What Family's All About
To some, Religion may be a choice, but in my family it’s always been a requirement. You’re expected to attend sermons once a week, rain or shine, and a late-night, holiday service once a year, snow or sleet.
And for those first ten or so years it wasn’t all bad--sure, the praying and singing and listening to speeches was achingly dull, but the social gatherings afterwards were okay.
That late-night holiday one was still the worst, however--just excruciating.
As I got older, navigating the power structures of school and home life became emotionally stormy, and it became harder to find the solace that Religion was purported to provide.
I’d never needed its help before, but I always thought it would be there when I did.
And even if miracles couldn’t be routinely counted upon, I felt that some sort of inner peace should be afforded to help me get through the worst of my struggles.
But rather than find inspiration there, my frustration with Humanity and Divinity only grew.
I felt like I was being punked and ignored all at the same time on both personal and cosmic levels.
Not only that, but how was it that my dad and my brother, bullies both, could just sit, kneel, and mumble some stuff half-heartedly, once a week and be given license to go right back to being bullies?
I had always tried to follow the rules, work the program, and, time-permitting, solve the Human Condition--and I’d gotten nowhere!
And on top of that, I had no choice in the matter, since I wasn’t even considered an adult, either by local statute or Divine Law.
In fact, it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I hit some sort of milestone. I had to memorize and recite some stuff, get all dressed up--it was a whole thing.
Afterwards my folks congratulated me and sat me down for a little chat. I hoped it wasn’t about my growing body or sinful urges or anything gross like that.
“So, now you’re old enough to make your own choices.” My Mom said with earnest eyes.
“About?” I was almost afraid to ask.
“About whether or not you want to continue attending services with the family anymore.” she said.
I mean, I’m assuming that’s how her sentence ended because she only got halfway through the word “services” before I blurted out:
“I don’t want to go anymore!”
“Oh!” She said, taken aback. “Well, no, your brother and sister were given the same choice and they both still--.”
“--You said...” I reminded her, as if reading a court transcript back to a witness, “that if I don’t want to go anymore, I don’t have to. So, I’m not going.”
They were too stunned to speak, so I stood up, regarded them both in turn, and took my leave.
It’s not like it was a negotiation, after all. The offer was made and accepted. The deal was done. Still, I didn’t want to give them a chance to change their minds.
My family needn’t have feared for my spiritual well being, if that was their concern, since just because I stopped joining them for worship didn’t mean I stopped being curious about Religion--if anything it only broadened my scope.
When it came time for services the following week, everyone in the house managed to find the opportunity to come into my room and tell me how selfish or lazy or bratty or disappointing I was being.
I smiled under the covers and waited them out--as loud as they were being, it was easy to tell when they were gone.
Then I went downstairs to bask in my religious freedom.
There was a note on the table in my Mom’s rounded print.
“We’ll save a seat for you. You can meet us there.”
And then underneath that, in my Dad’s meticulous script:
“This doesn’t get you out of holiday services! You’re still part of this family!”
“Family” was in all capital letters and underlined twice.
Months later, on the night of the holiday service in question, I left the house after dinner. There were still several hours before I had to be back, so nobody stopped me. And then wouldn’t you know it? I completely lost track of the time and missed my chance to attend! Oopsie!
The following year they made a rule that I couldn’t leave after dinner.
And like a good member of the family, I didn’t.
I left before dinner.
Eventually, I was leaving so early in the day that they just stopped bothering me about it.
It took a few years for them to catch on, but I was patient because, really, that’s what family’s all about: tradition.