The Uphill Battle, part 2: D&D Made Me A Pagan

Well, not exactly.  But it’s a great title, no?  D&D certainly was one of the first in a long chain of dominoes that got me started, though.  The first might actually have been Tolkien- “The Hobbit” made my head explode in exactly the right way- but the Professor has been tagged way too many times for that already.

Anyway, a whole bunch of things happened to me in a fairly short time period: puberty, my discovery of fantasy literature and fantasy roleplaying games, and the beginning of middle school.  This also began a fairly unpleasant period of my life.  My school was named after Edgar Allen Poe, and I think I would have preferred being in one of his tales to the cruelty and bullying of my fellow students.

But there was also a librarian who took my new tastes seriously, and pointed me in several interesting directions.  One was Andre Norton– whose stories often had heroes who were bookish, unassuming, and not terribly physical.  Then there was Susan Cooper, whose The Dark Is Rising series presents a world where ancient British and Welsh myths lie just under the surface of the land, where an ordinary adolescent boy could have a special, magical destiny…

Fantasy literature and D&D both got me interested in real magic. No, not like that (though it might have made life a lot more… interesting for some of my tormenters if it was).  Shortly after my beginning high school (not much better than middle school, really) I joined a RPG club that met at the library- the central library for the county, as a matter of fact.  There were some books there on magic, though mostly the lurid kind of stuff that had been published in the 1960s and 70s.  Still intriguing, though…

My interest didn’t help the ongoing situation, though.  Magic was generally presented as dangerous and anti-Christian (I didn’t run across anything to the contrary until much later). And though I didn’t actually practice it, there was still that feeling that my fascination with it was somehow wrong.  Thoughts and feelings could be sinful, you see, and I never felt like I could trust anyone with my secret thoughts- not the priest, not my parents, not anyone.  Oh, and let’s add in puberty and what it inevitably leads to when a lad has a little privacy- something else that was sinful, with no one to talk to about it…

And then I happened across this horrifying thing.

I remember finding it- we were on the Rehoboth Boardwalk, and there it was down on the sand.  I jumped down and picked it up and read it… and was immediately sorry I had.  I had no experience with Chick Tracts, no context at all.  If it had been one of the more specific ones, or if I’d had any idea how ludicrous and lunatic fringe those things were and are, it would have been different.  But it hit me below the spiritual belt.

I don’t have the copy I found- I think I threw it away almost immediately- but I found another, a couple of years ago, and keep it as a reminder.  I’ve also considered that I was meant to see and read it, that I needed that push over the edge- “the only way out is through”.  Not a comforting thought, perhaps, but an interesting one.

So, part of me was convinced that I was doomed, damned to Hell, and part of me was beginning to rebel against that idea.  Add the toxic environment at school, and it was no surprise that things began to fall apart.  I suspect it might be classified as a sort of nervous breakdown- I didn’t flat out collapse, but my grades suffered, I did some foolish things that lost me a good after-school job, and started flaking out in general. My parents were worried.  They didn’t send me to a therapist (we were a single-income family, and I doubt such a thing was covered on my Dad’s insurance- this was 1980, more or less), but our family pediatrician, Dr. Kelly, graciously and generously offered some evenings after hours to see if he could help.  A great choice- someone who had been my doctor all my life, objective, trusted.  I’m not sure how much concrete help he gave me, but just someone to talk to (even if we only skirted my issues), someone who took me seriously…

As in so many things, though, the major work had to be done internally.  I wrestled with the problem, hounded it (or vice versa) to the sticking point, and then the revelation came through, late one night:  I wasn’t part of the Catholic faith because I didn’t have faith.  I didn’t believe.  And I didn’t want or need that faith or belief- as a matter of fact it was harming me to try to have it.  There was nothing there for me- no way, no truth, no life.

My romanticized recollection of that moment was that I let out a sigh and turned over, getting my first good sleep in weeks.  It wasn’t that simple, of course, and I struggled with doubt for some time.  But there was instant relief and calm, if not peace.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kate
    Jun 26, 2013 @ 16:15:31

    *listening*

    Reply

  2. Trackback: Dealing with my Catholic past | The Words Swim, Waiting

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