Dogs in the Library


irosary (2)When my two boys were between the ages of 5 and 10, I took them to the Washington Zoo. We were making our way around in good time until we arrived at  the gorilla gazebo. Through large thick panes of glass you can watch the gorillas doing all those disgusting things that gorillas do without any embarrassment at all. My sons were intrigued. “Wow! They’re just like us, Mom.” I could not  get them out of the gorilla gazebo for all they really wanted was to go in there with the gorillas and mess around with them for awhile. It would be just like home. There is no doubt in my mind but that a mother of a couple of boys figured out our origins long before Darwin ever came along.

When my youngest son was a freshman in high school, and he was studying Earth Science. Astronomy was the first unit in the textbook,  and  big bang theory is presented. However, the  first assignment -before reading the chapter-  was to research any religion’s account of human origins and write an essay about it. The students were encouraged to go further than Christianity and Judaism, as most of the class was already familiar with those accounts. This was an interesting assignment for the class, and a great way for the teacher to initiate a dialogue between parents and children about the foundations of their particular faith. Once that assignment was done, she moved on with her astronomy lessons. Obviously, my son was in very good hands in his Earth Science class.

But I had to ask myself – what were my hands doing? This is because I did not understand the parent who expected school to undertake a child’s spiritual education. Putting the Ten Commandments up on the wall next to the DARE poster is not going to make children drug-free church-goers. It takes much more than that. I spent K – 12 in Catholic schools where I learned a lot about religion but, sorry to say, very little about faith. Those lessons were learned from watching how my parents went about raising their seven children.

When I was a teen, a close friend of our family died. She had been my father’s first secretary, and she had never married. My parents included her on all major holidays and other family occasions. A few months after her estate was settled, I was flying somewhere with my father when he took a silver rosary out of his pocket and put it into my hand. The rosary had belonged to this woman, whom we  all called Aunt Madeline. My father did not say much when he gave me this gift, but I understood that for him his faith was manifested in that rosary of Aunt Madeline’s, and he was passing it on to me.

At the time, I did not understand why he was giving it to me. Why me? He had six other children who needed as much help (or even more, I remember thinking at the time) as I did. It is one of my life’s little mysteries However, over the years, I have managed to hold onto that rosary  just as I have managed to hold onto my faith.

Many of the larger mysteries of the world which surround my son were explained to him in his Earth Science class that year. For example, During that semester, he brought it to my attention  that Jupiter is a ball of gas. Boys are intrigued by gas in all its forms. But even with all the knowledge in that Earth Science textbook, so much of our world remains a mystery, as mysterious as faith itself. As Northrop Frye, an eminent professor of literature, puts it, “… we are all in the position of a dog in the library, surrounded by a world of meaning in plain sight that we don’t even know is there.”

In my house we are not so much dogs in the library as gorillas in the gazebo. It is a long haul from the gorilla gazebo to – well, I am not sure exactly where this process of raising children ends, but I did know my husband and I were not there yet.  I also knew that we could not do it alone. And neither could his Earth Science teacher. So many would have a hand in this.


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