"It is not a question of God allowing or not allowing things to happen. It is part of living. Some things we do to ourselves, other things we do to each other. Our Father knows about every bird which falls to the ground, but He does not always prevent it from falling. What are we to learn from this? That our response to what happens is more important than what happens. Here is a mystery: one man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Your response to what happens is more important than what happens." (Chip Brogden, American author)
Easter 1973 was uneventful, for the most part, but almost exactly a week later I would discover how random and painful this life could be. Most certainly, I understood the idea of physical pain, having been so exposed a few years previous to this time, when I angrily smashed a hockey board my older brothers were just given for Christmas. This was not some plastic plaything, mixing soft and moulded into place, rather it was cold metal, like most foosball and sport games from the 1960s and 70s.
I don't remember trying to crush my brother's toy with my foot. I don't recall the hurt or the blood or anything remotely close to a memory surrounding my action. I have been told the jagged little players, hooked into steel rods, cut through the right sole of my 3 year old foot like a knife into butter. In spite of being aware of the damage done during my fit of jealousy, I have yet to find a single scar or recall any of that pain and hurt I inflicted upon myself. I cannot say the same about that Sunday morning on April 29th, 1973, and the event which helped shape my spiritual life for decades.
The day before, I had eaten the last of my chocolate rabbit and I now longed for a sugar fix before I was forced to go to church with my younger siblings and parents. I didn't mind attending the Sunday Service, but I despised Sunday School class. It is not that I was under-stimulated by the ideas and expressions one finds within the House of the Lord, but as far back as the end of my seventh year, I could not stand the idea of worshipping God in public, especially with other children. Even then, spirituality was a private indulgence for me.
Some people need Church services to express themselves in a spiritual manner, but I had already discovered the still, small voice that I considered God. It was with me, gentle and far more moving than some sermon or sing-along. I used to sit twiddling my thumbs in congregation and was overtly bored silly in Sunday School class. I yearned to know more about God and Jesus, but I already believed that I knew the Holy Spirit, so there was no need to go to Church. I didn't care what anyone said, I just did not want to go. In spite of my maternal grandmother conditioning within me the idea that God punishes people for being bad, such as when not attending Church, still I held no fear. After all, what could God do to me, sitting and watching way up on high?
My two older brothers had been allowed to head over to
to play baseball with their friends, including a classmate of mine. I wanted to go so badly that I threw a temper tantrum while my mother dressed me for services. When I lost my cool, I got sent outside to chill out. Why did I have to go when my older brothers didn't? Why couldn't I go run and play and have fun with my friends? Karen Road Public School
I remember thinking that God was getting in my way. As I wandered from upstairs to downstairs, I got nasty under my breath, then fell into a sadness as I reached the back door. I walked out and down the garden stones to the small gate at the rear of the property. I cut over to the hill near our house and walked down into its small green valley. The sky was summer blue and only a few clouds whispered as they floated past. At the bottom of the slight steep sat Red, an Irish Setter who had been frequenting the neighbourhood. His temperament had always been so calm and agreeable, so his approach gave me little reason to think otherwise. The sadness I had felt indoors had followed me outside, so I stood quietly, gazing into a sunny sky, petting the dog and thinking about how alone I believed myself to be. That's when he bit me.
He was a large, well-groomed purebred and I immediately guessed that he had all his teeth. He almost swallowed my entire right hand but was stopped by the bone in my appendage. His attack was full force and without reason, as far as I can remember. I had been walking, petting him as many kids in the neighbourhood had for the last few weeks. I don't know why he did it, but even his eventual withdrawal did nothing but to freak me right out. The very first thing I thought was that God did this.
As I stood crying, slightly screaming from the inside, I looked over and noticed my arch-nemesis Shaun Savoy, staring at me and laughing. I wanted to rush over and punch his face in with my other hand, but the pain became unbearable and my arm started to explode. It formed near my wrist and moved slowly up into my forearm. Like a balloon, cautiously expanding from an inner force, my arm turned pink and purple and blue. As I hit the gate at the back of our yard, I started screaming at peak volume.
By the time we arrived at the
emergency room, I was almost faint from the experience. I remember looking down at the top of my hand and noting the largest fang mark; it leaked with pus and oozed with blood. Considering the swelling, it could have been a volcano ready to erupt. From elbow to fingertip, my arm became shaped like a Zeppelin, blue and bloody instead of grey. It was heavy and throbbed like the bass in a bad Deep Purple song. I sat quietly through the examination, treatment and the revelation that I was allergic to dog saliva. I was not pleased with this turn of events. North York General Hospital
There I sat with my parents, pushed together in a small waiting room, my arm bandaged like a mummy from the old horror movies I loved to watch. As the shot I received kicked in and my father picked me up to carry me to the car, I realized the weight of this situation. It was clear to me that I had misbehaved and clearer still that God held me accountable through punishment, just like I had been warned. Worst of all, I couldn't play with dogs anymore. Most of all, my hand would be scarred forever, a constant reminder to do as one is commanded. I can still hear grandma preaching, "We must fall into line or pay the price."
The next day, the police took me over to a home in the
Karen Road subdivision, just through the highway underpass and down to the south, beyond the public school. When I walked in, I almost peed my pants. Instantly, from somewhere below, a dog started barking as if warning of impending doom. They took me towards the noise and securely brought out the beast. In his master's grip, he snarled and yelped at me, each bark seemed like a hard turn on the roller coaster of your choice.
It looked like him. It was him. The death toll from a seven year old. My mother took my one good hand and led me out to the waiting car. She never said a thing. We had discussed that the dog would be put down if it turned out to be the one which attacked me. We had discussed all the whys and the when. This did little to comfort me. It was confusing for me to believe that not only was I punished for being bad, but now this dog would be too. I took responsibility for it all, it was the Christian thing to do.
As I laid in bed that right, my hand throbbing, I thought of my grandmother and how she was right. I realized God does punish us here and now, that the consequence of my misbehaviour was swift and Divinely just. I got scared thinking about it and wondered what else He could do to me. I have spent decades trying to break this conditioning. Early ideals of righteousness aside, I have always felt punished by God through action or event. When you tell a child that they will surely reap what they sow, that you get what you pay for, you instill in them fear, not reverence. When you influence a child with such things, they carry it with them always. It can deeply affect their ideas of mercy, grace and the benevolance of an entity once viewed through much innocence.
I spent most of my adult life trying to avoid consequence brought on through God's judgment. Regardless of any rational or spiritual understanding to the contrary, I still revert to feeling like the negative things that happen to me, I most certainly deserve. As that day fell behind me and into tomorrow, I laid suffocating from the weight of a world that had just changed so quickly. I called out for my silent friend, but could only hear the gnashing of teeth and my trust stripped away. While my innocence was not yet lost, it was surely led astray.