“Even though there is the whole confession thing, that's no free pass, because there is a crushing guilt that comes with being a Catholic. Whether things are good or bad or you're simply... eating tacos in the park, there is always the crushing guilt.”
- Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on 30 Rock episode 1.17 “The Fighting Irish”
Even though I am an atheist, I’ve come to accept the fact that I will probably be Catholic for the rest of my life. If you grew up in a Catholic, church-going family, you know what I mean. It isn’t about believing in heaven or hell or god. It’s that crushing guilt, the kind that sticks to your bones and your brain and your soul and makes you say, “Oh, I’m sorry!” when someone steps on your toes.
Or here’s a great example. A few summers ago, Dan treated me to a romantic, alfresco Mexican lunch on a sunny weekday afternoon. And as I ate my tacos in the park, I felt guilty that I wasn’t at work. I remember that passing and seemingly mundane moment like it just happened. Needless to say, I was blown away when I watched that episode of “30 Rock”. The two words that best describe this instance of art randomly imitating my life are “sad” and “hilarious”.
I hope to convey those sensations to you, reader friend, through a series of writings about being Catholic and trying to become less so. Even if I’ll always be a little Catholic, I’ve learned that I really can be more confident, less fearful, and infinitely happier if I aggressively attack my neurotic Catholic bullshit (henceforth to be known as NCB). Through countless therapy sessions and many prudent social choices, I’ve stripped away a lot of that suffocating NCB. And since I already enjoy exposing and making fun of my sore spots in my writing, I figure, why the hell not?
Frightened Sheep Mentality
Dan and I were driving home late one night a couple months ago. I was thoroughly exhausted. I had felt woozy and dizzy earlier in the evening, and hadn't eaten anything for several hours. As we were heading back to Ypsi, my appetite returned with a ferocity that could not be ignored. I had to eat something.
There were few open establishments at that hour. Fast food joints were about the only option, so I settled on Steak & Shake, or as Dan calls it, "Stomachache". Even though Steak & Shake is somewhat less disgusting than McDonald's or White Castle, I couldn't bear the thought of a burger and fries at that hour. I just needed enough food to prevent a sleepless night of tummy rumbling.
I stared at the back lit, drive-through menu board for several minutes. Dan recommended the grilled cheese. Granted, it was a relatively light option, but I knew I would ultimately be disappointed by anything served on "Texas Toast". I had to get some fries with that, just for moral support. But I didn't want too much...
Why the Kid's Meal - of course! Just enough fries and baby Sprite to help me digest half of a greasy grilled cheese sandwich. It was all I needed.
But, no. That wasn't for me. I sighed.
Dan could tell I was changing my mind. "Why don't you get the Kid's Meal?" he asked.
I whispered, "But the Kid's Meal is for children 12 and under. Do you think I'll get in trouble if I order it?" I was so worn out that I only thought of the words as they spilled from my mouth, and I couldn't help cracking up. Dan laughed at me, too. And then I got my cruddy mini meal.
Just beneath my consciousness, there's this sensor that knows how very ridiculous these sort of fears are, and it usually keeps me from saying such things aloud. But I think I'm better off when I make my NCB apparent. The only thing worse than feeling guilty is feeling dumb about feeling guilty. At least when I verbalize the fear, I get a chuckle. And maybe, I actually get over the thing that's scaring me.