Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Complicated Kindness

I've had a cold for two days - one bad enough to keep me mostly in bed and bored. As I've finished reading both The God Delusion and God is Not Great (how religion poisons everything), I picked up my copy of A Complicated Kindness.... in the end, I didn't put it down - it fell out of my hands a couple times because I fell asleep, but I didn't stop reading on purpose....

Anyone who's grown up in the creepy, shifty reality of a religious home or community and who's either come out the other side or is still struggling for breath now, will be instantly sucked into this book. It's about us. The kids (I think that's actually spelled "victims") of the fantasy they call a loving god....

The worst thing is those who never learn to breathe and who, as elderly people finally realise how stifling and crazy the whole thing was but know it's too late to do anything about it, so they cling to it like a rickety, waterlogged, falling apart raft because they know, either way, they've already drowned.

Burn scars are thick and hard and immovable and they never heal. One learns to cope and to move in ways that don't cause those scars to stretch and tear - or to suck up the pain when they do - but they're always there. That's what escaping a religious community leaves a person with. Burn scars.

They tell us we're going to burn for eternity but they don't tell us that, if we escape, the burning stops and we're left with deep scars that either severely restrict us and how we are in the real world or paralyse us.

So anyway, this is what I wrote... about a place where religion didn't intrude or at least not enough to touch me.

"Funny about that old house. I remember it spotless too. Austere in a way but still warm and somewhere I really wanted to be. Different after my gramp was gone though. I loved how it smelled - it still smells that way, underneath the other smells there now. Gram always had a cloth in her hand, never to let the smallest crumb escape.

When one sees that house from across the yard, the cracks and broken bits don't show. You know when you meet an old friend you haven't seen for a while? They look exactly the same from 15 feet away but up close you can see time stamped on them.

The parlour looks like someone left in the middle of moving. To get to it, one must step carefully over the dry, curled-up-around-the-edges, seaweed-coloured dining room floor, which is obviously not safe. I suppose one wouldn’t fall too far, if it gave in, given it's probably only a foot or so above the ground. It looks as though it might suck you down but it's just joking in that creepy-old-uncle kind of way.

Gram's bedroom looks like she made her bed and then went out for a bit. There are clothes on the counterpane and hanging on her door; there are creams and such and her handbag on a old white table beside, but then, at the foot of the bed there is a box of books on the floor - her guest books - faces up, daring the rotting ceiling to fall in on the whole scene.

Time stops in that house - or goes backward or something.

It completely terrifies me that things have changed as much as they have and that they will so much more in the years to come. Who are all these strangers moving up the mountain and why are they there?

I think often about moving down there, as if then things would cease to change and it would be 1968 again, and nothing adults do would make sense but it wouldn't matter and maybe I could accidentally step on a different butterfly this time - one with smaller wings and who's departure would not cause such chaos - and then it would always be summer that smells like hay and tastes like peas eaten sitting in the field and feels like frozen ocean on hot day and where dads never leave and moms never yell and there are always fresh doughnuts in the kitchen and apples in the cellar and crickets to sing us to delicious humid sleep.


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