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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

November 2-4, 2018

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Published by FFRF

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A letter to my younger self By Kali Richardson

richardson 5thKali received a $500 scholarship from FFRF.

By Kali Richardson 

“I took the [road] less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

Do you remember the first time you took the less-traveled road? You started asking questions that didn’t have answers, around age 8 for Catholic kids. “How do we know God is real?”

Wednesday night youth groups suddenly turned dark, because an inquisitive, skeptical child is not welcome around adults who have devoted their lives to delusion. Do you remember when your mom had to write you a note just so you could check out Harry Potter from the elementary library? Even as a 6-year-old, you thought that was ridiculous. 

Perhaps it was just the Catholics who didn’t have answers; somewhere inside of you a hope grew that maybe you were wrong, and maybe there was an omnipotent Father out there to save you from the monsters under your bed. 

So off you went at age 11 to a multitude of Baptist summer camps that were thrilled to have saved a child from what they saw as a competing religion. Your mother was not pleased. But hey, this is Arkansas. This is Baptist country. (You thought, if it were about saving your soul, wouldn’t she be OK with belonging to any religion?)

A year later you were in sixth grade, going through that emo phase that all of your generation participated in at one point or another, and everything changed. You came out in more than one way, and didn’t know which was worse in that small town — to be gay, or to be an atheist?

At that point the road wasn’t just less traveled by; it had thorns and chiggers and every once in a while, snakes. You didn’t believe in the small town or its religion and it didn’t believe in you.

“It’s just a phase,” they said. 

But it wasn’t just a phase, and in sophomore year you stopped standing up for the pledge. The verbal feedback was amazing. “Do you hate the people who died for our country?” When the words “under God” were discovered to be the cause, it got worse. “Do you hate religion? Are you an atheist?”

Some of your classmates in sophomore biology decided to shout the pledge as if to prove the subtle point that you cannot escape. Your teacher started your unit on evolution with the words, “I know most of us don’t believe we came from monkeys, but the school requires me to teach this, so . . .”

Do you remember weighing the pros and cons of challenging that ignorant statement in your head? Social scorn for a few days, or making what is right known? You were tired of being hated, but corrected the teacher regardless.

Do you remember when someone challenged the Friday night pre-football “prayer over the loudspeaker” tradition? There had already been a Supreme Court ruling, but you didn’t know that. Your school, knowing full well how illegal their activities were, stopped the prayers. The entire school thought it was ridiculous and unfair, but you were secretly happy to not have to pretend to pray.

You pointed out a few times that it was, technically, state-funded religion, but no one else viewed it as that. Everyone seemed to say, “It’s a tradition. It’s our life. Who are you to try to change that?”

You have taken the road less traveled, and it has made all the difference. It gave you the fuel to move to another state your senior year. Being isolated all those years for being an atheist makes leaving pretty easy, doesn’t it? It piqued your interest in stem cells, which led to your pursuit of a science major.

And while you will always cringe when someone invites you to a youth group, you’ll be more than thankful that it’s happening in a different sphere of society than your school. Don’t give up, and always be a skeptic. It’s gotten you to where you are.

 

Kali writes: “I am 18. My hometown is Batesville, Ark., but I moved after my life was turned upside down during junior year. My parents divorced, I developed a major blood clot while attending the Naval Academy Summer Seminar 2013 and my mother remarried. I now live with her in Tucson, Ariz. I will be attending the University of Arizona in the fall and plan to major in biology with an emphasis in biomedical sciences.”

Additional Info

  • deck: Fifth place: High school essay contest
  • byline: Kali Richardson

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