My first three years of school, I went to St. Patrick's School in Charleston, S.C. We rode a bus every day from the Air Force Base to downtown Charleston. It was across the street from the Cathedral, which inside had an elaborate white altar that must have been three stories high. One time I went to a High Mass, sung in Latin (this was before the Mass was changed to the vernacular). It was beautiful. I can still hear the chants, and see the priests in their beautiful robes holding up gold chalices and bronze censers with aromatic smoke coming through the openings.
I loved the rituals of the Church although I had little time for the dogma. Even in first grade, I remember thinking to myself as the nuns told us about the Immaculate Conception or Purgatory, "I just have to spout this back to them and when I grow up I can believe what I want." When I was in second grade, during Lent, I went every day across the street to Mass. One time I missed some kind of special event where everyone got to get a present out of a grab bag, and they let me get something later because I'd been faithful about going to Mass.
But not too long after that, my faith was shattered and although I stayed with the Catholic church for a while, it was never the same.
Every year there was a Mass on the first of May, in celebration of the Virgin Mary. One girl got to carry a basket of flowers down the aisle and lay them at the feet of her statue. And they chose me to be the Queen of May. I was ecstatic - I would get to wear a beautiful dress and carry beautiful flowers and be part of a beautiful service.
And then just a few days later they told me. I couldn't be the Queen of May because I was one of the "military kids" and they wanted one of the "town kids" to be the Queen of May. I was just a seven-year-old girl, what did I know about townies and military brats? But somehow some snob wanted one of "their" kids to be the Queen and I got kicked out.
I was devastated. I still even now get tears in my eyes and a sinking feeling in my stomach thinking about it. How could adults who were supposedly people of God treat a little child like that? How could they so uncaringly inflict that kind of pain? How could they be so cruel?
My tears and my pain faded, but I believe in that moment I became the person I am now, who cannot abide cruelty and unkindness. It is also the moment that I knew that faith and Church are two different things. While today I am still a person of faith, I am not a person of Church.
I do, however, still love flowers and I still love the month of May.