When I was growing up, I attended Catholic school. It was never a question; it was simply what we did. I come from an Irish Catholic family, and I grew up in areas where the other families were very much like mine. We attended church every Sunday with many of our neighbors, and it never dawned on me that not everyone did and believed and lived as we did.
It wasn’t until I was in the third grade that it dawned on me – innocent and oh-so-naive me – that there were people who are different. I remember very clearly my mother driving me to school one day in the winter and seeing other children playing on some huge snowbanks. My mom explained that they were waiting for the bus, but there was more. She warned me to stay “away from those Publics” as she termed them. I was somewhat afraid of children who attended public school for awhile after that, as my mom had very clearly communicated to me that there was something wrong with them.
It was clear to me – intentionally or not – that the way we lived was the only right way. That what others did wasn’t valid and wasn’t even worth talking about. I remained immersed in my little world for a long time, and I knew no different.
As I got a little older – and moved to a slightly more diverse area – I realized that there were people who were different from me. There were people who were Lutherans (I lived in Minnesota by this point). I even was friends with some of them, as they lived in my neighborhood. One of my best friends went to Lutheran school, and I remember being jealous that I couldn’t attend her school, as it was so much larger and more beautiful than my 1950s crumbling parochial school.
Eventually, I discovered that a neighbor three doors down who I am still friends with today was Jewish, a religion I had heretofore only known as something that existed in the Old Testament. Go figure. I was fascinated by the fact that she went to Hebrew school every Wednesday and by the little yellow bus that came to pick her up each week. I wanted to learn a foreign language like she did, as much as she complained about the homework and Hebrew practice she had to do. It was so far beyond my ken, but I was hooked.
I wonder in a way if making these friends wasn’t part of what pushed me to separate from my own Irish Catholic upbringing. As I entered eighth grade, I talked my parents into letting me attend public school (with those nasty publics, ya know). I pushed back on the faith I’d grown up with, and it took me a long time to work my way back towards finding my place within it again as an adult.
Those friends opened my eyes to so many different parts of the world, and I’m grateful. I think it’s served me well over the years to know that the little corner of the world that I grew up knowing is just that – a little corner. There’s so much more out there, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned that corner. I still attend Catholic Mass (almost) every Sunday, and Mister Man just made his First Communion on Saturday.
As a parent, I don’t want to do that to the wee ones. While it’s important to have a life view and to identify with a certain group – whether religious, ethnic, sports teams, or otherwise – it’s just as important to recognize that it isn’t the only point of view out there. I want the wee ones to have a different view on life.
I’m very glad they already know that many different corners are out there. I enjoy explaining to Mister Man what a bat mitzvah is – something he recently read about in a book – or talking about Hindu gods or debating the merits of various sports affiliations. I wonder if that doesn’t make our own little corner of the world more treasured for the wee ones, not more valid and not more special but more treasured because we know its ours.
What does your corner of the world look like?
In the interest of full disclosure, this post is a part of the From Left to Write book club. I received a copy of “I Am Forbidden” by Anouk Markovits for review purposes. In this book club, we don’t do traditional reviews but instead write posts inspired by the book. I was not compensated, and all opinions expressed remain my own.