I collect the children from school. As usual my eldest son is disheveled. I sometimes wonder what he believes the purpose of a backpack is in his life? Something extra to carry along with his jacket, homework, lunch pack and other assorted paraphanalia, armfuls of it, together with the backpack. We pause, as we always do, to stuff the backpack with his belongings, zip it up and persuade the backpack to attach itself to his spine. It’s a time consuming little exercise, made all the longer by the excitement of the end of the day, when there is sometimes important information to share, if we could but shrug off all the distractions.
“He…….says I’m gonna go to hell.”
“Hell? Who said you were going to hell? Was he swearing…….was he…….saying bad words?”
“No hell is a place …….where there is no Jesus.”
“Is it by golly! Is that what he told you?”
“Yes……and it’s real small…..with no power……and Jesus always wins.”
“Wins…….sounds a bit like the superhero version of Christian belief.”
“Nothing…….why did he say you were going to hell?”
“I don know. Am I gonna go to hell? Am I gonna die? When am I gonna die? Is hell bad? Is it gonna hurt? I don wanna die, I wanna stay here wiv you.”
“Well different people believe different things.” I watch his body contract, stiffen and diminish into a small hard lump.
I don’t know about him, but I’m ready to die right now. I’m sure there was no evil intent behind what appears to be an innocent exchange between him and his pal. How was his pal supposed to know that certain nuggets of information trigger all kinds of unexpected bombs. It’s an all pervasive virus without a salve. I refuse to allow another bout of OCD to explode on our lives, infest every cranny and bespoil a perfectly dandy holiday season. He watches bemused as I stuff everything into the backpack, with far too much vigour. Punch it into submission. This one will not escape, “well, you’re in luck my fine fellow!”
“Yes, because I know everything there is to know about hell.”
“You’re an……expert….a trainer expert?” His eyes are wide in genuine mid startle mode. I’m sure it is the most delightful facial expression in his ever growing repetoire.
“I am. And when we get home I’ll tell you all about it and you can ask me anything you want.”
Who needs a light saber to defend? I knew 13 years in a Catholic Convent would come in handy sometime.