“I’m considered a difficult girl. I have a reputation for needing to be told a good reason to do something before I do it.” Tulsi’s words in Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat Pray Love’ had me burst out laughing. The words sounded exactly like an echo from long ago. Not that much has changed over the years, except the fact that now I try to find my own answers.
Ours is a very traditional Kerala Catholic family. Life stories of saints were the fairy tales that our grandmothers brought us up with. Sins, mortal and venial were fed into our brains right from childhood. The nuns in the Sunday school only aggravated the guilt. The picture of God that was projected was of an angel if we were good, who would transform to an ogre the moment we did something bad. Well, you know how most kids are. From the time we woke up in the morning till the young heads were dumped on to the pillows, we went on sinning, and how!
Girls had it worse than boys, after all we had to protect our chastity even at the cost of our lives. Each of us were expected to be a Maria Goretti, forgiving our Alessandros as we lay on our death beds. Talking about chastity, it does resemble the Malayalam equivalent ‘chaarithryam’, doesn’t it? Anyway, that’s besides the point. As a young girl, it was pretty easy to gobble up whatever was spoon fed to us. The trouble started as I reached the age where ‘hormones get into my brains.’ By then, Enid Blyton had given her way graciously to nymphs in Mills & Boon novels. On one side was the yearnings and longings that seemed natural and guilty at the same time and on the other, this picture of a God with a stick in his hands ready to push me into the eternal flames of a hell hole.
Being an obedient child (ahem, ahem) did not stop me from questioning. If it was God who made us, why didn’t He stop us from doing bad things, why couldn’t He stop all the evil, why all the suffering and pain? There was something in me that refused to believe in this horrible giant. My favorite picture of Jesus was of him surrounded by children. The loving smile on his face and the mischievous look in his eyes was proof enough. But then, what is etched with a sharp tool on to your brains when you were of an impressionable age is very hard to scrub off. That is when my father brought home this book. The author was a priest and the brother of a family friend who was incidentally my professor as well. Most of the priests that I had known till then were reflections of those nuns from Sunday schools. But the title, ‘You Surprised Me’ made me curious.
For a sixteen year old who had more questions than answers in her mind, the ‘Contents’ was like a gold mine. It was as if someone had plucked my thoughts straight from my brain, mind and soul, churned it somewhere and came out with the exact answers that I was looking for. ‘The Mystery of My Body’ said,
“I want to talk to You about something
that I cannot ignore or entirely remake – my body.
My body has been a source of pleasure and pain,
of worry and pride,
a source of embarrassment and thrills.”
How could a priest know all this, I wondered. Till then , I was sure of being punished if the daily prayers were forgotten. And here he was telling me,
“I remind myself
that Your first love
is not prayer, but our good.
We are the center of your concern,
the reason for religion and worship,
these weak human beings You have chosen to love.”
I had found my personal God, my best friend, with whom
” I can just be myself, without ceremony or pretense.
I can relax, I feel accepted,
and I know whatever I say interests you.”
The doors opened wide, and faith was never the same again. I shared my darkest secrets with him, fought with him when angry, bawled my eyes out when hurt, cried when I was deliriously happy, I could feel the calming presence every single time. Over the years, I have learned to share my thoughts, angst, dreams and hopes and then let go. I have been taught not to worry too much about anything, accept things as they are and take things as they come, one day at a time. There is no fixed time for these conversations, and it is always from the heart. Like a true friend, he gives me a nudge now and then whenever I’ve been away for too long.
Call me irrational, impractical or whatever you may. I have found peace, solace and joy in a friend who is with me throughout, who resided not in a church, but in my heart or somewhere close by, who listens to me without judging and pats my shoulder each time I rave, rant and shout, telling me softly, “this too shall pass.”
Now, what about that Spanish nun, you ask? Ah! you will have to wait for my next post to know about her 🙂