The Choice

With slender, tender fingers she removed an errant curl from his forehead, wishing she had had the time, no actually the money, to get his haircut before this day. It wasn’t real poverty, not like the deprivations of people from far away places nor of those she had experienced as a young girl but she did see that others had more. They didn’t need to worry about such trivial expenses. The priest had told her that God would provide. She often wondered why God’s distribution system was clearly unfair. That thought, she understood, was itself a sin so it was quickly suppressed again.
He stood at the line transfixed.

Black asphalt on one side. Ash grey cement under his feet.

Much like Eve he had to choose, knowledge and experience on the asphalt side, innocence and ignorance under his feet.

His hesitation was prolonged by the cacophony of shrill young voices, strangers all. This is not where he wanted to be.

“Run” his experience told him. Run to safety, serenity, warmth.

But he did not run. Her presence behind him prevented that. Her presence and something else he could not yet name.

A loving hand nudged him. Fearing, he resisted, but understanding at the same time he could not resist indefinitely.

He did not know it but this was the first of many September Tuesday mornings that would shape his life, first with indoctrination, then knowledge and rational thought, then critique and exploration. And of course with friendship.

Joey, soon to be a friend. was just beyond the line. Joey, who would mysteriously appear at the outset of each new adventure and just as mysteriously disappear before each was completed.

He would be told by them that at age six he had reached the age of reason; that he could choose to sin or not; because he was a descendant of Adam he would sin but confession would be available. How they knew this is not clear. In fact they did not know this, they believed it. It was conventional wisdom handed down for the past two thousand years. Much later he would learn it was clearly wrong. The human brain, the seat of our decisions, is not fully developed until much later in our lives. So for the next ten years he would need to endure and accommodate their ignorance. But for now he had to get over the line.

If she knew what was in store for him, where his paths would lead him, she might not have blocked his attempted retreat. She knew he was a ‘good’ boy and would always support him but she did not anticipate that he would try so often to turn the world upside down; to sit in protest; to march in protest; to face down the riot squad; to question all the givens in his and even her life. Her faith gave her the strength to endure his rebellion and yet to support him unreservedly.

So the asphalt school yard lay waiting and with an imperceptibly wet glance over his shoulder he stepped across that line only to be immediately surrounded by a group of boys who had just experienced similar emotional turmoil. Thus began the camaraderie of the deceived.


The Choice

Art McLean is enjoying retirement in the wilds of Val-des-monts, Quebec.
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