I never got sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class, flunking tests, pulling pranks, or talking in class. The only time that a teacher marched me to the office, shoulder firmly held by her bony nun’s hand, involved my unrelenting refusal to kneel in church and recite the Our Father and, later in the Mass, that offensive and overt plea for forgiveness, Oh Lord, I am not worthy to receive you / speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.
By eighth grade, my future break with Roman Catholicism could have been predicted. The ultimate blow could not be foreseen, I suppose, or my mother would have sent me to public school — not to avoid my religious exodus but to protect me from the priest whose conduct would push me over the edge. But my stubborn soul had found a philosophical rift as early as fifth or sixth grade, and in my last year of elementary school, I summoned the courage to rebel.
God is your father and you must ask him to forgive you, admonished the nun, though with Capital F and Capital H audible in the way she pronounced “father” and “him”. Why won’t you do this all of a sudden? I stared mutely at her; I did not think she really wanted to know. She insisted, badgering me until I spat out the words in my heart.
First of all, I already have a father and I don’t need another one. The one I have is hard enough to endure. Second of all, if God is so divine and I am made in God’s likeness, how is it then that I have to beg him for forgiveness and proclaim my unworthiness?
I don’t recall how many Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s that nun made me recite on my knees in her office, holding my arms extended with a bible balanced on each flat palm for my heresy. I do recall that she never answered my question.
So here is the one thing that I want to tell you about myself, in the hopes that my raw confession will help even one person out there. If you don’t need this encouragement, perhaps you know someone who does. You can steal these words. You can dress my message and my experiences in some other anecdote. I assert no pride of authorship; this truth bears too much importance.
If you know someone who suffers from the shame of feeling unimportant, undesirable, or inconsequential, please, tell them this, from me:
YOU ARE WORTHY. And just as you are; not thinner, or calmer, or richer, or more blonde, more muscular, or with a bigger house or a faster car. You are worthy just as you are.
I have never believed this of myself. I have always felt inherently inferior. Life’s hammering blows confirmed my gut instinct. I remember watching my high school peers flaunt about, sashaying in their rolled-up uniform skirts, easy with their bodies and their persona. I never felt that sense of comfort, knowing that I fit into my environment. An ease of belonging — not of conforming, but of being able to walk into a room and have people want me to be there.
I do not feel it to this day. It might be too late for me; but perhaps by exposing my deep, immutable insecurity, I can save someone else.
It is just past seven in the morning, Pacific Time. I have just broken my fast with a long pull of Artichoke Garlic bread from the Arcangeli Grocery Co. in Pescadero, California, dipped in hummus; and a mandarin orange from the Safeway in Halfmoon Bay. In an hour, I will make my way to the Stanford Medical Center here in Palo Alto, for a full day of appointments. I have left the oceanside and am back inland, on the land-locked side of the mountains. I have already made my reservation for Labor Day weekend at Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Michael, the manager with the 60’s vibe, assigned me to the Dolphin house again, because he knows I like it. When I arrive, he’ll check me in early so I can get the lower bunk by the western window. The scent of the sea will soothe me as I sleep.
It’s the twenty-ninth day of the twenty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. It’s Leap Day, people. If you’ve got sturdy legs, use them — spring forward into life as it continues.