I am sentimental, but I am not a hoarder. I keep my keepsakes at a minimum. I have only three boxes: one for my marriage, one for my child, and one for the first 18 years of my life. My personal box has been condensed time and time again, purged of notes whose meanings I can't remember and ambiguous participation ribbons from the county fair. Very little schoolwork has survived. An art project here and there, a paper or two I was proud of, a few poems or short stories from English classes. It all fits in your standard Lisa Frank super-rainbow-penguin-sunset-extravaganza folder. The best of the best.
But there is one assignment that stands out among the rest. One piece of paper with a newspaper article attached to it. A mere two sentences, a bright red "A" at the top of the paper and two words from a teacher that break my heart.
It is the one thing I am truly ashamed of writing. And I cannot get rid of it.
I remember the assignment well. It was something we did every week in Bible class. We would be given a clipping from a newspaper and write a few sentences about it in terms of morality or spirituality or something of the sort. Put a biased spin on the news. It was ten percent of our grade.
My article was short; apparently the story was barely newsworthy. A man had broken into the home of a local gay couple and shot them to death. He was facing life in prison. End of story.
I wrote that the man who had murdered these men was wrong and deserved his sentence because he had broken one of the ten commandments by murdering. Murder is never okay, but (and even as I write it out again I want to shake my young self by the shoulders, tell her that she doesn't have to say what this teacher wants her to say) the gay couple was also wrong because they were living in sin and the Bible says being gay is wrong.
It is next to the second sentence, the one which in its naive way exonerates a blatant hate crime, that the teacher wrote "Very Good." He underlined it twice. He gave me an "A."
I could have wrote paragraph upon eloquent paragraph about how this man was misguided in his hatred, about how Jesus loved the sinners and embraced the social outcasts. I could have said that no one should be punished for love. I could have stood up for all the students who silently chastised themselves for being different, or as our teacher would say, wrong. I could have done the right thing.
But here's the big problem: I don't think I knew what the right thing was.
My teacher, this spiritual figurehead, a self-proclaimed God-warrior was not a man I admired. But up until a certain point in my life, I believed what he said, because he was my teacher and that was the way it was supposed to work. So while he taught us to hate in the name of God's love I numbly absorbed it, repeated it verbatim, got good grades. I didn't see the real life harm in it. I didn't actually see anyone getting hurt.
I remember when it all stopped. One day on the blacktop when I heard him tell a friend of mine that she was less of a person because she didn't have a father.When I saw for the first time the sharp barbed edges of words uttered beneath the veil of Christianity. When I learned that I would have to decide right from wrong for myself. I started to get failing grades in Bible class and that was okay.
I kept that piece of paper. Every time I found it again, I wanted to throw it away, to hide it's existence. I wanted to burn it and throw the ashes in the face of that Bible teacher for all the gay students who endured his legacy of hate. Instead I tucked it away in the back of my folder time and again. I could not part with it.
I keep this piece of paper, its words weighing heavy on my heart every time I think of it, as a reminder of who I could have been. As a reminder that hate is learned. As a constant reminder that I cannot stay silent and keep my head down while people like my old Bible teacher are still out there raising generations of bullies and victims. As a reminder to myself: to dispel these messages of misguided hate, to remember Jesus as the true figurehead of my spirituality. A reminder to make a difference with love.