This week, I received a text from my 8th grader’s mother inviting me to his graduation. They had apparently moved the date completely and no one had told me. Why should they? Out of sight, out of mind, right?
At any rate, he has been blaming himself, thinking that for some reason he did something to make me leave and she’s been trying to get him to invite me himself, but he couldn’t, so she finally did. Because I overthink things, I said I’d have to think about it and yes, of course he could call or text me whenever, as long as she’s good with it. I had been planning to explain what happened to him, but not until after the school year was over and all of this was moot. I knew he’d need the explanation, but I also knew that I couldn’t just tell him and start the gossip.
So, I emailed Father to ask if he minded. It’s his house, and his rules. He said it would be great if I came. So, I said I’d come.
But that opened up a whole lot of other thoughts.
See, now it’s at Sunday Mass, and I was not going back there because I don’t believe anymore, right?
And I surely did not want to go back to that place with that man.
But I’ve been watching these science-minded neurotypicals at work. Most of them go to church. A couple of them volunteer with youth groups. I know for some of you this is probably a no duh thing, but see, in the conservative Catholic circles we’re taught to emphasize how all we do is fight with the science people and they’d eradicate us if they could. But I also learned something in my graduate studies about the purpose of Catholic education. It was never really to preserve the faith, although that was happening alongside it. It was only ever meant to preserve the culture and the faith came alongside. As we decided to melt, the schools started closing and no one much cared because no one was preserving, say, the Polish Catholic way of life like they used to.
So I realized the reason to go to church isn’t to deal with this “staying safe against society” stuff, although yes, that might be a bonus. In the end, we go because that’s what we do. We go whether we believe or not because the purpose of this event is to repeat what we’ve always done. Whether there is a God or not, we repeat these rituals to connect ourselves to each other and to preserve what we’ve done forever. If I stop going to church and God exists, it’s between me and him. If I stop going to church and God doesn’t exist, it doesn’t much matter in terms of an afterlife and how much time I get to spend in purgatory. But if I stop going to church what actually suffers is the continuity of this culture. God is bigger than all of this, but our humanity is not. We have the Mass because people forget the story and also because we will forget the stories of those who came before us if we don’t.
So, today I go back to church and next Sunday, I plan to go back. And you know what? Father’s going for his immersion program in Mexico before the end of the month. If I can get through a few weeks, I can talk to my 8th grader about what happened and my teacher (she wants to know, too) and we can all be really over it before he gets back because not only is it moot, he’s going to be gone long enough it doesn’t much matter. This should stifle the gossip so it’s safe to explain to those few people for whom what happened to me can be instructive. To those who just want gossip, I’ll just go with the story: we agreed I wasn’t necessary and Father offered me a vacation to relax while I looked for my next job early. He looks good, and I look good. Admittedly, we both look iffy because I disappeared suddenly, but they will have survived all of this and people will be more likely to say, well, whatever.
And honestly, I had friends in this parish. I don’t really want to start over again.
Beyond that, had I stayed there any longer, we were looking at bankruptcy. I had to leave sooner, rather than later because we ran out of money. We will be through the other side very soon because I have a new job and we have health insurance through work. I am contributing to retirement again. It will get better because I left.
What’s most important, though, is I can say no now. No, Father, I don’t want to do that and he won’t assume I will do whatever, whenever anymore. We’ll have grown up. We will no longer be propping up a financially untenable school.
That said, I will never forget the time I spent there and what I was able to do with those kids for nine months and I don’t think they will ever forget that time, either. My only regret was that society wasn’t ready for the school I was trying to build.
I take solace that our current Pope is trying to push the issues that needed discussion and trying to push for a less ableist, sexist, and racist church. Things will get better, but for now I need to just walk with the faith for a while. If I walk alongside it, then maybe eventually I will feel it again. Either way, I have the energy I didn’t have before to go out of the house on Sundays and socialize, so maybe it’s time to give it a try again.