Monday, November 26, 2012

Chapter 21: Looking Back

“I don’t really know when things went wrong. I’m not sure that there was an exact moment in the past that I could point to and tell you this is where we went the wrong way, but I do know that the America I grew up in was a vastly different America than the one you grew up in. Of course, it was also a vastly different America than my own mother grew up in,” Claire said.

“What made it so different, Momma?” Kate asked.

“I really don’t know. In my mother’s generation, I think, people shared more of the same view points. Most everyone was Christian or some form of it. You didn’t see, or at least didn’t know about, a lot of atheists. Prayer in schools was normal. Divorce was rare. I don’t know that everything was better, but it certainly seemed safer to my mother’s generation,” she continued, “By the time I was born, divorce was pretty common. Prayer in school was growing increasingly rare. You saw more atheists, more agnostics, more of other religions, too. People were more afraid than they’d seemed in earlier generations.”

“Why, Mom?” Kate asked.

“Kidnappings, street crimes, murders, rapes, robberies – all of it seemed to happen more often. People became afraid to let their kids out of their sight. They became afraid of each other. I’m not sure that the world was any less dangerous when I was growing up than it was in my mother’s time, I guess, just that the danger was different or that it didn’t come so much from people as it did from the environment. By the time I was a teenager it wasn’t the environment you really had to watch out for, it was mostly the people,” she replied.

“By the time you came along, Kate, things were getting worse. It was becoming rare for a child to grow up with the same parents that created them, rare for a child to even hear about God in a classroom from anyone other than their fellow students, if that. Hatred, anger, and bitterness seemed to spread like a growing disease, like a cancer along the backbone of our nation. People stopped taking responsibility for their lives, and everybody seemed to be caught up in wanting to blame other people for where they were in life,” she mused.

“Why blame others?” Kate asked.

“Because, Katie, blaming other people is always easier than taking responsibility for the choices you’ve made and how that’s brought you to where you are in life. Taking responsibility means you can change things by changing your choices, but blaming other people doesn’t require you to change or to do anything differently. It’s easy, but it isn’t better,” she replied. “At any rate, you were 4 years old when 9/11 happened. It changed everything, and not for the better. We became even more afraid as a people, afraid of what other people could or might do. More angry, looking even harder for someone else to blame for things gone wrong,” she shook her head, “I don’t know. By this point our nation was becoming increasingly divided, we just didn’t realize how badly it was fragmenting.”

“9/11, that’s the day the planes flew into the twin towers, right?” Kate asked.

Her mother looked at her and nodded. “It seems like yesterday for me, but I realize you don’t even really remember it. You were so young.”

“What happened next, Mom?” Kate prompted.

“Economically, it hit America in the gut, landing like a sucker punch. We hadn’t fully recovered yet from the crash caused by the tech bubble bursting,” her mother said.

“Tech bubble? What’s a tech bubble?” Kate asked, looking in bewilderment at her mother.

“Basically, Kate, it’s where people were selling pieces of their businesses for more than those pieces were really worth. Once people figured out that what they had wasn’t worth what they’d paid for it, people tried to sell all at the same time, only it made their stuff even less valuable. A lot of businesses started closing and people were losing their jobs. It would happen all over again in 2007 when the housing market crashed,” Claire replied. “Your grandmother lost half a million dollars in the 2001 tech crash. At any rate, we hadn’t fully recovered economically from that when the terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, where a lot of our biggest and most powerful business men had their offices. It sent the country reeling. A few months later, somebody discovered this massive amount of theft going on by a giant power company named Enron, and that killed even more business.”

“I may not have liked George W. Bush, but I will say that he did his best to save the economy. We weren’t running as well as we wanted to be, but we were still doing fairly well. However, by the time the elections of 2007 came around people forgot all about that. They listened to President Obama’s Hope and Change speeches. Some people voted for him thinking he would bring real hope and real change. It didn’t work out that way. He brought change, but it wasn’t the good kind.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” she asked.

“The nation’s divisions were already there. We were divided along race, along income levels, along education lines, and along the lines of religious beliefs. However, Obama used those divisions to play us against each other and grab up more and more power. I didn’t realize how much power until I started reading those documents with you, Kate. I’m not sure how it happened, but he managed to put into place everything needed to totally transform this country into something that very much reminds me of Nazi Germany before World War II broke out,” she finished, frowning.

Kate looked at her in surprise, “Oh, Mom, that couldn’t happen here, could it?”

Claire looked at her daughter and hugged her tight, “Sweetheart, if it could happen there it can happen anywhere. All that is needed for evil to spread is for good men and women to do nothing. I don’t remember who said it, but it’s true. This time, though, I’m afraid it isn’t going to be the Jews that get targeted. I’m very much afraid it’s going to be Catholics like your friend, Kevin, and his family.”

Kate was shocked by the thought of Kevin and his family being sent to a concentration camp, or hunted down like the family of Anne Frank. “Momma, I need to tell you something,” she said, looking her mother in the eyes, “but I need you to promise me you won’t get angry.”

Claire looked at her daughter with concern, “I can promise you I will do my best not to get angry, Kate. What is it?”

Kate took a deep breath and said, “Mom, I’m Catholic.”

Claire stared at her daughter in shock. “How long have you been Catholic?”

“I only just decided a couple of weeks ago, Mom. I know it’s where I belong,” she said reluctantly. Her mother was looking at her as if she’d grown a third eye in the middle of her forehead.

“Is this because of Kevin? Did he put you up to this?” Claire demanded.

“Mom, no, it’s not like that. He introduced me to the faith, but he’s not the reason for mine,” she said firmly.

“Oh, Claire, why couldn’t you pick some safe religion? Something nobody cares about?” she asked rhetorically.

“What would be the point of that, Mom? If my religion doesn’t make me a better person, if it isn’t making a difference in the world, then what’s the point?” Kate asked her mother in all seriousness.

Claire looked at her daughter again, even more surprised. “I don’t know, Kate. I never really thought there was a point to religion.”

“Of course there’s a point to it, Mom. The point is to fight against the darkness, to push it back so the light can come in and take its place. The point is to make our world better, safer, and happier. That’s the point, Mom. If it isn’t doing those things, then why would I want to waste my time being a part of it?” Kate said.

“Where did you hear this kind of stuff?” Claire asked, curious. “Who taught this to you?”

“It’s not something I learned. It’s what makes sense, Mom,” she said. “The truth is the truth, and when you find it, you know it. That’s all.”

Claire looked at her skeptically. “I was raised Catholic, you know. This doesn’t sound like the Church I grew up in.”

It was Kate’s turn to be surprised, “Mom, if you were raised Catholic, why did you leave?”

“Because there wasn’t anyone who could answer my questions,” Claire replied. “I got tired of hearing, ‘It’s dogma’” every time I asked one. I guess after awhile I just stopped believing there were answers.”

“Why don’t you come with me on Sunday? Talk to Father Donovan. He might be able to help you find answers, Mom,” she said.

“I respect your desire to find religion, Kate, but don’t push yours on me. I don’t need it, and I have no intentions of becoming Catholic again,” her mother said.

“I’m not trying to push anything on you, Mom. I just thought that if you wanted answers I could help you find them,” Kate said, hurt.

“I don’t really want to get tangled up with the Catholic Church, Kate. I have enough problems without bringing that into my life,” she said.

“Fine,” was all Kate said. She was disappointed in her mom, and she really couldn’t pinpoint why. She would have to think on this later, and pray over it, too. Maybe she would talk it over with Kevin and see what he thought. She couldn’t understand why her mother wouldn’t want to find the answers if she really wanted to know the truth. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to her.

The talk seemed to be pretty well over, and Kate headed upstairs to get ready for bed. It had been a long day, and she knew she would need sleep. Besides, she reflected, the sooner she got to bed the sooner she could see Kevin again! She couldn’t believe how much she missed him right now.

She finished her shower, took her journal from the shelf, and began to write about all the things that had happened to her that day. It was a pretty long list, when all was said and done. She then took her rosary out and began to pray it, making sure to include a prayer for her mother’s conversion, for Principal Durham to find Jesus, and that Kevin’s father might be returned to them safe and sound. She crawled into bed 30 minutes later, exhausted but at peace.

She had meant every word that she said to her mother, though she’d been really surprised to hear those words coming out of her own mouth. If her religion didn’t make her fight harder to make the world a better place, if it wasn’t making a difference to others, if it wasn’t changing anything, then there really was no point to it at all. She wanted to live her life in such a way as to make a real difference. Being Catholic, she knew, was dangerous precisely because it did make a difference and in a very profound way.

She wondered what her father would make of all this, and whether he would have taken her side or her mother’s. She couldn’t remember going to church with either of them very often, so it was hard to say what his religious background was, and both of his parents had died long before he did so it wasn’t like she could ask them. It was something she would have to ask her mother, when she was in a better mood. She certainly didn’t seem very inclined to having religious discussions of any kind right now, Kate thought as she drifted off to sleep.

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