At age 9, I decided to be the first Protestant saint, which would catapult me into a new edition of A Child’s History of Heroes and Heroines. I knew this was a stretch. My Sunday school teachers had been quite clear that Protestantism doesn’t do saints.
There were other challenges. Saint Elizabeth’s first word was “Jesus.” Mine was “Daddy.” She spent her days bringing bread to peasants in their huts. My town had no peasant huts, and my allowance wouldn’t cover armloads of Wonder Bread.
Next, the matter of pain. Saint Joan of Arc in armor looked dashing, but she also pulled an arrow from her breast, shocking even “hardened soldiers.” Then the manner of her death. My father once helpfully advised that if you’re going to be burned at the stake, bribe the executioner to stoke the fire with green boughs so you die of smoke inhalation long before flames reach your toes. Still.
Besides good works like saving France or bringing bread to peasants, mortification of the flesh seemed essential for sainthood, but the options were unpleasant: stoning, stabbing, being pressed or pulled apart, fed to lions, standing for years on towers in the desert or carrying hot coals. I devised an achievable goal of sleeping all night with hands crossed on my chest. Even this I couldn’t do consistently.
That summer I went to church camp. There was much to like: bunk beds in cabins, reasonable food, swimming, hiking, nice girls and sort of ok boys. We made candles and lumpy lanyards for our parents. At the nightly campfire after the inevitable “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” we were challenged to spend one whole day acting like Jesus, a goal up there with standing on a pillar for years. Or . . . for the less ambitious, to concentrate on every phrase of the Lord’s Prayer, thinking of nothing but those words. However the distractions of stars, sparks flying upward and mosquitoes buzzing put even this modest challenge out of reach.
All was not lost. We were to make cedar cross necklaces. The cedar smell was intoxicating and I did well at the sanding. Male counselors did the skilled work of nailing the cedar sticks together and inserting metal eyes at the top. We proudly wore our crosses around camp. But . . . we were to wear them at home, at school, everywhere. They were big on our small chests, nearly 4”. Only nuns wore crosses that large and they, whispered my girlfriends, were “married to Jesus.” At an age in which even kissing had a yuck factor, this was not attractive.
So, bit by bit my ambitions for Protestant sainthood faltered. In the fall, a state-sponsored endeavor to match our skills and strengths with career options suggested that my limited social skills pointed to bee-keeping.
I think this is a terrific piece of writing. In my view, something in limited supply in our world is wit. This writer can produce it. For me, the author’s attempts at sainthood bring smiles that originate deep inside. I think it is a combination of the innocence of childhood and the wry sense of ourselves that maturation brings. Wonderful.