did.
When I was in my twenties and working for the newspapers and yet again searching for my family, I began to think of him. By this time I had gained a measure of balance and understanding. I had been a mother for a few years and the combination of motherhood and the search for my family had inspired me to think and feel again.
My impulsivess is one of my best and worst traits – in this case it was a blessing. 15 years or so after the event I called my High School and asked if they still had the contact Number for Schoolboy Sir as I had soemthing important to discuss with him.
Imagine my shock and horror when they told me that he still worked there and was in fact standing close by!
OMG! No time to think – he immediately took the phone.
I introduced myself and said that he probably wouldn’t remember me – ‘oh I remember you quite well’ he said in his gentle voice.
‘Oh dear’ I said….now what?
I stammered a bit at first but eventually managed to tell him that I had phoned to apologise for my behaviour. I said that I had been going through some hectic things at home and was mad as hell at God at that time, but that despite that I knew I had treated him badly and that even then I had known that he was a kind and gentle person.
Being uncommonly gracious he didn’t expect me to belabour the point. He had known that I was troubled and thanked me warmly for apologising and for having the courage to call.
It wasn’t a particularily long conversation, it didn’t have to be. I wished him well, he thanked me again, we said our goodbyes.
I’ve had to make many apologies over the years, but this one stands out as one of the best.
When I put the phone down I was on a complete high. The feeling of release was enormous. I learnt that day that when we go ugly and nasty, we bruise not only the people we’re fighting with, but ourselves too.
Who knows what negative energy is set up in relationships when we fail to love. All I know is that my sense of freedom that day was beyond anything I expected and judging from ‘Sirs’ tone, so was his.
It’s a lesson I’ve never had to re-learn. Most times I may still kick against the goads, pounding on in my own particular flavour of ‘righteous indignation’, but I always somehow manage to come back to a place of humility and truth.
Of course there are times when my anger is justified and it’s the walls of Jericho all over again….
and I can live with that!