Excerpt from The Last Bird Sings. . . .
The one who chooses to come with an open head is the miracle among men. Are not all babies born this way and we masterfully close them up?
It is not the happy child who upsets the apple cart of the adult content with his satisfying existence. It is the contrary one, the one who cannot find a putting place for too many memories for a short life who discharges his anger on those who should have some of life’s answers. To find one’s parents, one’s only gods in flesh not equal to the task is a hard morsel to swallow. It is still another event without a putting place.
It was a cold day when I was excused from school for religion class. My walk to the church found me pushing open the heavy door to the basement with shouts telling me to keep the door closed! There was an acrid odor to the room, part from the wood burning furnace and the clothes from the children hanging damp and smelly. The smell of the candles drifted down from the sanctuary and the toilets never functioned properly. It was a potpourri of habitation.
I scrambled to my seat and sat. My hands were cold and I sat on my hands with bitten finger nails so no one would see how weak willed I was. My parents were more concerned about putting food on the table and not worried why I bit my nails. The priest stood directly in front of the class and right next to my desk. His hands were wrapped inside his sleeves in the chilly room. His crucifix dangled a breath away from my face. My bitten nails were evidence of my sins. The priest smelled heavenly. Neither my brothers nor my father smelled like him. I thought he must have hot water all the time to smell like this. He was clean shaven and his backward collar was like poster board around his neck. He wore his shiny black biretta with a tassel.
“Class, take out your books!” An imperative.
He did not move an inch. I sat there on my hands and started to sweat in that cold room. I finally reached for my book. The catechism began:
Question: Who made the world?
Answer: (in unison) God made the world.
Question: Who is God?
Answer: (in unison) God is the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things.
And we continued. I sat there and answered with part of my mind and did not believe one word. I knew better. I knew because I knew. Big people with big bodies did not know. They told lies to cover up what they did not know. This priest in his three cornered hat did not know. He carried his swinging crucifix that frightened small people. He was not saying what I knew because I was closer to that place of beginning than he was. Already I could figure this out because I could count on my fingers. I knew because I knew. There was not one person who could convince me that I did not.
“Veronica”, he asked “do you not know the lesson?”
“I know the lesson, Father, but I do not believe it.”
The buzz around the room would not stop. The priest rapped his crucifix on the table and shouted for quiet. I had started something and the end was just beginning. I felt heat rising in my body and my face getting red and my skin felt slippery. I was going to burn up and fry to a crisp.
“Why do you not believe this lesson? It is the holy word and Christians believe. What is it that offends you?”
And the child that I was answered, “because it is not true. It is not what I remember. And it is not true. I don’t know for sure everything, but these words are not true.”
And in the smallest whisper, the whisper that no child in the room heard, I mouthed these words to the priest.
“There is no one God. There is All God.”
His face grew white and his jaw shook. I heard his teeth click. And I became sick. I ran to the lavatory and I vomited all my distress with the world that only added to the smell already there. I finally wiped my face with toilet tissue and made my way out. Everyone had been dismissed. No one was about. I tied my hood on my head and put on my blue coat with the little fur collar. I put on my boots and went up the stairs through the door that did not swing shut.
I trudged on home and knew I would hear about this day. My brother was there and would tell in detail what went on. And my mother would be embarrassed over and over. I wished there would be a whipping because a tongue lashing would last forever.
“Just who do you think you are?” would be voiced over and over. And no answer to that but I am who I am. I don’t remember exactly what happened but I do remember the priest visiting and my mother bidding him welcome when he said I come in the name of Christ. They talked and I heard my mother say over and over that she did not know where I heard these things nor who taught me. Not from her she said, not from her.
I was left to ponder for the rest of my life where these thoughts did come from and what I was going to do with them. I would be hearing over again, you think too much. And somewhere on the way to growing old I finally answered with the phrase, “what’s a mind for?”
The Rabbi Teacher said it. “Knock and the door shall be opened. Ask and you shall receive.” But be prepared for truth for it will roll like thunder.