Religion, Rebellion, and Rebecca


Religion, Rebellion, and Rebecca

I couldn’t concentrate. The city library buzzed like a beehive under attack. In my irritation, I momentarily forgot just why I was studying here rather than taking advantage of the mature silence and concentration of the university library. Then my reason walked by.

She was the assistant librarian and was easily the most beautiful girl ever to walk the earth. Her name tag told me she was Miss Burton, but that was all I knew about her. She was the motive that had driven me here for the last three nights just hoping for a chance to learn her first name. So far I hadn’t even gotten a “Sh-h-h, you’re in the library” out of her, much less a “hello.”

But I kept coming back, hoping that this night would be better than the last. With zero enthusiasm, I turned to my books, but it was impossible to study. I pushed American History to the side, folded my arms, and gazed at Miss Burton busily working at her desk. Occasionally she would cast a furtive glance in my direction. When she did, I would grin broadly and wink at her. She’d quickly duck her head to hide her crimson cheeks, but at least she knew I existed.

I admired her beauty and grace, but I was equally impressed by her modesty. Instead of wearing washed-out denim jeans and a sleazy blouse, so typical of my friends, Miss Burton was wearing a dress. One that actually came down to her knees! Her make-up was not heavy; in fact, unless you looked closely, you couldn’t even tell that she wore it. Her long hair adorned her head and shoulders like a veil. Her clothes, her actions, her very appearance declared that she was a lady!

It was weird that I should be so attracted to her. I could have passed for her exact opposite. My hair and beard were both shoulder length; I wore an old pair of faded jeans, an embroidered denim vest, and well-traveled sandals; I looked like the king of rebellion—she was the epitome of virtue and conformity.

I had chosen my way of life; she had chosen hers. Our differences stood as an impregnable barrier between us. To penetrate that barrier, I knew I would have to cut my hair and conform to the norms of society. No, I would not put on a suit and tie again, not even for her!

The pencil snapped in my hand. Why was I so uptight over a prudish librarian? Because something in her eyes, in her smile, in her very essence affected me deeply; in spite of myself, I felt I was beginning to care about Miss Burton, and I still didn’t even know her first name!

I wondered if she could ever adopt my life-style. As she stood replacing books on a nearby shelf, I tried to imagine her with kinky, frizzed hair, but it was futile. The Mona Lisa would adjust to that more readily than Miss Burton!

She finished replacing the books and turned to walk toward the desk. Her eyes caught mine; slowly, a smile crept to her lips. As she walked by me, I pushed back my chair and unfolded all 6 feet 4 inches of me. I stood at attention, tipped a make-believe hat, and whispered loudly, “Howdy-do, ma’am!” It was a whisper, but my voice rasped loudly enough to echo through the library, causing her face to turn a glowing crimson. A ripple of laughter flowed through the library, and I sat down with a wide grin on my face.

Shortly after Miss Burton had returned to her desk and the color in her cheeks had returned to normal, a freckle-faced girl, probably about 13 years old, approached her. The girl obviously had not asked the usual “where do I find” question, because Miss Burton looked deep into her eyes and placed her slender hand over the girl’s chubby one. I caught the word rebellion as they spoke with each other.

Quietly, I moved to a table closer to the desk; I was interested in what Miss Burton had to say on the subject. Holding an open magazine as a guise, I leaned back in the plastic chair as far as I dared. I strained my ears to catch every word.

The girl spoke: “I need books on rebellion so I’ll know how to act when I go to high school next year.”

I started to laugh, but Miss Burton’s serious tone told me that she did not think it was funny.

“And you think you’ll stand out in the crowd if you don’t rebel, is that right?”

“Sure! Everybody rebels! Like my sister: she’s at a sit-in tonight at the university because the president won’t make it legal to smoke pot on campus. And my brother. Mom and dad are always yelling at him to cut his hair, and he won’t do it even though it’s almost as long as his.” I could feel her pointing in my direction.

She continued: “My dad is on a strike, and Mom’s always away fighting for women’s lib. That’s rebelling, too, isn’t it?”

Lines of concern wrinkled Miss Burton’s smooth forehead. She seemed deep in thought. At length she spoke:

“When we rebel, we’re being selfish. We want things done our way, and if others object, we rebel. It’s like throwing a temper tantrum. We refuse to listen to the other side of the argument because it might prove that we are wrong.

“It takes courage to do what’s right, especially when it’s easier to do what’s wrong. Remember this: cowards rebel; brave men and women obey the laws and do what they know is right. When something is wrong, though, they have the courage to speak out against the wrong doing.”

I was incensed! I felt personally attacked by the girl I was beginning to care for. With effort, though, I managed to reign in my emotions. Maybe she hadn’t said what I thought. I’d keep listening, and maybe she would clarify or retract her statement that cowards rebel.

The little girl was puzzled. “But were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cowards? They rebelled against England, didn’t they?”

“No, honey, they weren’t cowards, and they didn’t rebel against England. You see, Great Britain was being unfair to the new colonists. She taxed them heavily, but then she wouldn’t give them a voice in government. Had she been fair to them, there never would have been a Revolutionary War.”

This is madness! I tried to stand up. I had forgotten I was leaning back and fell crashing to the floor—pulling my books down with me. Before I realized what had happened, Miss Burton and half of the library’s occupants were surrounding me.

“Are—are you hurt?” she stammered, quickly surveying the disaster area.

“Nah, just a little shocked,” I muttered.

As I untangled my legs from the wreckage, Miss Burton ushered the crowd away. Much to my surprise, she remained.

“Did I say something that surprised you?” she asked.

“You sure did!” I blurted, a little too brusquely. I quickly scanned her face to see if I’d offended her. More gently, I added, “Miss Burton, you’ve got some pretty far out ideas about rebellion!”

She nodded. Her silence urged me on.

“I don’t understand how you can say that rebels are cowards! And then you say that the forefathers of this country didn’t rebel against England! You—a librarian!” I consciously restrained myself from saying any more.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you …” Her voice trailed off. Walking toward us was a gaunt-looking man who could have been Ichabod Crane’s twin.

“It’s the head librarian!” she whispered. She mouthed the word later, squeezed my arm, and quickly returned to her duties at the main desk.

Sitting down again was a painful experience, but the thought of talking to Miss Burton after the library closed served as a local anesthetic to my bruises. I mulled her words over in my mind: “Cowards rebel; brave men and women obey laws …”

She’s wrong! I argued. Just like all the others. It takes courage to be different and to rebel against the mores of society! A coward wouldn’t dare be a “longhair” and storm administration buildings! It takes fortitude to stand up for what you believe in!

An unbeckoned thought crept into my mind and whispered, “But, Dan, what do you believe in?”

“Freedom!” I retorted.

Again it whispered, “Freedom from rules, obligations, and ties that bind?”

I fell silent. I was unable to answer these queries from within. I knew that I had not displayed courage by rebelling; rather, I had taken the easy way out. Home and religion had been too restricting. I wanted to have fun, my way, with no strings attached.

I remembered how upset Dad had been. Mom cried. I hated myself for hurting them, but still their disappointment was easier to bear than the scoffs from my friends. I grew further and further from my family. I acted like I didn’t care, but it really had torn me up, deep inside.

“Cowards rebel! Could she be right?” I asked aloud. I smiled and breathed deeply. I felt as though a heavy yoke were being lifted off my weary shoulders. For the first time in years I felt really free.

I sensed the presence of someone near and turned around. Miss Burton smiled radiantly.

“It sounds like you’ve been having an interesting conversation with yourself,” she said.

“I have, but I’d rather have one with you!”

She smiled again.

“Could I give you a ride home?” I asked.

“I live just a few blocks from here, so I usually walk.” Pause. “But if you’d like to walk me home …”

I responded instantly to her cue, and soon we were outside enjoying the crisp autumn twilight. We walked in silence for a minute or so.

“Miss Burton,” I said at length, “do you have a first name?”

She laughed. “Why, yes, I believe I do. Before I started to work at the library, people used to call me Rebecca.”

“Becky Burton” I blurted. “That’s cute!”

“Rebecca—not Becky.” We fell silent. Then, as if to pick up the strands of the conversation again, she added, “Rebecca was the wife of Isaac in the Bible. Remember?”

I nodded.

“What’s your name?”

“Dan,” I replied.

“Daniel was a biblical name, too,” she offered. “Have you ever read the Bible?’”

“Parts of it a long time ago.” I had not really planned to discuss the Bible tonight.

“You know, Dan, if the library were to catch on fire, I think I’d rescue that book before all the others!” Her eyes were shining. Religion must be an important part of her life.

Sensing that I didn’t share her enthusiasm, she stammered, a little embarrassed. “I—I guess I really shouldn’t be talking about the Bible right now.” Then, almost childlike, she asked, “Are you a Christian?”

Her question knocked on the door of my past—a door that I had carefully hidden away deep in a crevice of my mind. Memory and a deep feeling I hadn’t realized was there answered …

The day was scorching; my sister, Susie, and I waited impatiently outside the church for Dad to pick us up following his weekly golf game. The sweat trickled down my back; Susie’s golden curls were wet and drooping. I remember watching with envy as my friends left the church with their parents. I wished with all my heart that Mom and Dad would come with us to church. I had even prayed about it. But they always thought they were too busy or too tired. By the time Dad picked us up, we were half baked. I was angry at both him and Mom.

Mom had stayed home, as usual, fixing dinner. We sat around the table now, but I was still burning up inside. I detest spinach, so rather than taking any, I passed the bowl to Susie. Instantly, both Dad and Mom were nagging at me, saying, “Take some spinach, Dan! It’s good for you!”

I had reached my limit. I retorted, “Why don’t you come to church? It’s good for you, just like spinach is for me!” Dad struck me, and Mom left the table crying. I ran from the house angry and hurt.

“Am I a Christian, Rebecca?” I asked, as I came back to the present. “Let’s say I used to be.” She sensed my need for silence.

We walked along the dark, tree-lined street; only the crunching sound of autumn leaves under our feet interrupted the silence. I felt so alone in the cold, dark world. More than anything else I wanted Rebecca’s friendship. She seemed so sure of herself, so at peace with herself. I wanted to draw from her strength, to learn from her wisdom. I looked down at my feet, afraid of her warm eyes.

“Rebecca,” I whispered softly. “What is it that makes you so special?”

I could have guessed that she would say it was her belief in Deity; she impressed me as a deeply religious girl. I wondered, though, which religion was to receive the credit for making her so sensitive, tender, and caring.

I pressed further. “What is your religion, Rebecca? Are you Catholic, Protestant, or something else?”

Her lips held just a hint of a smile. “I guess I fall into the ‘something else’ category, Dan. I’m searching for truth wherever I can find it. I discover it in some unusual places. But I can’t help but wonder one thing. Is there one religion that contains all of the truth?”

Her question pricked me deeply. Her eyes were searching mine, imploring. I looked away—my past blazed before me. Silently, I bowed my head and prayed. I hadn’t done that in years! After a long moment, I returned her gaze.

“Rebecca,” I slowly began, “what do you know about the Mormon church?”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann