Article ID: 14043
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: August 22nd. 2010
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I was in grad school in the early part of 2000, and like most grad students, I was poor. But the gods had been good to me. I had a good wife and two lovely daughters, and we all lived in a comfortable townhouse on the southeast side of Anchorage, right at the edge of the city where the Chugach forest and mountains began. Behind our place there was a large park with the usual swings and sawhorses, and acres and acres of open grounds and grassy knolls for summer barbecues and happy games of Frisbee.
As a poor grad student with a family and two children, we had our financial struggles. But I was doing very well in school, on the verge of graduation, and afterward I would have a high paying job as a psychologist at any place of my choosing. On top of that, we owned a cabin in the bush that had been our happy home for many years and we were eager to return to our rural lifestyle. All in all, we had many reasons to look up.
My only real concern was for my older daughter, Arielle. In many ways a prodigy, and eleven at the time, she was brilliant in the visual arts and could whip out amazingly lifelike drawings in minutes. She could also write heart-touching stories, my favorite being the poignant tale of a little girl who fell so in love with magic that one day she dissolved into enchantment. But in many other ways she was an ordinary kid. She loved watching anime, and because none of us enjoyed city living, she and I often passed time together playing Everquest where we could have virtual outdoor adventures. She also loved Renaissance fairs and her outings with the Society for Creative Anachronism, where she would pass long evenings singing at fireside bardics and take part in archery contests. But Arielle was also painfully shy. She found it hard to approach other children, and it took her a long time to get over that shyness. The result was that outside of SCA events every month or so, she had no real friends. No one to do all the great things kids ought to do together, like slumber parties and swimming and just hanging out and yakking.
I was delighted when one day she came running home from the park with a great big smile on her face. I remember it vividly. I was sitting at the dinner table studying a textbook when she burst through the back door and pranced right up to me, her skin aglow with a fine sweat from outdoor summer play. “I have a friend!” she declared. There was so much happiness in that small voice, a transparent delight as sincere as only children can manage.
“Oh really? That’s wonderful!” I replied, setting my textbook aside. She launched into telling me all about the nice girl she met at the park by the swings named Cindy. They were the same age and had played seesaw and rode the swings and then climbed into the tree house and spent two hours just talking and talking about manga and school and how silly boys are (they were at that age) . It was a great day for Arielle, and my wife, Daphne, and I was delighted for her.
We did everything to cultivate the relationship and threw barbecues for the girl and her family, hosted slumber parties, and brought Arielle to her house—only a couple blocks away—for the same. In just a few weeks they had decided they would be best friends forever.
Then one Thursday came along, about six weeks into their friendship. Daphne (my wife) had brought Arielle over to Cindy’s house and dropped her off to visit for the afternoon. Ten minutes later, Arielle burst in through the backdoor with puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks. She had run all the way home. She bolted over to me, crying like a small child. “Cindy’s mother said we can’t be friends anymore, ” she said.
“What?” I asked, taken aback. “How come?”
Arielle only shook her head in arch misery, a child lost in such hurts as only adult cruelty can inflict. “I don’t know, ” she moaned.
Where Arielle was heartbroken, I was shocked and perplexed. I couldn’t understand what had suddenly gone so wrong. The girls had always gotten along well, and both were well-behaved kids. We had treated Cindy and her parents with the utmost courtesy. What could have suddenly happened to bring this on?
Promptly, with the zeal of a protective parent, I called the household. Cindy’s mother answered. “Hello, ” I said. “My daughter is here and she is very upset. She said that you told her the girls couldn’t be friends anymore.”
The woman had a smooth, breathy voice. It had once struck me as flutelike and pleasant. But it was flat through that smoothness, and now it struck me only as oily. “No, they cannot, ” she replied. “Yesterday, when they were playing together at the park your daughter told Cindy she likes Harry Potter.”
I pulled my head away from the phone for a moment, wondering if I had heard correctly. I centered myself and put the phone back to my ear, said, “Yes, she does. What kid doesn’t?”
Carrying on in that same oily, smooth tone, the woman said, “And they told ghost stories.”
I was tempted again to pull the phone back from my ear, this time to take a moment to try to wrap my mind around what I was hearing. This woman had until now seemed a normal and intelligent, even likeable, person. I replied, trying to keep my voice equally cool, “Yeah, lots of kids tell ghost stories. I told and heard a ton of them around campfires when I was a kid.”
Her voice still flat and unchanged, she said, “Good Christians don’t watch Harry Potter, and they don’t tell ghost stories.”
I suddenly knew what I was dealing with. Sadly, Alaska is full of this type of mindless fundamentalism. They haunt the Anchorage pagan blogs to find out when special events are occurring so they can show up and picket what they think is devil worship. They fire non-Christians from jobs and restrict the ill from entering hospitals with non-Christian spiritual books and tokens that are sacred to them. It is Alaska’s secret and shame, and unfortunately they hold a lot of power in that state.
Without waiting for me to say anything, the woman carried on. “And your daughter said you were a pagan. I won’t have my daughter spending time with such a twisted family. You need to get right with god.” Her voice, so soft and cool—it spoke of far more than she said. It portrayed a cool hate that was at peace with her bigotry. She really believed she was right breaking two little girls’ hearts in the name of the god of love. This was a woman who would sleep well that night and tell all her friends how she had been a good witness at the next Sunday school.
I admit, and without guilt, I saw red at that point. I wanted to yell a lot of terrible things at this woman. Things like, Pagan or not, my wife and I have been faithfully and happily married for twelve years. How many Christians can say that! Or, So you must think that the six hundred million other kids who like Harry Potter and their families are twisted, too. But what I really wanted to shove down her throat was, 'what kind of a hateful bitch hurts a little child in the name of god?"
Instead, through an act of superhuman will, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and composed myself. It wasn’t easy. I’ve always been very defensive of kids in general, and my daughters in particular. When I felt I could remain calm, I told her, “Your child is a lovely little girl and she is welcomed to visit Arielle anytime. Unfortunately, you have confused hate and fear for the will of god and that has made you a very ugly person. You are not welcomed here.” And with that, I hung up the phone. I had more important things to do than telling off a bigot who would, in the end, only take my words as evidence of biblical promises that Christians would be persecuted for their beliefs. Instead, I turned to my daughter, still crying, though taking heart that her daddy was looking out for her. “Arielle, come on, little buddy. Let’s go to the Sleeping Lady (that was her favorite tea shop) , get you a smoothie, and talk about this.”
It was a long evening of tearful talk and hugs and support. In the end, Arielle made it through okay. I like to think she became a stronger person out of it. She learned there is irrational hatred and bigotry in the world and that she must rise above it. She learned that people use the divine as an excuse for all kinds of terrible things. She learned the especially painful truth that life can be unfair and hit us at any time with loss. But most of all, she learned that one woman’s hate didn’t make her unlovable and that there were future friends waiting out there for her. (And, indeed, a year later, she met them) .
But she wasn’t the only one who learned something. And I think what I got out of the experience was the hardest lesson of all. For everything in my life that I have learned about ignorant fear, narrow-mindedness, irrational hatred, intolerance—everything, I learned from persons who blindly follow religion. I’m not referring just to Christian fundamentalists and strange, deadly Jonesville kinds of cults. I am referring to anyone who follows a path afraid to think for him or herself and gets hung up on that age-old lie that their myth is better than another’s myth.
In the ensuing years I have always taught my patients, my daughters, and those who visit my homestead for our courses, “Think for yourself. Never fear to doubt. Always ask why. Anyone who tells you that you shouldn’t, don’t trust him or her, for that is a person who wants power over you.” Blind faith: that is not a virtue. It is a deep and seductive darkness that has led to thousands of years of jihads and holy wars, torture and persecution, zealotry and fear. It is such an ugly darkness that it would break the heart of a little girl for no reason at all. It is the enemy of truth, and it has no place in the pagan paths.
Copyright: Copyright 2010
Location: Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Website: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=109657198000 and v=app_2344061033#!/group.php?gid=109657198000
Author's Profile: To learn more about Cliff - Click HERE
Bio: Cliff Seruntine is the author of "The Lore of the Bard", Llewellyn, 2003, and a regular contributor to Llewellyn's Witches' Calendar where he writes about the role of nature in witchcraft. Cliff and his wife, Daphne, and two daughters, Arielle and Natalia, live in the highlands of Nova Scotia where they run a homestead, Twa Corbies' Hollow, which offers regular classes on earth friendly living and natural enchantment. Cliff is a psychologist in private practice, and when not working or running the Hollow, he follows his other passion, training horses.
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