Naturally, I was left-handed. I never thought about it until I went to school. Catholic school.

Being left was quite alright for me. It was, after all, the truth about me. Then I was introduced to the classroom where I began to learn that I was wrong. Being left was wrong. It was not right. Not at all. So, therefore I myself was wrong. And, slowly I was groomed and seduced into a whole new world. The Greco-Roman world of right and wrong … logic.

Everything in the classroom was either right or wrong as I soon learned through my daily doctrine. In this new world a thing was wrong if it was not right. I lived in ‘the classroom’ for more than ten years before I was allowed to escape after the Leaving Year.

It took me a war in Vietnam and another decade of reading and reflection before I finally escaped from the Greco-Roman logic world of right and wrong judgmental thinking. By the time I had reached my first quarter century I had once again discovered that being left was quite alright for me. And then I began my search for truth about the world. Real truth.

The classroom was formidable but it was never successful in its campaign against my truth. First they set about to force me to change my hand. The force was all but overwhelming as I was still a very small boy. The nun, who called herself a ‘Sister of Charity’, would come very close into my face. Her skin was soft and flawless and her eyes were determined behind her rimless glasses. The rustle of her starched wimple and black robes emitted little puffs, bursts of scent that would startle and repel me. Black robes were mysterious and dark to me then as now. They might even hide a multitude of sins. She would nag me over and over with relentless exhortations to use my right hand not my left. I would quickly switch to get her out of my face and quickly switch back again when she was gone. This went on day after day after day. It was my very first battle of wits.

I don’t know what it was that I was learning but whatever it was it was foundational. Inevitably, it seemed, the arms race was taken to the next level. The Charitable Sister produced, one day, a new weapon. A thick long wooden ruler with a menacing glint for embedded in the edge was a steel blade which protruded just enough to make its presence felt. I had never been stalked before so now I was learning something very new indeed. She would appear from one side of my desk or the other, usually from behind and without warning and crack me on my left hand with the wooden ruler. Shock and awe. Pain and humiliation.

Nun_rulerIn these assaults I began to learn a new lesson. Sister had a twist. A cruel strategy which she had devised for the occasion. She twisted the ruler so that when she cracked my fingers she did it with the sharp edge of the blade. I learned that metal is harder than wood. That the force of thin is greater than the force of flat. I suppose I was learning physics at the age of six and I didn’t even know it. As I nursed my burst winter chillblains I also learnt the basics of first aid as I bound my cuts and bruises in my, perhaps unsanitary, school handkerchief. I also learned how to survive a bully.

After a time, when force was found to be wanting, a new strategy was employed by the enemy and the arms race was escalated to psychological warfare. Branding and exclusion. It was announced to the class that I was an incurable kack-hander (a nasty label that disgusted me then and is distasteful to recall and record even now) and that I must stand and remove my belongings and move to the desk near the door. The shame of it? Not really. By now, I must have reached an early age of reason, because this big Sister Teacher was to be no mentor of mine. No thank you. I knew the truth of it. She lacked fairness. She lacked wisdom. She was not fit. She was an inconvenience to be endured and outwitted where possible. She would catch me left-handed and dismiss me from the class for an hour. Get out! This would happen most days and I soon realised the reason for the desk by the door. All part of the master plan of the threat of excommunication.

Soon I began to devise a strategy of my own. What if excommunication was a blessing in disguise? What if I decided I liked to play alone outside, even in the cold, than to be present in the classroom? Suddenly embarrassment and shame could be channelled into peace and quiet and solitary discovery. I once found a baby dead bird and was amazed at the size of its bright yellow beak compared to its little grey body. I sat and wondered why and figured it out for myself. This early persecution was a turning point for me. By then I was only six but I had learned a crystal clear lesson. Big Religion could be oppressive but it could also be ignored. If they could excommunicate me then I could excommunicate them back. Tit for tat. Yes, I suppose I was learning something, after all.

The lesson on excommunication is about exclusion. It is the opposite of inclusion. I was learning that the Catholic Church seemed highly exclusive and intolerant of innovation of any kind, even to the point of handedness. You’re either right-handed and one of us, or you’re out!

Is that what Jesus would have had to say?