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What I Learned in Catholic School

By Roger Peterson (Pete)

What are we trying to teach ourselves? What do we want to learn? Everything we experience has something to tell us. However, some experiences are more significant than others. To learn from our most significant experiences, it is necessary to accurately record them when they occur, update them to fill out newly remembered details, and analyze them over time to further expand our growing level of awareness and understanding.

For motivation, think of life as a process of waking up, wising up, and rising up to greater awareness and understanding. Think of it as an opportunity to find new meaning and understanding. Think of it as a treasure hunt because it is! 

Finally, it is important to trust ourselves to know the difference between what we like and don’t like, what works for us and what doesn’t, what makes us happy and what doesn’t, in our oneness with and separation from All That Is, as both the result of creation and being creation itself. By taking others into account, we’re able to create more of what we want and less of what we don’t want. By accepting responsibility for the consequences of our thoughts and feelings, our actions and reactions, we learn from them. We free ourselves to be ourselves!

What I Learned in Catholic School

7 or 8 me.

7 or 8 yr. old me?

Just before my fifth birthday, I began attending a catholic school in Lewiston, Maine. Catechism, or religious instruction, was the first class of the day. Our teacher was an elderly nun dressed in a full habit (black robe and head cover). She began with the Book of Genesis, the first chapter of the Old Testament, which tells the story of how God created heaven, earth, and “man in the image of God.”

After reading the Story of Creation out loud, the nun said, to paraphrase her: “By eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil against God’s “command,” Adam and Eve committed the first or Original Sin. And because all human beings are the offspring of Adam and Eve, we are just as sinful.” Then she quickly added, “…and you can’t trust the flesh because it will always betray you!”*

* Was she alluding to the seven deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth? At the time I’m not sure I made this connection or was even aware of the seven deadly sins. However, from my current point of view, it seems likely that she was.

Wow, I couldn’t believe my ears, what an awful thing to tell children! With my jaw hanging down to my knees and my eyes wide open in disbelief, I turned and looked around the room at the other kids to see how they were reacting to this damning information. Until this moment all I had seen in their faces was happiness and innocence. Why would the church and this woman* tell a roomful of kids that everyone is bad and no one can be trusted? In outrage, I voiced my objection. She told me to be quiet, so I turned my back on her in protest for the rest of the class. I didn’t want to hear anything else she had to say, which was impossible to do of course.

 *  At the time, I was extremely angry at this person. Later in life, however, my reaction to this experience began to change. As I looked deeper into the nature of consciousness I began to suspect that she might be a friend in disguise, an ally from beyond the confines of this flesh and bone world. Who else but a friend would play such a dastardly role unless it was important for us to understand that there is more to life than what we are currently told, that there is more to our role in life than making money and raising children, more to life than just being human? What if we’re here to live, love, learn and evolve into something greater than we are now? Without pain, discomfort, and the promise of pleasure in the future, what would stimulate us to live, love, learn and evolve beyond our present level of development?  

The next morning, as we stood in line outside her classroom, the nun sternly walked up to me and asked, “Are you going to learn your catechism today?” I looked her straight in the eye and said, “NO!” As if expecting this response, she grabbed my right forearm with her left hand and pulled a heavy, eighteen inch, wooden ruler out of the fold in her robe. I knew what was coming next and tried to pull my hand away to no avail.

Holding my wrist tightly, she began beating my knuckles as hard as she could and continued to do so until I could no longer bare the pain. I didn’t want to cry but I couldn’t help myself. (Here’s a question that occurred to me at a later point in life: Was she trying to break my resistance to these awful beliefs through pain and humiliation, or was she making sure I would remember this moment and question these ideas later in life? Was she even conscious of what she was doing and why she was doing it, beyond this moment?) Turning my head and looking at my fellow classmates through tear-filled eyes, I felt a great boiling rage rise up in me at the church and this nun for thinking it was their right and their duty to torture children into accepting their view of reality without question.

The next day, as my seven year old brother Dicky and I arrived at school, I told him I wasn’t going inside. Instead, I would wait in the woods behind the church until school let out so we could walk home together.

Standing alone in the woods for hours was tiring. It was also scary because my mother often saddled Dicky and his friends with me to give herself a break. In revenge, Dicky and his friends enjoyed scaring me. Besides telling me stories of hobos and dangerous wild animals in the woods, they loved to tell me stories about quicksand and how it swallows people into the ground. Of course they didn’t fail to mention that the woods we played in contained quicksand, which I found very scary.

I knew about quicksand from seeing it in movies and it was doubly scary knowing that I was alone with no one to help me if I did step into some. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess I stood in one spot until school let out.  No matter how much Dicky and his friends complained about having me tag along with them, they seemed to have great fun coming up with ways to scare me. That was fine with me because it was always an adventure to go places with my brother and his friends,

When Dicky and I returned home, I told my mother what happened the day before when the nun whacked my knuckles. I also told her I was never going back to catholic school again and meant it! When school officials corroborated my story the next day, she gave them a piece of her mind and immediately transferred Dicky and me to the nearest public elementary school. As it turned out, things weren’t that great there either. While the catholic church told me, all people were bad and can’t be trusted, public school told me that all people are  blank slates that need to be written on. It also told me that children should be seen and not heard, unless spoken to.

On my first day of public school, I was asked to get up and introduce myself to the class, which I did. I told the students my name and then began to explain why I left Catholic school. When I finished telling the story, I asked my new teacher how public schools treat their students. His face turned red in anger instantly and, pointing his finger at me, he yelled: “Sit down, shut up, and do as I tell you. I’m the teacher and I know what’s best for you!”

Yikes! Were all schools prison camps run by bullies or was it just me, bringing out the worst in people? Probably a little of both. Fortunately, I met several teachers along the way who I loved and respected greatly. Mrs. Doughty, in the fourth grade, was one of my favorites. She came to my rescue when she overheard my third grade teacher tell me she was going to keep me back for a year because my reading ability was poor. After Mrs. Doughty got me to promise to work hard with her on my reading, my third grade teacher, who used to babysit my brothers and me, let me move forward to remain with my classmates.

I loved Mrs. Doughty for that and I rose to the top third of the class in reading the following year, mostly to earn her respect because I didn’t much like school at that time. I loved learning but I didn’t like being told who to be, what to do, and when to do it. The message I got from Helen (Mrs. Doughty) was that she wanted me to learn how to read and write for my own sake, no one else’s. She treated everyone as though they possessed intrinsic value. She was one of the only people I knew who was capable of loving others without judgment. Needless to say, she was my favorite teacher and I loved knowing and working with her.

Side story: One day, when I was three or four, my brother Dicky and I were walking home through the woods behind our house. Suddenly, we heard creaking, metallic sounds behind us, followed up by a loud thud as if something heavy hit the ground. When we turned around to see what was going on, we saw a full grown man dressed in a devil’s costume from the top of his head to his toes. He was staring at us from about a dozen feet away, his feet and arms widespread. He was holding a trident in his right hand and his tail in the other.

Looking for an answer to the creaking springs and the loud thud, Dicky and I looked above his head and saw a narrow metal bed frame tied between two trees for support. It was still swinging back and forth. What was he doing, lying in wait to scare little kids like Dicky and me?

Bending forward, he made a circle with his arms and let out an awful sound as he flexed his muscles as if he was getting ready to start chasing us. Even though Dicky and I knew it was only a man dressed in a devil’s costume, we both yelled in fear, turned, and ran like hell towards home. As I ran, I wished I was big enough to turn around and kick this guy’s ass for scaring us so much and making us feel like chickens.

Many years later, my oldest brother, Rudy, told me it was his seventeen-year-old friend from high school who loved scaring little kids for laughs.

Always doing the best we can with what we know and learning more to do better.

Always remembering and appreciating how good we are, how much we do and how well we do it.

What others will not or cannot do for us, we must do for ourselves.

What works best and makes us happiest?

All in this Together – Partners in Evolution!

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