Words, words, words!? I love Calvin’s attitude! Words can really trip you up, and it is important to be sure you’ve got them right.
I was reminded of this on Easter weekend, when the networks again dragged out Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments. Because when I was a child one commandment in particular gave me a great deal of trouble. Number Seven… thou shalt not commit adultery … has ruined marriages and careers, brought down governments, caused murders and suicides, generally created mayhem.
My problem with adultery was both more and less dramatic.
At school we had to memorize the ten commandments, but no one would tell me what number seven was all about. If I asked my friends, they giggled… if they knew, they weren’t telling, and if they didn’t know, they weren’t letting on. The nun in charge of the catechism class on one occasion gave me the “how dare you interrupt with impertinent questions” response. Another time when I got brave enough to ask another teacher, it was the “don’t bother your pretty little head about things you don’t need to understand” reply.
But I figured it out. A grownup is an adult! Thou shalt not behave like a grownup! All the grownups were sinners on their way to hell! All of them!
This was perfectly logical.
Think of all the things adults could do that children were not allowed. They drove cars and trucks, smoked tobacco, drank liquor and beer. They stayed up late, and sometimes even went out after dark. They played poker and a game called bridge. They had money. They could raise their voices and even swear. Sometimes they hit children or hollered at them… behaviour banned to children who would be punished for doing the same thing! They read newspapers and complained about mysterious things called “unions” and “strikes”.
The adults in my life were obviously committing adultery on a very large scale, but it was secret, a taboo subject. Of course it was, because no grownup would admit to being an habitual sinner, a mortal sinner, condemned to hell. Or that such a fate was waiting for that worried child, inevitably, in just a few years. The only alternative was to die young!
It gives a whole new dimension to the song from Peter Pan, I Won’t Grow Up! The Disney animation dates from 1953.
Eventually I learned that fornication was not a holiday in Europe, that promiscuity was not a sin of broken promises, and that phallic did not refer to autumn! When I was in grade thirteen I had enough money to buy a good dictionary and I learned how to use it. A Webster’s Unabridged… all 2200 pages… sits open on a book stand beside me. A day rarely passes that it is not consulted.
A funny story? No! It was quite traumatic at the time. When I finally found out the truth my reaction was “Oh, is that all!?” Not nearly the big deal I had thought it was… a man cheating on his wife, versus the eternal damnation of every soul who reaches the “age of adultery”!? No big deal!
When… and how… did you find out? When I asked my friends they said they couldn’t remember. But then, maybe they didn’t have to memorize the commandments when they were ten years old!