I cried at the ending of The Song of Bernadette. I just sat and wept my young eyes out whilst my elder sister watched on, somewhat disturbed by my outburst.
When I was a child, such outpourings of emotional excess were embarrassing, especially for a boy. It’s a good job that my father had not returned from work or I would have caused him to sigh with exasperation at the thing that he had fathered, the thing that was called his son. I was highly strung, but not high enough to act as warning to others. From my earliest years, I was constantly practicing my empathy, I could put myself in almost anybody’s shoes and walk around in them.
It was some time back in the dark ages that I started to pray to God. It felt like the normal thing to do. I would have been at school by that time and the school that I first went to was a Church of England school whose doctrine was sprinkled over everything we did. Jesus was one of the good guys and so was Robin Hood. Both had a temper but both managed to keep it under control to benefit the greater good. I think that it was from both of these two that I learnt the importance of stealing.
It started with apples. Middle-class housing estates and more established middle-class homes were usually more inclined towards apple-trees. Some of the older houses had more than one apple tree growing in their back garden. One was temptation, two were equivalent to damnation. Climbing over the wall, over the fence, or under the hedge of a middle (or rich) garden was something that was deeded to be particularly criminal.
The act of getting into one of these gardens, without permission, was more than merely trespass, it was transgressing the rule of God that warned you not to venture into places that belonged to your absolute betters. And as such, the penalty for committing such a heinous crime could be very severe. A garden owner would never flinch at the possibility of setting the dog(s) on such criminals, regardless of their size or age.
So it was Jesus saying, ‘suffer little children to come unto me’ that first gave me the idea that Jesus would not have set his dogs on us for merely being attracted to the free fruit on offer in some rich person’s garden. The fruit was free, a blessing from God, and it grew on the tree of knowledge, and it was tempting, but God made it tempting for a reason; he put the tree there to grow fruit that attracted the poor kids from the neighbourhood in order to tempt them into being self-directed and free from the folly of being unthinking followers. Jesus may have well been there proving a leg up to all of us who dared to climb into the forbidden world.
Robin Hood would have done exactly the same and William Tell would have shot the apples off our heads just to show how it could be done with a little bit more style.