I was born with a sense of guilt and responsibility. Guilty because I felt responsible both in the way of being accountable, and in the way of doing things that a good kid never does. No one ever told me whether I spoke early, or late, or in full sentences, but I understood adult conversations. Even as a little kid, I remember sitting in corners to hear big people talking. In those days, kids didn't enter grown up discussions, questions from a child were frowned upon, and you spoke only when spoken to directly. So I would make myself invisible and listen to my mother, father, uncles, aunts, the maccomere, comperes, the workers. Listen to stories that everyone must have thought too mature for a five, or six or seven year old to understand - about other people's business mostly, gossip, the lives of others. I knew what was good and what was bad, and just having that knowledge made me not good.
My cousin, a few years older, would have long discourses with me about being Catholic. She had started high school - the same convent my mother went to - and joined the Legion of Mary. And to her credit, she earnestly did not wish me to go to hell, the fate that awaited someone outside the pale of the true church. So every opportunity we had to sit in a corner, she told me about sin, and sacrament and redemption, that my salvation would be through the intercession of Jesus Christ, but most certainly through his mother Mary. It's as if the saviour's mother would have more time to see about child sinners like myself. She was persuasive but I couldn't bring myself to challenge my parents' good judgment in raising me Anglican. So I did nothing but squirmed with the discomfort of inaction that could only lead to certain damnation.
I so wanted to be good in the sense that saints are selfless and generous. But I was vain and lazy and acquisitive. I would read "True Confessions" and trashy novels when I should have been cleaning the house, enduring the twinges of conscience as long as it took to read some sordid story of teen sex or illicit relations. I could not reconcile going to church, having faith in God, with losing this sense of guilt. The things I desired seemed always at odds with who I should be, who my parents' child ought to be.
I don't remember exactly when or how I started to shed this overwhelming sense of carrying - more like committing - the sins of the world. How did I learn to forgive myself. By sinning! By opening myself up to the world! Falling in love. Falling out of love. Being headstrong, unorthodox, willful.
There were other moments of absolution. Many of them in nature: the way sunshine filtered through the cocoa trees and made me part of the light. The rain. The sea, especially the sea, where I could lose myself like a drop of water on a wave. Love - from steadfast friends, brothers and sisters and family who accept me as I am; a mate not faultless but who has always loved me, children who don't ask me to change. Most of all from talking myself out of beating up on myself for things that nobody else noticed; or maybe other people were more generous in overlooking shortcomings, and therefore so I should. I dream of redemption. I still long for a quiet mind, a slow heart and freedom from desire.
For the most part now, I know it's not healthy to bear an exaggerated sense of sin and guilt. I hope for my children a conscience that is a guide, not a warden. That they feel good about who they are, and that they know they are worthy and loved.