A memoir by David Weale.
“We navigate by stories, but sometimes we only escape by abandoning them.”
The verdict was “guilty.”
Not because of any foul deeds I had committed, but because of who I was. Guilty because I possessed what my mother referred to as a “rebellious” nature. My sentence was half a lifetime in detention.
It might have lasted longer, but in my late forties I was involved in a spectacular break-out and mad-dash for the border – the adventure of a lifetime. The confinement I was escaping involved no literal cells or walls, and the country I was leaving employed no uniformed border guards; however, my incarceration in the fortress of Christian fundamentalism was as real as if I had received a life sentence to Alcatraz or the Bastille, and by that time in my life the guards and sentinels all had been internalized – set in place decades before. Escape proved to be very difficult.
My parents, devoted agents of the heavenly Warden, informed me early of my guilty status, and thereafter spent an enormous amount of energy coaching me about what I would have to do in order to be, at last, pardoned. In the end, it must have seemed a cruel and confusing experience for them when they realized I had bolted, leaving behind much of what they had taught me about deliverance. What had become for me a place of detainment remained for them a safe-house, which made my departure seem to them an act of reckless ingratitude and betrayal. “How could you do this to us?” they asked, and I could see the question in their eyes until they died.
The great escape was harrowing and left me standing dazed and bereft amid the wreckage of what had been demolished; a lifetime in ruins. Some of what lay around me was salvaged and incorporated into the new life I would build, but Humpty Dumpty would never be put back together again. Yet, there is nothing in all of this I regret, just a story I feel I must tell: the story of a boy and his rigorous induction into the small, blinkered world of his parents’ religious conviction; of his fall from grace; and of his re-formation.
Happily, this is also the story of a child whose joy it was to explore with bare feet and naked eyes the fields, woods and shorelines of wonder, encountering scenes that would become a source of inspiration in his life, and ultimately the ground of his deepest, most profound knowing.
My understanding of fundamentalism – an understanding that will inform this entire work – is that it is a state of mind born of the psychological need to be certain, and to hold at bay the fear and anxiety – and the experience of chaos – that accompanies doubt. Feeling secure may be the deepest desire of the human heart, and the world is filled with humans who can only feel safe if they believe themselves to be completely in tune, and everyone else off key. It’s why, in addition to religious fundamentalism, the world is also filled with political, economic, academic, scientific and all manner of other fundamentalisms. In each instance one discovers the overwhelming, even pathological, need to be right, and to be a member of the righteous group, which is surely the dark side of our tribal experience as a species. Indeed, I believe it is not off the mark to call it a ‘certainty addiction.’
David Weale is an Island writer, social historian and storyteller, and the editor and publisher of RED magazine.