I am an extremely stubborn person. I’ve mentioned this before. I tend to make snap judgments, which are usually correct (in my humble estimation), and it takes a lot to change my mind. I’m not completely rigid – if I’m proven wrong, I admit, loudly and vociferously (as, let’s face it, I do most things in my life – “quiet” is not a word that will ever be used to describe me, unless we were somehow switched into bizarro world without my knowledge) but I do tend to stick to something, once my mind has been made up.
It’s not the most attractive trait. I realize that. It’s made me miss events because I refuse to be in the same room as someone who I believe has slighted me; it’s made me miss out on years of friendship with otherwise lovely people because I made a judgment about them and refused to change it (or accept their apology) until the evidence of their awesomeness slapped me upside the head; it’s made me pout for hours (or longer) over things that were, let’s face it, probably in my own head. However, it also makes me an awesome friend. I am loyal to a fault, once I accept you. The same mental issues that make me stubbornly refuse to forgive also make me stubbornly back my friends, no matter the situation. I am their staunchest supporter, even when the thing they’re doing might not be the smartest idea.
I also can’t keep quiet. As I’m sure anyone reading this on a regular basis has noted, I suffer from extreme loquaciousness. This isn’t just in writing, folks. I talk. A lot. And I’m really, really loud. I don’t have an inside voice. I remember getting in time out as far back as kindergarten for talking too much. I have all of these excellent thoughts! And they are in my head! And they want to come out and play with your thoughts! Right now! And loudly! (This is a family trait. At a family reunion, the decibel level is probably high enough that you’d want to bring your earplugs. We are not a quiet folk. Our family crest would be a man shouting and a bunch of other people covering their ears.) So when I have an opinion about something, even when I know it’s an unpopular one, I usually voice it. Loudly. This has not always made me the most popular girl at the party. Especially since I have the rare talent of always talking about someone just as they enter a room. Oh! Hi! Awkward!
As I’ve aged, I’ve learned how better to deal with this. I can stay quieter, if I know I absolutely need to (I don’t like to, though. I am a volcano! Of words and thoughts! Erupting!) I try very hard to weigh first impressions with the actual cold, hard facts about someone. I try to be a little more flexible, because I know, as an adult, you have to be. There’s not a lot of room in the world for people who run on nothing but first impressions and stick out their jaw and refuse to budge, no matter what. There’s a word for that, you know. It’s jackass.
When I was younger, though, I wasn’t as skilled at it. At all, actually. To an embarrassing extent.
My parents raised me Catholic, so I attended churchschool. Once a year, we had an all-day churchschool event, where we’d go to the community center and do religion-based activities. Our priest – one of the absolute best people I’ve ever met in my life, and I don’t really like anybody (sorry, anybody) – ran these days. He was young and full of ideals and believed in letting each of his students shine – which is where he and I butted heads a bit.
Before I begin, I just want to be very clear. I no longer attend church, but have nothing against the Catholic church, Catholicism, members of the clergy, the Catholic faith, or Christians as a whole. It wasn’t for me. I have my reasons; they aren’t anyone else’s reasons, and I do not hold them against the church. This is not meant, and should not be taken, as an indictment of Catholicism, and if you take it as such, you are taking it incorrectly and kind of being a dick (or dick-ette; I don’t mean to be sexist.) It is an event that happened in churchschool; it could just as easily have happened in a secular environment. I don’t need hate mail because I’m blasting the church, because I am not.
I hated churchschool. Somehow, all of the popular kids from my school – the ones who were bound and determined to make my life a living hell each and every weekday – were also members of my church. So not only did I have to spend the day with them, I had to spend the day with them away from my small support system of like-minded individuals, who were my protective smokescreen at school, as they did not attend my church. It was like being thrown to the wolves every time I had to attend. And the priest, who was the sweetest, kindest man alive, and only saw the good in people, just did not get this. He saw me retreating into myself and this made him even more intent on making me show how intelligent and funny he thought I was. He’d have me talk in front of them, lead groups, anything to bring me into the spotlight. I wanted nothing less than this.
One year, the entire day had been going badly. We had to do a trust fall, where the popular kids refused to touch me, so I would have fallen if I hadn’t gotten wise and caught myself at the last minute (hmm, wonder why I don’t want to do those at work retreats nowadays? Can’t imagine. Also? These are never a good idea, people who plan work retreats. Stop doing them!); there were a lot of muffled “geek!” and “nerd!” and what-have-you whenever I walked by; just the usual harassment, only in a much smaller space, with no escape route. Then, lunch.
We all sat and one of the priest’s assistants handed out folded pieces of paper. “We’re going to be playing a game with lunch,” the priest explained. His assistants started unpacking sub fixings – rolls, veggies, meat, cheese, condiments, chips, soda. It was later than my normal lunch and I was hungry and ready to get on with things; the quicker we got this over with, the quicker we could move on to the next fun activity (note: the next activity would not be fun) and the quicker I could get the hell home and go back to the relative obscurity of school the next day.
“On your paper is a color. You’ve each been randomly assigned a color: white, red, yellow, green and black. Please look at your paper now.” We did. I had black. Fine. I was feeling gothy anyway. (This was pre-goth, but in retrospect, if it had been in goth years, I would most definitely have been one.) “The colors represent the classes of people in the world. When I call your color, come up and get your envelopes.”
So it went like this: the people with the white papers got envelopes with “free passes” inside. Everyone else got toy money. The toy money diminished as you went down the line, color-wise. You had to “purchase” your lunch with the toy money. The white group could go first (they represented the privileged elite) and they could eat whatever they wanted. The red group went next – they had enough money to buy almost anything they wanted without having to sacrifice much. So on down the line, with each group having less and less play money, until you got to the black group – and we had about $10 total toy dollars to buy our lunch with. This was to teach us a lesson about injustice in life, the have and have-nots, race relations, what have you. It wasn’t a bad lesson, in theory.
At that point, there wasn’t much food left. Every other group had already eaten. And the prices were crazy. We put our heads together (well, they did – I wasn’t really part of the decision-making process), and decided that, with the $10, we could buy some lettuce, half a roll, and a cup of soda for the five of us.
OK, I mentioned above I am stubborn, right? I also hate injustice. Hate it. And I hate games, and I hate surprises, and I hate working as a team, and I hate being promised something and not getting it, and I hated that the goddamn popular kids, who had been tormenting me all day, were eating their frigging subs and laughing and having a gay old time, and I was starving and I was pissed. Righteously, royally pissed.
“Nope,” I said.
I left the food line and sat at an empty table, shaking with anger (and hunger, a little) at this stupid game. One of the team members came over (one of those nicey-nice “let’s all be friends, even with the unfortunates! Especially them! They are most deserving of our pity! That’s how we get to heaven!” people – save me from them, please) and asked if I was going to share in their delicious lunch.
“Your delicious lunch is lettuce, half a roll, and a cup of soda. For five people. No. You can have my share,” I said. I sat there, furious. We weren’t even allowed to bring books to read; we were supposed to socialize. I don’t socialize. I don’t do it now; I didn’t then. If I’d been old enough, I would have walked out and driven off.
The priest came over. “Amy, you’re not sitting with your group! They’ve got some lettuce, and bread, and soda, there’s plenty!” he said. Now listen, I loved this man. Being rude to him was painful. I was (and honestly? Kind of still am) sure he had a direct line to God himself. But I’d had it.
“I don’t beg,” I said. “I have food at home. My parents provide me with plenty to eat. I will eat when I get home. If you weren’t going to provide people with lunch, that should have been made clear.”
He stopped and looked at me, very seriously. “Amy, everyone’s participating in this.”
“No,” I said. “I won’t.”
The assistants, now that everyone was eating, suddenly brought out two more trays of food. The priest stood. “Good job on the lesson, everyone! Let’s all take more food – plenty for everyone – and talk about what we learned!” He looked at me, smiling, bright eyed, very eager to please. He really was just a good person. I don’t know, have you ever met someone like this? Who is just good? Someone who hasn’t got a bad bone in their entire body? It’s almost supernatural, in a way. He radiated goodness. I’m pretty sure, if he had started a cult, half of the town would have followed him. I still love him with every fiber of my being. But he hadn’t thought this through, not in my opinion, because IT WASN’T FAIR. “Amy? Come on. There’s plenty.”
Stubborn. I am one stubborn woman; I was even worse as a girl.
“No, thank you. I don’t want your food,” I said.
I refused to get up. I refused to participate. I refused to join in the discussion. I sat there, stewing in my righteous anger, and for the rest of the day, would not move. I was not having any part of this. Someone brought me a plate of secondary pity food; it sat there, untouched. The kids sat around another table and talked about teamwork and what a great lesson and how unfair injustice was and how much they’d learned and I was, for the moment, forgotten – the only positive thing to happen that day. I knew this would be trouble. I knew he would report my insubordination to my parents. I knew they would be furious; I’d made it clear, going into the day, that I didn’t want to come, and they’d forced me to, and now I was embarrassing them by not behaving. But I’d made my decision. I was not having it. None of it. I had reached my overflow point and would not be taking on any more of this bullshit, not today.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I was being kind of a twat. I was. I totally was. I can see that. Thing is, how my stubbornness works, is that I cannot physically make myself move. Even if I’d wanted to, I was sitting there until we were released. I was furious to the point of tears. I wasn’t going to cry in front of the kids that had been bullying me for years and all day besides, and I wasn’t able to join in, even if I wanted to, because that would be giving up. And I don’t give up. It’s to my detriment, as I’ve said, sometimes, but I dig in my heels like an ass and I won’t move.
I went home that night and although I wasn’t going to tell my parents what had happened, the good girl in me spilled it all. I don’t remember their reaction, so it couldn’t have been all that bad. I’m sure they weren’t pleased, but they knew me well enough not to be all that surprised, I think. This wasn’t the first time I’d done something like this. (It wouldn’t be the last, either. A few years later, I got myself permanently banned from churchschool. Different priest, completely different scenario, but I was kicked out and told I was not welcome to come back. I know. I’m the badass who was KICKED OUT OF CHURCHSCHOOL. I’ll tell you about it sometime.)
The following Sunday in church, the priest gave his sermon. He talked about this and that, then started talking about the all-day class he’d held that week. He explained the lesson he’d done with the food. “Oh, crap,” I thought. My mother started looking at me sternly.
“One student refused to participate. At first, I was angry with her. I had planned the lesson very thoroughly, and her refusal was hurtful and personal to me. Until I went home and thought about it and realized it was that student who taught me a lesson. She was participating – and following in the footsteps of some of our most famous protesters. She was practicing nonviolent resistance. She was refusing to participate. By refusing to participate, her share of food went to everyone else in her group. She was following in the footsteps of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her refusal to participate in the injustice going on around her was just as valid a reaction to it as the reaction of the students who joined together to pool their money so everyone could eat. I’m very proud of her today.”
He didn’t say my name – thank you for that, Father – but I just sat there, face flaming, sure everyone around me knew there really was only one churchschool age student known for her outrageous, and sometimes downright rude, behavior.
So I not only had a temper tantrum, but the priest, the very, very nice priest, had thought it over and turned it into me doing him a favor. I felt about three inches high.
I spoke to my mother about this event today and told her I was blogging about it. She just laughed. “Oh, no,” she said. “I remember that. You were so angry.”
And stubborn. Stubborn beyond all that was rational. If you promise me a sandwich, dammit – there had better be a sandwich. I’m fairly sure this is how most revolutions were begun, right? So really, I was ahead of my time. (Or just a stubborn, cranky girl who loved subs. Either way.)
(On a sad note, and not to be the buzzkill in the room or anything, but this lovely priest passed away recently, at a fairly young age. My mom said she thought he’d enjoy reading this. I’d like to think that, wherever he is – and my beliefs on an afterlife really aren’t appropriate here, or anywhere but in my own heart, thank you – he’s read it. And he knows how much I admired him, the entire time I knew him. There are very few true heroes in the world. Sometimes, you hear about one; once in a great while, you’re lucky enough to meet one, and have that person in your life for a time. I was one of the lucky ones. Thank you, Father.)