Social bigotry and blind-faith hypocrisy exposed
Their teacher was late. Ricky Doucette leaned back in his chair; his gaze fixed upon dust particles shimmering within a shaft of sunlight angling into the room— like billions of stars of a micro-cosmos, he mused, imagining the earth as a mere spec of matter within the grand scheme of the universe. Ricky slipped deeper into supernal thought when another notion pervaded his mind. Why is Mr. Alvarez teaching this religion class; a layman who doubles as the school's Spanish teacher when the faculty is filled with so many Marist Brothers?
Ricky was a sophomore at Sainte-Beuve Academe, part of an old and stately Cathedral complex in Quebec City renowned as a prestigious boarding school for high school boys. Though grateful for the opportunity, he knew his scholarship wasn’t offered as a charitable gesture for the poor. Nor was it intended to introduce his kind to pious enlightenment, but rather his parents were cajoled into enrolling him after it became public knowledge the Montreal Canadiens had secured his future contract when only thirteen at the time. No doubt the faculty relished the publicity, let alone of having landed this budding superstar for its varsity team.
Only wish I could be living at home instead of here, he sighed. Thoughts digressed to his parents whom he respected and adored. His father was a humble sawmill laborer with only a grade-school education, but what he may have lacked in academics, he was long on common sense and moral fiber. His father was especially proud of his roots tracing to one of the original French settlers, and like many of them, he chose to ignore the social stigmas that came with taking an 'injun squaw' for a wife. Few knew or even cared she was a Royenah, the most revered matriarch within the Souriquois tribe of northern New Brunswick. Ricky, too, grew up proud of his Acadian heritage, though he leaned more toward favoring his mother’s Native ideologies than local ministries.
Ricky's pensive mood shifted to the more insolent times of when he and his family had often been the target of public derision, maligned as rural riffraff living in a four-room shanty in far-eastern Quebec. In his freshman year at the Academe, whether out of jealousy or juvenile banality, a clique of preppy schoolmates had resorted to snubbing him as 'the half-breed from Chaleur Bay.' Despite such personal affronts, pride of his family prevailed, bound by an unwavering sense of self-esteem that was beyond the reach of callous tongues.
Ricky found comfort recalling poignant moments of home, especially of how he and his father relished listening to his mother's tribal stories during blustery winter nights. He cherished the closeness as they sat by the warming hearth in silence, captivated by her dignified features aglow from the firelight as she recounted tales of when the first settlers came ashore.
“White men came as strangers," she said, "yet my people welcomed them in peace under the Tree of the Great Long Leaves." She referred to the sovereign symbol of the Iroquois League of Nations, a vast and powerful confederacy of her ancestors at the time. “If not for my peoples’ compassion who willingly shared their food and shelter, the invaders would surely have perished during the first winter.” She’d then tell of how the Jesuits soon followed, "hell-bent on converting us, 'the New World pagans, they said."
“Humph, they did more harm than good," she emphasized. "Soon, the white man corrupted tribal customs and ignited much fighting. My people were used and despised, even murdered for no more reason than being labeled 'a primitive heathen.' Ha, and they called us primitive,” she’d challenge. Her posture would stiffen when citing: "Our Book of the Great Law may be no more, but our primitive wisdom has never faltered. It shall always survive, secreted by the nemgayo dyan ju— those of the higher will who keep it silent.”
Ricky's genteel grin remained, trusting instincts that opened his heart to her words. Though born Catholic by paternal default, he and his father chose to embrace many of her Native allegories as insightful truths. They were convinced much of her traditional lore mirrored fundamental constants fostered by ancient creeds as well as modern world theosophy's. Ricky firmly believed in his mother's contention that to achieve piety, one need not convene at a communal place— a building or shrine where many go to worship, even if only as a public display of faith; to curry approval from neighbors or the clergy.
‘Mahog ga kootchik na ho tah,’ he remembered her teachings. She said that by virtue of birth, man is already a divine being; a sacred state of existence that segregates him from other life-forms; infused with a soul, a will, and an intuitive intellect to know right from wrong. All he need do to attain divine harmony is to be it— pure and simple. Ricky's ruminant mindset was suddenly displaced when Mr. Alvarez rushed into the room.
“Sorry I’m late, boys. I’ll be with you in a minute,” he said, dropping his briefcase atop his desk. “Open your text books to Chapter Twelve, the lesson on Parables,” needing a minute to neaten test papers hastily collected from a previous Spanish class.
“Okay fellas, before we begin today’s lesson, let me tell you about a funny thing that happened over the weekend. A couple of them Jehovah Witness dudes rang my doorbell and tried preaching how they were the only ones to be saved. What a bunch of nit-wits, heh, heh,” he embellished with false laughter. “You’d think by now they’d get a clue, wouldn't ya? Well, I set those misguided fools straight. You should have seen the look on their faces when I booted their butts down my driveway, heh, heh. How can they be so dumb? Everyone knows it’s only Catholics that'll be saved.”
All but one applauded with nods and scattered laughter. Ricky’s face remained expressionless watching Mr. Alvarez strut his stuff, dismissing his teacher to be nothing more than a Papal parrot plying his own zealot’s tune upon student lemmings.
How is he any different than the 'misguided fools’ he sent scurrying down his driveway? And saved? Saved from what, Ricky challenged. On what basis does Alvarez presume privileged exclusion over the planet’s diverse billions? Each likely a devotee of some form of “ism” nurtured from Gnostic ground they consider just as sacred, many of which were cultivated millenniums before the word Catholic was even invented?
His mother’s beliefs seemed all the more absolute when recalling yet another profound, but simplistic precept she had taught him. “Ki choonah quahog nah hotay,” he mumbled to himself— there can be no religion higher than truth.
Humph, I guess that must make me a dumb, dim-witted heathen, then— hardly, he scoffed. So be it. Ricky remained respectfully attentive but quietly closed his book for the duration of class— and then his mind to Mr. Alvarez forever.