Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

First Encounter

July 5th, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Just as we are born with a certain DNA of the body, in some way it seems we are also born with a certain “DNA” of soul; i.e. that God hasn’t created an assembly line of identical “souls” to put into varied bodies, but rather that each one of us is totally special, and in a completely unique relationship to God, and to the work which He offers us to do. Although we can hardly fathom the intimacy of God to each soul, and of each soul to God, it seems to be totally original, unique and irreplaceable. Perhaps we best gain a sense of who we are to ourselves when we begin to gain a sense of how God sees and relates to us, a sense of what we do right and in how we repent for what we do wrong, i.e. in becoming aware of and responsive to the protection by that still, small inner voice.

I was in first grade when I first encountered a call to respond to God’s insistent presence within myself, in a moment of need for protection of my soul.  It might also be called a first encounter with conscience, not in the sense of living up to demands of parents or teachers, but in the sense of standing against wrong, however uncomfortable. And, if such a subject is of interest to you, this is how it happened.

As best I can reconstruct, the event I want to describe happened very soon after Christmas, so I know I had just turned six years old. My great delight in first grade was encountering the alphabet, and that words could be made from letters.  So when my mother gave my father monogrammed handkerchiefs for Christmas and, since I had just learned the alphabet, I was entranced by the idea of a monogram! I had the same initials as my father: “DCQ”.  I liked some letters better than others, but my favorite was the “Q.” Not many words begin with or use the “Q” but I liked having a different initial from others in my class.  I learned to make the “Q” very carefully, so it would be a real letter and not just a big number “2.” (Yes, “in those days” we went right to cursive.) So,when I saw my father’s gift, I thought a monogrammed handkerchief would be a very fine thing to have for myself.

To set the stage further, I think the following events must actually have happened during Christmas recess since my father was not home (being at work) and I obviously was on some vacation from first grade. My mother had chores to do, and one of them was paying the bills. She was quite proud, for a woman of her generation, to have graduated from high school, landed a big NYC secretarial job, and married the boss.  When she married she “retired,” and was given the office typewriter, a symbol to her of what she had achieved and of the esteem in which she was held. She enjoyed continuing to use her typewriter at home, addressing envelopes for mailing the household bill payments, and writing cover letters with the proper headings and salutations, whether it was serious business, to family, or just mundane  “To whom it may concern” correspondence.

My mother’s typewriter was a large, shiny black Smith Corona, the kind with the round glass keys that had to be pressed very hard to type anything.  Standing beside her, I watched with awe as she pressed a key, and a letter came out.  A letter of the alphabet just like I’d learned in school!

When she left to go into the kitchen, probably to start dinner, my moment of opportunity had arrived! I didn’t ask permission; I was sure she’d be proud of my also being able to type. Or, perhaps I didn’t ask because something in me knew not to ask a question for which I’d have to obey the answer of ‘no’! All I could see clearly was that it was my big chance to have monogrammed handkerchiefs, just like my father. And surprise everybody!

So I stuffed Kleenex into the typewriter under the roller and pushed it up until it was where the keys would hit, and began to type my initials.  I found the “D” and hit the key hard. It stuck in the tissue. Then I tried the “C.”  It stuck to the “D” and to the Kleenex. Quickly, the roller and platen seized up, the keys stuck deep into the tissue, and the harder I tried to quietly free the mess, the more the Kleenex shredded, the ribbon got twisted around the keys, and I got smeared with ink.  Oh, too bad!  I was wearing my new embroidered dress my mother had made for me. I think I tried to wipe the ink off with the tablecloth or my dress, because it seemed to be everywhere – big black smears across delicate embroidery. Maybe the “Q” to the rescue? No, it got stuck too. While I was trying to at least free the “Q,” a shriek told me that my mother was back in the room, and that I was found out.

I was mortified and scared to death.  My mother was patient with many things I did, an abundance of which made a “mess,” but I guess this was one typewriter too far.  Her typewriter!  As she tried to repair the damage, it seemed to get worse, and she was alternately crying and angry and I was just stricken. She feared her typewriter was lost forever.  “I’m so sorry,” I kept saying.  She told me never to touch her typewriter again. “Okay.” “Promise me.” I promised.  Then, something startling happened, which I know today she didn’t mean as anything wrong. My mother, a convert to Catholicism, said: “Kneel down and tell me you are sorry.”  I froze.  “I can’t,” I whimpered.  “Kneel down,” she insisted.  And I said from some place deep inside myself, someplace I think I had never been before, and which I didn’t know existed until that moment: “I can’t.  I can only kneel to God.”  She stared at me.  Her eyes filled up with tears.  Mine too. Our eyes met, and held. She heard what I said. I trembled in uncertainty as to what would happen next. Then she said, softly, “Okay.”

The most startling moment for me in that experience wasn’t the mess, or my mother’s anger, or my own fear.  It was an “all-of-a-sudden” force from within, a warning, an insistence, a resistance – that something very big was at stake, and that if I had knelt down I would have passed some very dangerous point.  Was it my guardian angel, big and beautiful like the one protecting the little children on the bridge in that classic picture?  Was it God holding on to me?  I may not understand the details in this lifetime, but I have no doubt that this was my first experience of an intervention of conscience, which I had no desire to resist.

God bless Sister Thomas Gregory, O.P., my first grade teacher, who in three months had done a fine job in properly ordering adoration and the alphabet.


Why do I write this now? It’s because of the news stories covering US Congressional leaders kneeling to the Black Lives Matter demands. Their common sense is less than that of a six year old. How could their souls ever be sensitive enough to see how wrong it is to kneel to anything but God, when they vote to kill at birth babies who survive abortion? We can see how, compromising to more and more serious sins, makes kneeling to any force other than God seem like nothing by comparison. Yet there is no comparison. It begins with the first commandment. And such discernment is a gift from God. I struggled with how to write something about the kneeling in the BLM situation, and thought that perhaps I could explain best by sharing this little story, and to pray for continued protection in kneeling to nothing and no one, except Almighty God. Amen?




2 Responses to “First Encounter”

  1. Mary-Kathleen says:

    Excellent illustration, Diane. Thank you for this.

  2. Eliza10 says:

    I love this story. Thank you for sharing it. Not only your Guardian Angel was watching out for you, but your mother’s, for her.

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