As I remember it the library was located in the farthest corner at the highest, hottest point in school. Twenty-something years later I couldn’t tell you how many times we went to library class each week or even exactly how old we were when we got that assignment. But I can tell you I didn’t really like library class.
As you rose up the last set of stairs and passed Mrs. LaRocca’s sixth grade classroom it smelled like hot paper. Because it was hot, even in the endless Pennsylvania winter. Old books permeated the air and spread past the 2 rooms dedicated to them and onto shelves in the hall. I could feel old books with no pictures and the crunchy plastic that guarded them just by walking past. Even though we got out of classes for our regular subjects to have library, I didn’t like it. We had lessons on the Dewey decimal system and paper card catalogue systems. Why do that to a kid? No one has ever stopped me in the library and asked me where C826 is. Nor have I ever used Dewey and his system to find my books.
One assignment seemed promising enough to leave a hazy impression. We were to pick a biography or autobiography book from the library, check it out and read it. There was a long (boring!) lesson on what those books were and where in the library they were located. I’m sure I half way paid attention to this explanation. I’m pretty sure I shyly followed the crowd to the right section. I wouldn’t have wanted to look too eager to get to the ‘graphy section first. I would have also second guessed my ability to find that ‘graphy section because I would have already known two things. I often half way paid attention, tuning out important details. I hated looking stupid in front of others, which is what I would look if I picked the wrong book because that assignment also included giving a report in front of the class while dressed up like the subject of the book.
Horrible assignment for kids in grade school (BTW). We were old enough to read books that could be long enough to be boring if they weren’t of interest to us, but we were also old enough to worry about what people thought of our interests. So we could find ourselves in a situation where we suffered through a biography or autobiography or were publicly ridiculed when we dressed up as our subjects, awesome choice.
Feminist that I was, I looked for a book about a female who would require a feminine outfit, but not command much (positive or negative) attention. Little worrier that I was I probably hung back so long that the 2 decent old books were taken by better listening or more self-assured little girls who also wanted to wear a pretty outfit.
I don’t remember the title or the name of the subject of the book. I know that the subject was a nun. Everything else in this memory is crowded with fear induced haze. It went something like: sadness, poverty, something, something, sickness, lepers?, something, something, suffering, more poverty, alone, sadness, death. It was awful (but BONUS I could wear a skirt for the dress up report). I have to think the book was old and maybe the library was under funded or just maybe (and I think I hit this before) this was a stupid idea for a kids’ library class given the size of the library and the 40 something kids in the class.
I remember the over whelming fear after reading that book. I no longer worried if my nun’s habit would go unnoticed with the other tweens. I spent all this time reading this book that talked about vocation and calling. I realized that nuns didn’t have kids or husbands. They seemed miserably alone. It talked about them not having a choice about this God inspired calling then spent pages and pages in my 11? 12? year old opinion showing why being a nun was awful.
I spent what felt like weeks fearing this fate. I think I probably spent weeks saying, “Oh my God, Oh my God! What if God MAKES me be a nun!” I’m telling you this whole destined for doom thing freaked me out. At this point, I either learned or recalled the story of Samuel:
There was a boy who was sleeping. A voice called him. He ran to his Master, asked him what he wanted. Master said, “It wasn’t me who called.” The third time he came to his Master, the Master told him it was God who called him.
I still think that any story that has a “Master,” a boy and someone calling out in the middle of the night is GD scary. Needless to say I went to sleep many nights COMPLETELY freaked out. Because even if God didn’t MAKE me a nun. He could apparently scream out at me any dang dark time he wanted and tell me what I had to do. I don’t know how all 11 or 12 year olds weren’t scared shitless.
Finally it happened. I went to sleep and I heard… nothing. I remember clearly that I finally realized that this God who I was taught to believe in also supposedly created all things, loved his mother and called little children to him. This not scary person would not pounce on me in the middle of the night, would not force me to have a life I found miserable. Even that Nun with that seemingly awful life had a choice. She must have enjoyed something about this calling. She must have agreed to participate.
That was the first of many fears that made me tense and kept me up at night. Other nights I went to bed knowing that I had forgotten to study for a test, had said the wrong thing and upset someone, had lied(!), had looked stupid or made mistakes. I had and do have trouble sleeping sometimes for what feels like weeks thinking through problems, actions I’ve taken or others’ words and try to make peace with them, try to make peace with myself.
At the time I thought this experience was nothing. It was nothing, but the peace of what I came believe in has lasted. I think of God as the Father surrounded by children in a garden, not the God of yelling in the night. I can accept the God who enveloped with love and kindness that feels right. The God of fear, orders and judgment that’s a knot I can’t make sense of. Because it wasn’t the God of Catholics or Protestants or even the Jewish, Muslim, Buddist or New Age God, it was just a belief in kindness that gave me peace.
I don’t think of talking to God very often anymore. I don’t wait for an assignment that falls from the sky or a destiny I can’t avoid. I think a lot about the lack of kindness. I see a lot of people missing peace. I get knots about Columbine, the Boston Marathon, Isla Vista. So, so many knots, ironically they come from love. The more peace I find the more knots I want to smooth so in my son’s life there will be only gardens of happy children knowing only love.
Every shooter, every bomber, every victim tied in knots that can never be undone. Babies, all of them- once were chubby cheeks and eager eyes, hungry and waiting to be filled with lessons and truths. Some left hungry and some left filled leaving strings that can no longer be tied into bows for their gifts in the future.
At a fountain in our town’s center families gathered to enjoy the weather on Mother’s day. I was basking in the glow of my son. Chubby cheeked and eager eyes, full of Thai food and ice cream and the joy running by the fountain. I smiled, at peace. Husband worried over a boy, twenty-something looking off. Later he explained: “He was probably high. A run away I imagine. I didn’t want to get too close with our son.” Another Momma with her teens stopped and checked on him.
My heart is heavy, my chest is tight it will be oh so hard to sleep tonight. So many knots waiting to be smoothed, so many people looking for peace and finding themselves instead tied in the knots of a fearful almost predetermined fate. Maybe I can try to plant a garden. You know the kind of place where everything is alright?