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  • Secondary school was something of a culture shock for me…

    Having attended a tiny primary school with 50 pupils in total one might say I had been privy to a somewhat sheltered upbringing. A tiny school in a tiny village in tiny rural Ireland. I lived in a tiny cottage in the middle of tiny no-where with little but sheep as neighbours. I knew nothing about the big world. I studied music on Saturday mornings and when I wasn´t in tiny school or playing music my days were spent fishing the rivers and wandering the many mountains and woodlands with my two best friends who lived down the road. Generally I was a very good kid. I did very well in school and my music playing developed rapidly. I was top of my tiny class in most subjects most of the time and was pretty useful with the guitar, recorder, flute and especially piano.

    It was a happy, innocent time of my life.

    All that was to change drastically in the Autumn of 1991…

    It was time to leave the small pond. Secondary school was beckoning. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, decided to separate me from my two friends who had been my life for the last 4 years. They were going to a small school in Wicklow town but it was decided to send me to a much larger school because it was a little closer and for several other insignificant reasons that I fail to recall. My urgent complaints and anguished protests fell on deaf and uncaring ears. She always knew best somehow.

    So it was that in late August of 1991, a couple of weeks after turning 12, that I got ready for the plunge. 800 pupils. 180 in my year alone. 30 in my class. And not one of them familiar.

    It was a Catholic school run by nuns who lived in the adjacent monastery. Some of them were lovely. Most of them weren´t. They looked like they remembered times when they could physically whip kids into shape whenever they deemed fit and resented the fact that this God-given right had been taken from them. Religion never meant anything to me. God was some irrelevant dude in the sky who I MAY have to believe in at some random point in the future to avoid being sent to go and live with that other dude for, like, ever and stuff.

    I was four foot seven and looked about 9 years old. It was not going to be easy. Girls wanted to pick me up, not kiss me. Guys wanted to make fun of this outlandish country bumpkin. They took advantage of the easy target I was and made fun of me at every opportunity. It wasn´t hard. I couldn´t even get the basic things right…

    Why did I have such a dumb haircut?

    Uhhhhhhhhhhhh………………………….

    Why did I talk so posh?

    Ummmmmmmm………………………….

    What sort of clothes did I wear?

    I hadn´t the first idea how to answer this question. Brand names were totally new to me.

    What sort of music did I listen to?

    The truth was I didn´t really LISTEN to music. I PLAYED music. Beethoven? Mozart? Shit. Wrong answer. Guffaws of laughter. Nirvana. The Prodigy. Faith No More. R.E.M. Any of these would have gotten me out of jail but the only pop star I´d ever heard of was Michael Jackson and he had a song called BAD so I guessed that wouldn´t have gotten me anywhere either.

    Why did I have a leather satchel that I wore on two shoulders instead having a Nikkon cooly draped off just the one?

    Well, I tried to find a compromise on this one. I let the satchel drape as trendily as I could from my right shoulder. It was agony and the thin leather strap soon rubbed the skin raw.

    They called me `nigger´. I had a white mother and a slightly tanned father so let us admire the utter hilarity, barbarity and stupidity of this banal behaviour together. (It seemed much more stupid and barbaric than hilarious at the time, let me assure you…)

    I was far too bright for my own good and the hand that initially and automatically shot into the air looking to answer the teacher´s every question soon remained firmly rooted to my school desk. I learned to shut the fuck up. I didn´t talk to anyone I didn´t have to. I learned to hang around with those that, like me, and for some reason or another, lived under the radar. We were never going to get the girls. So we stole their hairbands and ran off with them. We were never going to be able to compete with the big boys. So we played our own game of football in the corner out of the way. Anonymity seemed the only refuge that seemed to afford some relief and protection.

    Something had to be done. I needed to educate myself in the art of COOL. Options, options, options…..

    I could become a rocker. No idea why though. They were a dangerous bunch of youths in ridiculously tight clothing who spewed aggression at the world for no apparent reason. I hated heavy metal or what little of it I had been exposed to. And anyway then the ravers would give me a hard time. Probably ending in a split lip and black eye.

    I could take the other option and become a raver. Again, no idea why. They were a dangerous bunch of youths in ridiculously baggy clothing who spewed aggression at the world for no apparent reason. I hated rave music or what little of it I had been exposed to. And anyway then the rockers would give me a hard time. Probably ending in a split lip and black eye.

    I could cut my hair short or have it longer in an undercut. Short was probably the better option but I went for the undercut. It got me beaten up more than once. Yes “Redser”, I still remember your ugly face, you shit. (This guy used to nail cats to trees…)

    But all of these choices involved picking a side. Each choice involved risks. Each choice meant alienating myself from one particular group and risking the repercussions.
    I knew there had to be a better way.

    Then it hit me.

    Religion was the one thing that all these people shared in common. It was yet another thing that alienated me. Everyone knew that I was the only heathen in the school who had not been christened. A heathen destined for hell. I cared nothing for the hell of the bible. As far I was concerned it had already arrived early to haunt my daily life on earth.

    Damn straight. I decided to become a Catholic. Problems solved. One fell swoop and everyone was going to be my friend. The all-encompassing solution. The one way ticket to heaven. Total relief from being different.

    So I approached my religion teacher. She was an elderly lady, devoutly religious, and very fond of me for some reason. I was desperately shy and nervous, totally unsure if she was going to laugh at me and tell me it was far too late in life for such nonsense.

    To my relief she was thrilled at my proposition. It appeared she was going to book her way straight into heaven, by-passing any chance of purgatory, by saving my soul. Brilliant. Finally something was going right. God, here I come. I promise to pray every night if you make my life a little easier. I promise to go to church if you´ll let me belong. I swear I´ll do whatever it takes, just let me join the herd.

    An hour´s class after school every Thursday. It was easier than I thought! An hour with this very kindly old lady. I can´t remember if I told my parents or not. I think I must have because the hours delay would have meant missing the school bus so my mother probably had to pick me up. I may have lied and said I was playing sports or something though to avoid being laughed at. The classes weren´t even that bad. I mean, my focus was on getting that glorious title under my belt, but the religion wasn´t actually so painful.

    There were some nice moments.

    I learned about looking for Jesus in everyday life, in everyone you meet. And for a while I actually think my life did feel somewhat enriched. I learned about forgiveness and understanding. I thought about those people that made my life so hard on a daily basis. And I learned to feel something approaching compassion for them. They must have been leading pretty miserable lives if they were willing to pick in such cowardly fashion upon the easiest target in sight. I learned about love and turning the other cheek. I learned about Mother Teresa and some of the saints. Their stories didn´t always grab me but some of them certainly seemed like wonderful, exemplary and inspirational figures. And some of it certainly seemed to rub off on me. I often felt good leaving those classes. There appeared to be an added bonus to this whole Catholic thing. Maybe there really was something to it all. Might I just have my cake and eat it too?

    But then there was a lot of boredom too. And certain things I was asked to accept literally sent my bullshit detector into overdrive. (I thank my mother for this astute ability I have.)

    I learned about the 12 stations of the cross.

    Snore.

    I learned how Jesus died to save us...

    What???

    I could never wrap my head around that one!

    We read the bible…

    Serious snooze.

    I learned about all the sacraments and the entire initiation process from Baptism to Confirmation… I learned about the Eucharist. So, let me get this straight… These little discs of processed wheat actually change into Jesus´ BODY? And you guys drink his BLOOD too? Hmmmmmmmm……. Sounds like a primitive load of JUNK. And SO wrong.

    (Couldn´t we just sacrifice a real human instead? After all the meat would be a lot fresher and the blood not so clotty? I joke… But seriously, doesn´t the cannibalism involved strike anyone else as totally barbaric?)

    Then there was CONFESSION??? What was that all about? What exactly does God need a go-between for? Why would a Priest have to hear that I had just started masturbating? Come off it. Please. Orgasms were far too good to be sins. I wasn´t going to stop for anyone, even God… The poor priest would get sick of listening to my false repentance week in, week out! And then, get this, you could be a really good person all your life, commit a sin, fail to say confession and go straight to hell. And then the reverse. You could be a chainsaw murderer for 90 years, say confession two minutes before you die and be admitted straight through the Pearly Gates!

    But I was totally sure that I had to continue, no matter what. 800 other students and their families couldn´t possibly be wrong, right?

    Several months passed and I kept with it. Every Thursday I stayed behind for that hour of goodness. But doubt started seeping into my mind as to the wisdom of my actions. Life didn´t really improve. I continued to suffer at the hands of the bullies. I hid my suffering from everyone, especially my family and anyone outside of school who couldn´t see it. Even my two best friends from primary school. No one was allowed to see how weak I was. It was bad enough that all my peers witnessed it every day. I had to find a place in the world where I was not the eternal underdog and that meant that as soon as I got out of school I lived in total denial of what I endured 9am to 3.30pm, Monday to Friday.

    (Funny enough, my two friends were going through a similar experience in their new school too but none of us talked about it. Boys don´t cry as Robert Smith once aptly remarked… I remain convinced to this day that if we had stuck together things would have been very different for all of us but who knows... I have no regrets now but one thing I am sure of is that any parents out there with kids of this age, please read between the lines and support your children in any way you can, you never know what they may be going through and hiding from you. Especially boys I think.)

    Anyway, on with the story.

    I dreamed longingly of the day I would enter that classroom and address my classmates as equals. Proudly announce being part of their great family. I imagined the new life I would have. Everyone would appreciate what I had done and would treat me with respect and, at the very least, indifference. Catholicism, glorious Catholicism, would protect me from all evil. All I needed was that holy water splashed on my head. But, never big on patience, the big day seemed to be racing ahead of me rather than drawing nearer. I needed relief and it didn´t seem to be in any hurry to meet me.

    I thought of confronting my religion teacher.

    Ok, enough already. I´m ready. I´m thoroughly prepared. After all, a new-born baby doesn´t have to study for months prior to being baptised, does it? It knows nothing about the world it has just been born into, let alone the church that is going to willingly dictate so much of its life. It felt to me that I had Catholicism coming out my ears at this point. One step away from Priesthood. A veritable saint in the making.

    Come on, let´s set a date for my big day. I need salvation and I need it now. I could be run over by a bus in the morning. Did she really want to send me to purgatory for thousands of years simply because, as yet, she deemed me unfit to walk the chosen path? I felt I had more than proved my dedication and devotion to the cause and it was time for some recognition. Throw me a frickin´ bone here!

    I finally brought up my concerns with this old lady who seemed so fond of me. When is my big day?

    4 years she told me, 3 if I was lucky.

    4 years she told me, 3 if I was lucky.

    And again.

    4 years she told me, 3 if I was lucky.

    I could not believe my ears.

    FOUR BLOODY YEARS?

    That bus came back into mind, if simply for argument´s sake. Christ, I could be dead by then! Ooops. Lord´s name in vain. Well… Bloody-well baptise me then and I promise to go to confession!

    There was no way. Absolutely no way. 4 years was a third of the entire life-time I had lived on earth up to that point. It was an inconceivably long period of time. It was so far distant you may as well have told me to wait till I grew into a 7 foot giant. (Which was the only other way I could think of stopping the physical and mental abuse I was getting.) Yes, a verifiable mountain of impossibility. Especially for someone looking for a quick fix to all of life´s problems as I was. There was simply no way I could commit to this madness. Had I really just wasted all these months? Was all this effort now going to amount to absolutely nothing? Surely not, there must be a quicker way...

    Nope, she said, I had to prove my commitment to the cause. 4 years of study and we´d have to up the classes to two hours a week next year she said. I guess she was probably as disappointed as I was. Especially when I told her that there was no possibility I was going to continue taking the classes. Surely if someone wanted in to God´s family then they should be welcomed in with glowing arms, no matter what their age or background, regardless of all and any faults? What kind of God needed proof of devotion and to test your faith for four years simply to allow you to enter his home? I was not asking to become pope, simply be allowed to sit at his table… Doesn´t this sound like the God of the OLD testament rather than the all forgiving, all loving God of the new? Granted, my motives for wanting to join the church were immature, selfish and skewed by a desire to belong. But surely this should have been all the more reason to bless me with love and acceptance?

    I was only 12 years old when the God of the Catholic church rejected me. I will never forget this. A couple of years later I got my mother to write a letter to the school allowing me to sit out of religion class when I was 14 or 15. And that´s what happened. I sat at the back of the class for the next couple of years and was meant to do my home-work or something. At the least I was meant to be an invisible ghost. Instead I sat at the back of the class and gave the teachers hell. I had recovered a little of my voice and confidence at this stage, was highly opinionated and I picked holes in anything and everything they tried to teach. Luckily my teachers were not the most assertive and I got away with murder. Only when I sensed I was really going to get in shit did I shut up. But staying quiet was not something I was very good at for long and I always chirped up again after a while. It is not hard to dissect the doctrines of any branch of the Christian church (and almost all other religions for that matter) and come up with a myriad of very serious flaws. Especially for someone with half a brain. Thankfully I´ve always had a whole one.

    And as an after-thought I would like to add something so as not to offend the Christians and religious peoples of this world. I do not wish to take away anything from those who believe in God for so do I. It is very possible that Christ DID walk the earth and WAS a wonderful person. Unfortunately though, the church has totally distorted his message in order to turn us into mindless slaves by removing us from ourselves. Is Jesus not reported as saying "ye are all Gods"? There are an infinite number of ways to "heaven". Each of us must find our own path. God is everywhere. You just have to look around you. Everywhere. In everything. But any person who tries to come between you (the child and individual expression of the creator) and God (the loving mother/father) is living a lie. Some live well-intentioned lies and really try to help. But the only true help is encouraging you to develop you OWN relationship with the creator. And that creator lives in each and every one of us. That is why we are all equal. Anyone who tries to put a face on the almighty and tells you to swear allegiance to him/her and kneel down and worship their false idol is to be avoided. Like the PLAGUE. Embrace your own power for it is infinite and eternal.

    Namaste.
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