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A fart in church

February 6, 2013
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The other day I was having my hair relaxed. It's a long story with an even longer history, but the long and short of it is, I needed a relaxer. Limp and lifeless in August, I decided to give my hair a body perm at the end of the summer. Half way through this winter, I started to resemble a poodle who had stuck her paw in a light socket. As you can imagine, this particular style didn't especially become me.

Anyway, after I had the bonds in my hair broken and reforged by a lovely hair elf, I came back out to the front of the salon for my blow out. Though hard to pry my eyes away from my recently-relaxed reflection, I glanced at the chair beside me and froze in mid blow. There he was, my third grade Sunday school teacher, getting his hair did. 

Now I'd like to say that I extended a greeting, that I offered a hello or a smile or any other Christian form of fellowship to my former spiritual advisor. I did nothing. I said nothing. I stared at his hiking boots, took a look at what remained of his hair (for the record he never really had much) and wondered if he recognized me. After all, the last time he saw me I had my first bad perm, full bangs and a few less teeth. Chances are, I was just some woman who looked vaguely familiar to him, if at all. 

Without conscious thought, I was back in a white room with the cross on the wall and blue carpet. The smell of mint and moth balls filled my nostrils. In my mind's eye, I could see those little orange chairs next to the brown table the boys used to crawl under, and I could hear this loud male voice straining for control as he said, 'Shut up, kids, just shut up!' Snapping back to the moment, I thought about leaning over and saying, 'Why did you tell us to shut up? Really? We were 8. You were supposed to be nice to us!' Recognizing that I hadn't thought about it in over two decades, I decided to keep my comments as inner dialogue. My usually faulty filter was working that day, thank Jesus, Joseph and Mary (if you say the names of the whole family you've turned the swear into a prayer).

I think it was after the shut-up incident that Mr. Anonymous went on sabbatical. Whether he actually went anywhere I don't know. I think he was just done telling the boys to stop climbing under the table and the girls to stop laughing at the boys, but he didn't come back. I remember writing him a post card or a thank you note of some sort, a nice little apology letter for the sins of my class. I told him I thought he was a great teacher, that I was sorry Jason and Jesse spent so much time under the table and that the rest of us found it so funny, that Jesus knew how much we appreciated him and he could expect nothing less than cherubic behavior from us should he ever grace us with his holy presence again.

Well, he didn't grace us. I saw him sporadically in church, and relatives of mine rented out his family's camp during the summers. I had a lot of great times at that camp. You'd think I could have at least thanked him for the use of such prime waterfront property. Some of my best memories from childhood come from scaling the rocks out front. I should have thanked him for that I guess, but I didn't. Instead, I held onto those two words and let the moment pass. I had my hair to ponder and a long ride home to wonder why I never said anything. 

Here's where the story gets good, where I tell you that I myself am a Sunday school teacher. It's a funny sentence to write. I was never planning on offering anyone anything in the way of spiritual guidance, least of all first graders who often seem more interested in my sticker and duct tape collection than the lesson of the day. I can tell you it's as a big as a surprise to me as it may be to you, but when a nun calls asking you what you can do, you don't say no to a sister: Catholic School 101.

So what was eating away at me, you ask? The fact that the boy I spend all Sunday coaxing out from under the table walked by me the other day without so much as a 'hello.' He saw me, I saw him, our eyes met, but when I said 'Hi' he put his head down and kept on trucking. Can you believe that little stinker? Here I am, giving up my Sunday morning snooze-fest all for his enlightenment, and he just blew past me like a fart in church. If you've ever smelt a fart in church, you know no one's going to claim it. You just wait for the whiff to pass and hope no one notices or blames you. You can bet your bippy, he didn't claim me.   

I know what you're thinking. Where do I get off being upset? Hadn't I just done the same thing to poor Mr. Anonymous? What right did I have to feel so slighted when here I am, a supposed grown-up, refusing to make eye contact with my past? When I think about it (if I'm totally honest) I know why my young grasshopper didn't 'Hail Mary' me. He was embarrassed. What could be more embarrassing than seeing your Sunday school teacher in front of God and everybody? What's worse: Admitting that you know them or that they know you? While I've never scolded this boy or told him to shut it, I've still told him to be better. Same deal, different spiel. 

So why am I sharing all of this? I guess because I get it. Because as much as I love those four little kids, as much as I love all my big kids at school, any teacher, heck, any adult understands what frustration feels like. What if all that kid ever remembers of me is how many times I've asked him to climb back up to the table? What if all I ever remembered of Mr. A was that one day when he lost his temper? That's sad. 

And it's not all that I remember by the way. I remember how shy he was with us, what a quiet speaking voice he had. I remember why the room smelled of mint. He smelled minty. He was nice. He was patient. He really was. So, Mr. A, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I forgot Catholic School Rule #1: 

Always say thank you.

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