Sunday school lesson

When I was in eighth grade, a man named Timothy McVeigh was arrested. It was my mom's birthday - she has one of those unfortunate birthdays where terrible things happen, and then other terrible things happen because the perpetrators want to commemorate the previous terrible things.

A few weeks later, our CCD teacher passed out sheets of paper. (CCD is the Catholic version of Sunday school; it was offered through eighth grade in my parish. Most of the people I liked had already dropped out of CCD by this time, and it was apparent that the people who were still there were not happy about it. Perhaps one day I'll tell you about the Great Not-Saying-the-Lord's-Prayer Rebellion of 1995.)

The teachers, a married couple who clearly didn't think much of us snotnosed kids, had decided to keep us busy for 15 minutes by having us write letters to Timothy McVeigh. They explained his reasons for doing what he did, then told us they wouldn't be sending the letters, and we could use profanity if we liked. Looking back, I can see that they thought they were giving us a healthy outlet to express our anger.

The only problem was: I wasn't angry. I was an eighth-grader who didn't really follow the news and didn't know anyone within a thousand miles of Oklahoma City. Of course, I knew a lot of people had died, and I was sad about that, but somehow that sadness didn't translate into anger at the person who had caused it all. I was glad he had been caught and was in jail ... and that was pretty much it.

So my letter to McVeigh was polite and respectful, saying that I knew he was angry at the government, but that killing people was not the answer. It's possible that I suggested alternate courses of action, such as writing his congressperson.

When our time was up, one of the teachers read our letters aloud, omitting names and profanities by saying "blank." The first letter went something like, "You blank. You are a blanking blank, and I hope they kill you and you burn in blank for all eternity, you blank. Signed, Blank."

The second letter was similar - filled with blanking blanks. And so on, times 10 or 15.

Since I had been the last to turn in my letter, it was read last. I had used no profanity, so the only blank was at the end: "Sincerely, Blank."

I knew everyone could tell that had been my letter, and I felt humiliated. It was clear I hadn't understood the assignment. And to this day, I don't know whether my classmates wrote what they did because they genuinely felt that way, or because they were eighth-graders who were being given the leeway to swear in Sunday school.

Sorry for the long, strange story. I was just reminded of it by the letters Amanda Marcotte has been getting.

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