In 1991, I was launched into the new city where I knew no one. To my surprise despite not missing a service for seven and three years at two different congregations, the people who shook my hand heartily and wished me well, never inquired after I left. I was cast at sea. I found new communities of course. But individual links all severed.
When I go back to any scene I left, people with animosity who didn’t leave have functionally sealed rifts. They have continuity. I have disjunctures. Maybe because I didn’t click in the first place? I was a poor fit but trying hard. Maybe I didn’t keep the old and the gain the new because I didn’t do the hard work to keep connections, work out differences, just bailed.
When I got to Ottawa for a while I asked on busses if by chance the seat was taken before sitting. I chatted to people in grocery stores which got me asked where I was from? (Scotland was a common guess. My Ottawa Valley twang has dampened since.)
I was fundamentalist stranded in higher education. And renting a room in a house with a Christian woman who took her kids to church each Sunday, and preached that men are evil, gays are evil, their father is evil and the world is an evil place the rest of the time.
The mom called her 11-year-old a whore and screamed at her until she’d cry and then the little girl would say poor mommy and massage mom’s feet until mommy used her as confessor priest. I hadn’t 100% believed in Satanic possession before witnessing her tirades but hiding under my desk in my room as she went on, the credibility of that went up a few notches.
She beat her son with a wooden paddle after 2 days of threatening him and with each hit “no son” *whack* “of mine” *whack* “will be” *whack* “gay” *whack*. That was precedented by finding her son in her daughter’s room trying on nylons as a 9-year-old.
Where to begin? I was terrified of her and her instability. Even I then I knew wearing clothes wasn’t sexuality. It was a strange unfamiliar position to feel more mature than a middle-aged woman and to see her as the naive one.
Even as I child (perhaps 15) when the substitute minister taught from the pulpit that there are unforgiveable sins but we’re not sure what, but he’d speculate. At times he claimed it was suicide. At other times being gay. He claimed a lot of thing, like 80% of kids had had sex and most of that number had done drugs. I remember shaking but still asking him after the service for his reasons and sources. He gave me a withering look and said only, “you should get out more”.
Before I moved to the city, I had been through Toronto once on the way to a youth leadership camp, to North Bay to go to a photojournalism mini-course in the 80s, and across Eastern Canada with my folks which meant driving all day and sometimes all night and finding that dirty old diners look the same in every province. (We didn’t stop in Quebec.)
We went to Ottawa but it was always highway to cancer clinic and back. I went on a field trip to Ottawa twice. I think once it was with French class. We saw Arby’s, a mall and a French restaurant where we could order wine because we were with a chaperoning adult. There was much wide-eyed giggling. I didn’t have any. The menu was mostly meat or seafood which I didn’t eat. I remember there were linen table clothes, candles, a complex menu, formality. The other time was to the Museum of Nature for school. I was quite small.
I am still drawn to nature and Nature. I am still infused enough with reactivity that Landover Baptist satire site is funny. Not as scandalous as it used to be.
But ideologies can change. Chemistry can change. I wonder about what propelled me so deeply and earnestly into Christianity. The more you know, the more you want to know. Everything one does is for a reason. It was nourishing me. It was saying there’s hope on the other side. It was saying there is something bigger. Deeply buried under all the hatred, there was a story of compassion. It was ritual and saying in protestant work ethic that trying leads to reward.
It was a bridge of habit and ritual and common ground to some people. It was a sense of tribe and belonging to people of enough numbers to give something of shelter.
Was it what I had easiest access to? I read about Gandhi and Star Trek. People came through talking about yoga and buddhism. I recall going to the free introduction to yoga in the high school library. They talked about body awareness of knowing what areas of you are tight or relaxed. I couldn’t tighten or relax anything in isolation. I was probably tighter than the beams in the load bearing walls, fearing I might just be struck dead by the Jealous God for impropriety, but I lived.