I grew up long before the controversy
over the constitutionality of religious observances in school
developed, and God was very much present in my elementary school. One teacher I had started the day requiring each student in her class to quote a Bible verse
. We hated this, of course, and I can remember how avidly I combed the pages of the Bible to circumvent her intent. I found the shortest verse, "Jesus wept," and I still remember the last verse, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all amen."
Christmas at school was fun in those days, though, because no one worried about what people would say if we celebrated it. When I was in second grade, as Christmas was approaching, my teacher asked if any one knew, "Away in the Manger." One little girl did, and the teacher asked her to sing it for the class.
"How wonderful!" I thought as I watched her stand before the class and sing it for us. "How perfectly wonderful to be able to do a thing like that!" We learned the song that season, and I secretly resolved to remember it so I could perform as she had done when Christmas came again.
I sang it often to make sure I would not forget it because if I lost a line, I wouldn't have dared ask anyone to help me recall it. Since no one sings "Away in the Manger" in March or July or September, I was always careful to sing it when I was alone.
I used to sing as I hung upside down from the apple tree. We had three apple trees in our backyard. One was easy to climb, one was medium, and one was hard. Even Robert couldn't climb the hard one until he grew older. He preferred the medium one and left the easy one to me. We had a sand pile under the easy one, and I believed that if I did let go when I was hanging by my knees, the sand would break my fall and I wouldn't break my neck. Thus I would hang by my knees and sing clear through "Away in the Manger" softly so Robert wouldn't hear me if he were anywhere around.
Sometimes I sang it when I was going to sleep at night. I didn't like the dark. Robert's room was in the back of the house by the kitchen, and my Great Protector seemed very far away when I was trying to get to sleep in the dark. Alone in my bed, I was sure no one would hear, and I sang "Away in the Manger" through and through. I knew it well by then.
Robert shut me in the closet and locked the door to punish me once. I don't remember what great sin I had committed, but I know I was angry rather than frightened at this treatment. I kicked and screamed and yelled in vain. When I was sure Robert had gone off and left me in solitary confinement, I settled down and did some serious rehearsing on my song. I think he forgot where I was because mother let me out when she came home from work.
The seasons passed and Christmas was again approaching before I realized it. Believe it or not, my third grade teacher asked if anyone knew "Away in the Manger," and I got up and sang it for the class just as the girl had done before! I wasn't even surprised at the coincidence.
I have recalled this incident occasionally through the years and been amused at the happy ending. I have not, until now, realized its importance in my development. How many lonely, difficult situations passed me by unnoted because I was so busy working toward my goal. I hear so much about the emptiness of life and how essentially lonely man is. I have often wondered why I don't feel this way. Is the answer as simple as this? My life is a series of seeking goals which I set, most of which I never achieve. But the striving is fun!