When I was a little girl, I sat at the dining room table watching a tableful of chocolate chip cookies cool. My mother brought in a tray, straight from from the oven.
“Chris, this tray is hot. Don’t touch it,” she warned.
The minute she left the room, I reached out and touched my finger to it. I still remember the sizzle. I howled and my mother came running back into the room.
“Why did you touch it? I told you it was hot!”
The blister was already forming on my poor finger as I whimpered, “I wanted to know how hot.”
I never forgot that feeling. Not the burn itself but that insatiable need to understand, to fully experience what was in front of me.
I once had a high school religion teacher ask me, “Must you question EVERYTHING I say?!”
“Well…yes. I must.” My voice was shaking. I could hear it. I hate that.
My reply landed me in the vice principal’s office. Rather than ending up in detention, which I’m fairly certain was my teacher’s objective, Sister spent the next hour figuring out what was bugging me about this guy’s class. When we were done, she told me I had her express permission to question anything and everything, to demand answers and clarifications to my heart’s content so long as I was respectful and not disruptive. As a seminary graduate, this guy was not exactly pleased to be debating with a fourteen year-old twerp. As much as I promised myself I’d keep my mouth shut and told myself that he wasn’t worth the argument, I couldn’t keep quiet. I just couldn’t. It was not possible. Stuff just came out of my mouth from nowhere. I would come out of that room every day shaking from the anxiety it caused. It made for a long year. In the end, four people came out of that class declaring themselves atheists, just as I’d predicted in late September and Mr. Seminary ended up teaching ancient world history for the next several years until Sister retired.
I didn’t outgrow my unpredictable mouth. At a writers’ ministry meeting, one of the deacons had stated he wanted to change something in the way we writers crafted the intercessory prayers for Sunday Mass to create ‘a catechetical moment’ during the prayers that would convey the church’s stance on current affairs and ‘educate the faithful’.
“Oh hell no!” was out of my mouth before I’d even realized it was coming from me.
Three deacons, one priest and my six fellow writers all turned to stare at me. I was the one who normally had little to say.
“Ok Christine. You care to explain that?”
Ummm. No not really. I want to drop through the floor and God won’t let me. Instead we went several rounds about what Vatican II had to say on this particular piece of the liturgy and a ‘prayers of the hierarchy’ versus ‘prayers of the laity’ debate ensued. Ultimately he ‘pulled rank’ as he not-so-delicately put it. Let’s just say I was the writer for the next seven weeks and I gave him precisely what he asked for at a time when the church gave me plenty of material to work so with, particularly on topics of integrity, honesty and justice. After that, we went back to writing the way we always had, the catechetical moments stayed in the homily where they belonged, and well… I may happen to be the reason that the deacons now edit what we write before it ever gets to the altar.
I’m not one who really likes to argue. I almost never set out to get into a debate. Most often, I’m as shocked as the people around me by what comes out of my mouth. I catch people off-guard because typically I’m the quiet one in a gathering of more than three people. Yes, I’m an introvert. I want to read or write or stare at the world around me and just plain flat be left alone. But even when I’m quiet, I question everything. I wonder about everything. I’m in awe of the world around me. There is still that 4 year-old’s insatiable need to reach out and touch, even if I do get burned. And yet, I’m afraid of many things, having been burned enough to last two lifetimes and my uncertainty always feeds that beast called fear.
And herein lies my biggest conflict: my sudden, unpredictable outbursts of boldness don’t mesh at all well with my need to be left alone. People tend to remember me for speaking out. Few realize I never wanted to do so. My desire to understand at any cost doesn’t work well with my fear of getting hurt. Most days I just wish the two opposing sides of me would make nice once and for all.