When I was maybe five or six, I had a dear friend named Theresa whose parents were from Italy. We hung out for most of the third and much of the fourth grade.
Often, after school, she'd invite me to her house for milk and cookies, and before indulging I'd go wash my hands. Her family kept the bathroom immaculate, as I recall, and the towels were always folded perfectly, but one thing could always be found hanging from the shower rod -- a pair of behemoth bloomers. They looked to me to be about the size of Alaska, and I recall asking Theresa who wore those bloomers. "My grandma," she said rather sullenly.
One day, I went to Theresa's house, and her grandmother opened the door. I wondered why I hadn't seen her at school lately. Her grandmother said "she now goes to parochial school." "What's that?" I asked. "That's where all good Catholic girls go." Somehow, I felt like I needed to wash my hands better or something, so I could go to parochial school. It seemed to me, back then, admittance into that parochial country club came about as a birth right, and not a rite of passage.
That day, I made up my mind never to practice religion of any kind. It was religion, after all, that cost me my best friend. Religions seemed to me a way of separating people, and in the aftermath of the eighth anniversary of 9/11, it doesn't look a whole lot different to me now.
I wandered down the street, and past Woolworth's. On the left-hand side was a barbed wire fence. It was a tall fence, and too steep to climb. A group of children were playing in the schoolyard, and there was Theresa. She ran over to the fence to say hello.
All I could see was her spanking clean uniform. It was rather daunting. I smiled, and wandered off. Somehow, I knew I'd never see her again.
I hadn't thought about bloomers, barbed wire fences, and parochial school until just now. Now I find myself thinking about those who think legitimacy is about wearing a clean uniform, and who keep us separate in the name of a greater good, or a greater god.
The only thing I found divine, back then, was the wonderment at what kind of creature could walk the face of the earth in a pair of bloomers that big.
Now, when I think of all those who try to pass themselves off as righteous because we don't go to their church, or their country club, because we don't have a pedigree, and because, more than anything, we just want to have milk and cookies, I cringe.
The America we want to leave behind is not one that houses extra large bloomers, or late bloomers, not one that separates children based on race or creed, but one that encourages a look at what unites, instead of what divides us.
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