Sunday, August 17, 2008

Paradise: Lost

Today, during a Sunday School lesson on the plan of salvation, one particular question from the teacher plunged me into a state of rich, nostalgic déjà vu.

The teacher’s question: What happens after we die?”

I recalled another occasion this question had been posed (cue the tinkling bell sound effects and soft focus dissolve for the flashback).

I was eight or nine years old, and our family had just moved from Auckland – our “landing place” after immigrating from the States – to settle in the small, outlying suburb of Woodend (a short drive out of central Christchurch).

I was in my first class at Woodend Primary School. The things I loved most at this time were:

  • that my classroom was very close to the adventure playground – so I could be sure to be at the front of the line for “the ropes” – a playground highlight consisting of super-thick ropes that swung from one platform to another;
  • wearing tights underneath highlighter green shorts, shorts that formed a twin set with my highlighter green t-shirt, of course;
  • cross-country – no boobs, lots of energy – need I say more?
  • “the bars” – where I could perform all manner of gymnastic feats, including half of a “death drop”;
  • being allowed to write in pen (ooooo-ooooo) – I had recently been promoted from writing in pencil; and
  • playing “shops” with my sisters with monopoly money. No refunds; suckers.

This little girl, you’re beginning to picture, also loved getting answers right in class. Are you surprised? (I am the tallest in the photo, above - my brothers obviously didn't look pretty enough to be in this one).

Being an NZican, I had quickly learned many things were different on the land of the long white cloud. One such point of difference from my place of birth was “Religious Education”.

“Religious Education”, as I was to learn, consisted of two people, dressed all homely-like, appearing, toting flannel boards and pamphlets, and proceeding to talk about The Bible.

I remember distinctly the sweet taste of the anticipation I had – what a show-ground this would be for me! These people wanted to talk about Heavenly Father and the scriptures – I was certain, as I had been with my penmanship, I was going to impress.

I was sitting towards the back of the room in my seat, craning my neck to see and be seen as the first lesson began. After the obligatory introductions and blurb about why the pair were visiting, they began with the question; What happens after we die?”

I threw my hand up, sucked in all of my breath, and bit on my lip. The lady’s glasses’ chain tinkled across her buttons as she leaned forward and pointed to me; “Yes?”

I beamed, “You go to spirit prison or paradise to wait for judgement, and THEN you go to one of three kingdoms, and THEN…” I was cut off.

Paradise? Do you mean heaven?” the homely lady interjected. Looking at the rest of the children, squinting her eyes while smiling, she continued, “I think she means heaven”.

It was at this point that I was removed, or removed myself – which I cannot remember. But for the remainder of the lesson I sat on the classroom stoop, out by the bag hooks, fuming. What did those ladies know? Amateurs! I knew what I knew.

For the remainder of my time at Woodend, I sat sullen through Religious Education. But upon arriving at my next school (when we moved to Waikanae, 50 minutes drive from Wellington), I sat out of all religious education lessons. One Jehovah’s Witness girl and I were sent to another Form 2 class when the homely ones came. And each time I made that walk across the basketball court to the other classroom during those visits felt like the most liberating and thrilling exertion of my rights imaginable.

We don’t need no education.

* In the second photo I am more like 7.5 years old...but it's the closest I've got. I'm sorry that you miss out on the authentic and amazing stylings of the neon twin-set and tights. The top also had a hood. Word.
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