RAM: On childhood and being good.
Sometimes I wonder why I was always so intent upon being a “good girl”. Was it my religious upbringing? Was any adventurous spirit smothered by doctrines and reminders to be good? I know that must have played a part in it, but for the most part, I think I ended up okay, and am a good person, if I say so myself. Of course, one could always ask to define “good”. I didn’t always follow the rules, but it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t the rules or whether one followed them that made a person good or bad.
I believe with all my heart that all children are born “good”. Or maybe “Pure” is a better word. Clean, unfiltered, dependent on others for their care, but basically, inherently good. There is no right or wrong for a newborn, they live in the moment. And yet, as any parent of more than one child can tell you, each baby is an individual, and their personality begins to manifest very early on.
I don’t know why some children grow up to be bad, and by “bad” I’m not talking about making mistakes, but about truly bad acts that hurt others, hurting others for the sake of hurting, giving pain. I never thought of it as black or white, and while there are some acts that cannot be taken back, and some people who truly do turn out bad, I hold to the thought that it is largely due to outside influences, some kind of mistreatment when they were young and being formed. (and not necessarily by the parents – there are good parents with bad children. Some mental illnesses, of course, can cause breakdowns, but I do think most violent or hurtful people learned it somewhere.
I may be wrong. I certainly know there are people out there that do horrendous things, but I’m not writing to talk about them or even try to understand what causes some to turn bad.
I want to talk about being good, that inner desire to be kind to others, to love, to care. I do think we all have that. It just gets mixed up in society’s mores.
When I was little, I loved going to church. Luckily my parents had found a church that taught love, not fire and brimstone. My mom grew up going to a country church where the preacher constantly raised his voice, and boomed out about how Sin would send you to Hell, and you would burn forever if you didn’t repent, all that stuff one sees in movies and thinks is exaggerated. It’s not. There really were churches like that – maybe still are in some areas.
But the church I went to as a child, always lifted me up, made me feel good.
I loved Sunday School, just as I loved regular school. Story time, but with thinking involved. We were told bible stories, but then the “moral” of the tale would be talked about. I don’t remember any details, just how the stories came alive with meaning. Kindergarten stories were for entertainment. These stories had other connotations, and it was the first time I thought of stories as having any kind of meaning other than the surface one.
When Sunday school was over and it was time for church services, I enjoyed the anticipation, of what I’m not sure. I would sit there in this big crowd of people and just “feel the love”. As people gathered, sitting down here and there, some talking in soft voices, I would stare round me, hearing those low murmurs making what almost seemed like a kind of music. No organs in our church, btw, this music was just the auditory blending of many voices talking low. Once people settled in, the murmuring would eventually quiet, and a slow but solid hush would come over the group. The sense of expectation became palpable – much like being in a movie theater and listening to the murmur of voices quiet as the lights go down and the feature is about to start.
Maybe that’s one reason that, when I was older, I loved going to movie theaters for the afternoon matinees, all by myself. I always went early because I loved the feeling of the theater, and how bits and pieces of conversations would float through the void, then all voices would fall into that expectant hush as the movie was about to start. I never thought about it, but it did remind me of church. In a good way.
Church usually began with a greeting from the preacher, then a prayer from one of the church elders. Then there would be singing – not a choir like in some churches, but all of the people would open songbooks that were kept in the pews, and the song leader would tell them to turn to a certain page and we would sing. Some songs I’d learned in Sunday School, others, I just did my best to follow along, at least until I was able to read and could follow the words that way.
The only hitch was that singing made me yawn. I don’t know why, probably something to do with oxygen intake, but it used to embarrass me somewhat, and I worried that others would think I was bored or tired – when it was just the opposite. So I would sing along and do my best not to yawn. The best of it was just feeling the energy of all those people, all those “good vibes” for want of a better description.
After a few songs and another prayer, the preacher would go up to the podium to give his sermon. My mind wandered a lot during this time. I didn’t understand all of what the preacher would say during his sermon, especially when little – and when I was older, I understood better, but then started questioning some of it in my mind, as the logical part of my mind had problems accepting some of the more literal translations of it. I can’t say for sure when exactly I started questioning, but I was fairly young. Questions about religion were not encouraged by my parents, so I learned not to ask.
But I always loved the energy, the presence of something more than just a group of people gathering together. I loved the feeling of good intentions and desire to do good in life, and the sound of singing and so much more. Even as the doctrines made less and less sense, I still enjoyed going, but more and more I began thinking for myself, seeing that this was just one way of seeing the world, one truth out of many. The God spoken of in church no longer fit my view – to me there was no word that fit what I saw as the incredible clockwork precision in which the universe functioned.
As an adult, I stopped going to church – actually as soon as I was in college, away from home. Church doctrines were too narrow for what I felt to be True. “God” could not be contained in a building, or limited to Sunday worship and daily prayers. I continued to use the term God when in the presence of my parents, because it was their belief system, but in my mind whenever I said it, I changed it internally to be “All That Is” a term which was still defining something that cannot be defined.
The word “God” evolved for me, and was only used to communicate with others who weren’t able to grasp what I had always known, my own inner truth of how reality functioned. I refused to see the image of an old man on a throne, but that didn’t mean I stopped believing in Something. It became more like a feeling of connection to the Universe, something intangible that loses its meaning as soon as you try to define it. So I didn’t try, I just questioned and sought my own answers, and I realized that there were many ways of thinking, some religious, some secular, but that behind all of it was a quest for Meaning. Why am I here, what does all this mean?
I understood on some level that each individual was part of something greater, something vast and indefinable. Whether we were extensions of a Universal Consciousness, or simply the expression of Life in material form, it didn’t matter – I felt that Other, that connection to something that is more than this physical body.
As a child I took comfort in those early visions of a Santa-like man sitting on a throne, sending out his love for all. But as that image dissipated, no longer made sense, I found other ways to see, to envision, or sometimes just touch on understanding the Presence of Something so much more than that which is made up of cells and atoms and smaller and smaller bits of matter. As I stopped buying into the doctrines of the church, it freed me to discover Life with a much broader perspective.
But I don’t regret the church upbringing at all, because it gave me a base from which to start my inner explorations. I felt love on those Sunday church mornings, love, and a kind of power and energy of goodness created by a gathering of people with the desire to live a good life.
And while the questioning, the growing away from the church, was a difficult passage in many ways, especially since I knew my parents wouldn’t understand, I do feel it was a necessary part of my life journey, and part of what made me who I am today.
I never look at anything in my past as being a mistake, or bad or “wrong”. It’s just part of what brought me to who I am now. I may not have always been what my mother would consider to be a “good” girl, but I have always been pure of intention, never purposely harming or hurting another. And I have hurt others, I’m not saying I haven’t, but I have never done so with the intent to hurt.
One of my earliest lessons in Sunday School, one I have tried to stay true to in life (not always succeeding, but at least trying) is a passage from the Bible – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words – treat people like you want them to treat you. I have found that, in most cases, it works. Either that, or they will step all over you. 😉 Which is a whole different life lesson most people have to learn at one time or another.
Overall, I’d say I have been, and still am, good. And I do truly believe most people are also good at the core, if you give them a chance. Life is full of opportunities, and choices. But our choices don’t define us, they are simply a reflection of who we are at that moment in life. There are no wrong choices, and it is always okay to change your mind. I’ve changed my mind more times than I can keep track of. But the core of who I am remains the same. Fluid, evolving, but still Me at the core.
No one can say what happens when the physical body dies, but I want to believe that something of Me will maintain its own unique perspective, continue to exist within the Universal Consciousness or whatever you want to call the All That Is. Maybe it will remain distinct, maybe it won’t. But I find comfort in believing the Spirit or Soul is something that will continue. If I am wrong, there won’t be a me to be disappointed. 😉
Meanwhile, I think I’ll wait awhile to find out. 🙂