by Jane Doe
Mr. Strauss started it in Social Studies class one December day when everyone was thinking of Christmas, not society at any level. I wasn't aware of how little of the lesson I had heard until later that day when Mary and I were alone in the study hall eating our lunches. We were the only ones in our class to bring sack lunches from home. The other kids either ate in the cafeteria or walked to town for candy bars and cokes.
Thus, we were assured of being alone as we sat at our desks with the wrinkled, brown paper bags nodding like malicious growth above the sandwiches and potato chips spread neatly on a paper napkin so nothing messy got on our school work later.
"Did you hear what Mr. Strauss said in class this morning?"
"He said that we came from monkeys."
"No, did he say that?"
"Weren't you listening?"
"I guess not. I sure didn't hear that. It is an interesting idea, though. Where did it come from?"
"Didn't you hear anything? The Englishman, Darwin, had this theory that the world, the plants and animals in it, changed slowly over millions of years, with some species changing faster or slower than the others. That's why, he says, there are many different kinds of dogs or flowers. The worst thing this man said was that man descended from chimpanzees."
"That doesn't make sense. That can't be. On the fifth day God made the animals and on the next day he made Adam and Eve. There is nothing in the Bible about monkeys."
"Right. That is what makes this man's theory so dangerous. It's against the Bible.
"Are you sure you heard it right?"
"I guess I didn't listen much this morning. I'll ask dad tonight what he knows about it. He's a deacon in the church so he should know!"
"I'd like to look it up in the encyclopedia right now. There might be something there." There was. We read it together, word for word. We forgot to finish our lunches an unheard of occurrence for the two of us. Finally, we felt we understood what Darwin was trying to say. I couldn't believe that Mr. Strauss would tell us about things which disagreed with the teachings of the church. That night I asked dad.
"Dad, in school we're studying a theory by an Englishman named Darwin. You know him?"
"Not personally." Dad was a book keeper. He believed in being precise.
"I mean, do you know his theory?"
"You mean the one about men descending from monkeys?"
"Yeah, that's him. Do we believe that?"
"What does it say in Genesis?"
"Something very different! Are both right? The Bible and Darwin?"
"I think one has to decide to believe one or the other."
"Which do you believe, Dad?"
"I know what I believe. You read the Genesis account again to decide what you will believe."
I read the creation story again. I found out that God did create the animals AND man on the same day. Was his work a progression? I wasn't sure about anything anymore.
For all my doubts, Mary came from her talk with her parents armed with pamphlets, notes and many new marks in her Bible. For days we read all those arguments against Darwin. We did as little for our other school work as possible to concentrate ourselves. I snagged one of the freshmen biology books to find Darwin was in that index also. This made Mary even more insistent that we had to fight this evil teaching that was so obviously against the Bible. I felt I didn't know biology or the teacher well enough to start a big discussion with him about it. Mary said we should go to Mr. Strauss. He had started it.
The idea of talking to Mr. Strauss on any subject made me feel all hot and cold, sweating and chilled at once. I was reading Shakespeare at the time and he said it so right with his "hot ice" and "cold fire."
Mary was adamant. Did I believe in Darwin or the Bible? The Bible. Was I her friend or not? I was her friend. If she wanted to argue with Mr. Strauss about Darwin, I would, of course, help her.
The next day when history class was over, Mary went to his desk where he was gathering up his papers. As she talked, he continued sticking papers in books, snapping them shut, stacking them into a neat pile. With the pounding of the school's out feet I couldn't hear what she was saying, but she had that look on her face of earnestness and one hand rested on her corduroy bag. I figured it had to do with Darwin and Genesis. I saw Mr. Strauss looking into his corner that made him smile. I felt I should go help Mary with her defense, but I stayed rooted by my desk with my hand on my social studies book. As the mumbling roar of school's out feet passed by me to be swallowed up by the halls and spit out the doors, I could hear Mary saying, "But Mr. Strauss, how can you teach something that is so against the Bible?"
"A-hem, I can explain it to you, but I haven't time now. Are you free the fifth period tomorrow?" Now that it seemed we'd be getting an invitation to see him alone, I began inching forward toward his desk on the other side from where Mary stood. She looked at me for agreement. "Yes." "Then come to the freshman home room. It's empty then."
"May Jane come, too?" He was half way out of the room when he made a sound of approval in the back of his nose. Mary was jubilant. I was in turmoil. All evening my mind skipped from Darwin to Moses, from Annie dangling in Mr. Strauss' arms, to trying to decide what to wear the next day.
I couldn't sleep. Insomnia was a new experience for me – I was the one who buried her troubles in the mattress. I learned a lesson in the hell of living alone in the night.
I found how it is when the whole house sleeps and just one object is awake watching. All the senses play at being the other. One smells sounds, tastes words and feels visions. You think words that roll around on your tongue, leaving a taste that goes out your nose to forget to go in your ear. You don't know if what you are receiving from the walls are smells, lost words or the taste of the plaster and the paper. All the impressions gang up on you, coming in such a rush that there is no time for sorting them out so they go onto the proper holes. It's like you are the merry-go-round and they jump on you when they can, regardless if the feeling should ride a horse or the swan.
Spinning, the room becomes a carnival. The forms of well-known furniture advance and recede become screeching, whirling joy rides. Knobs become eyes, handles are fiendish grins, drawers are gapping mouths. Evolution made revolutions in my resolution.
If something as static as furniture can change so drastically from evening to night, what could animals do, reproducing from year to year?
The answer from Genesis drifted by. "Brought forth abundantly, each after their own kind," "And the evening and the morning were the fifth day." and "And the evening and the morning were the fourth day."
Why did it say "the evening and the morning"? Why not "the morning and the evening were the fourth day?" Did God create the world, not in six days, but millions of lighted nights? In the night did plants and animals change as my furniture did? I felt ill. I needed someone to talk to. Mother and dad were asleep downstairs. Where they aware of what was going on? Should I wake them to tell them what I was doubting? Myself and what I thought I knew, was changing into unknowns. Would my parents know me with such thoughts?
Instead of waking them, something that was not to be done, I took a hot bath. When the sound of the water stopped running around the cold bathroom, the sound of the wind blowing outside took up the tune. After lying in the hot water until it turned cold, I got into my flannel pajamas which had absorbed a new warmth from the radiator. As I buttoned up the tops, I looked out the window. What had been a frosty evening had become a white night. It was snowing. Millions of whited nights. Could nature make other changes as drastic, and as quietly as snow? Or must the wind moan? I wished my birthday was over so I'd have something new to wear tomorrow to see Mr. Strauss.
We went into the empty classroom. Empty of students. Full of Mr. Strauss. He was sitting in one of the pupil's seats. I thought that to be a nice gesture from him. Evidently, he wasn't going to play teacher with us. Mary took a seat beside him. I sat behind Mary. Here I had a good view of Mr. Strauss, but for him to look at me, he had to make a quarter turn. I still wasn't satisfied that wearing my green corduroy high waisted skirt and beige sweater had been the right choice.
Mary started off going from one argument to the other with such force and precision that I felt very proud to have a friend like her. I knew everything she was going to say, so I only half-listened in order to use this opportunity to observe Mr. Strauss from such an intimate distance. He leaned back in the seat, stretched his long legs into the aisle. Mary was sitting sideways on her seat. Her primly tight pressed together knees pointed toward Mr. Strauss. I sat forward in my seat, the edge of the desk biting into my waist, my elbows rubbing in the sticky varnished wood, my chin in my hands.
Mary went on and on. I didn't know she had so much material and so many arguments. I say arguments. She saw them as arguments. Mr. Strauss didn't answer or discuss or debate or correct any of the points. I was surprised, because a couple of them sounded a little shaky even to me, and I was on her side, and certainly not as intelligent as Mr. Strauss. But he didn't say a word. He just let her talk on. He rarely looked at Mary or his smile corner. He seemed most interested in the tip of his shiny black shoe. Once in class he had mentioned being in the army. His shoe still looked military. Was it here he leaned all this Darwin stuff? Probably not. More likely in the university in Bloomington.
Mary was still going on with her points as she kept calling them. Her voice was getting tighter and higher. More pointed, I thought. I felt she had said enough. I felt Mr. Strauss felt he had heard enough. But she went on. I didn't have to say a word. My job was just sit there. As Mary went on and on and on, now, beginning to repeat herself, just sitting there became as hard as having to say something. Finally, Mary's voice was becoming a squeak. Before it quit on her altogether, she gasped out breathlessly, "What do you say to all of this, Mr.
He filled us with his face. He was smiling one of the warmest, friendliest welcomes I had ever seen. I sank into that smile. I didn't care if he tore into a million pieces every one of Mary's points. I swam, I sank, I floated, I dived and cavorted in his smile. I wanted to stay forever in this magic moment. "Don't speak," I prayed, "don't let any words wash away that winning, warming curvature of his lips."
"Mary," he began in a low voice – such a contrast to Mary's hysterical speech, "Mary, the world is very large. It is bigger, wider, richer, poorer, deeper than any one of us can comprehend. Any theory is a bucket of drops out of a whole ocean. When one understands this, you can no longer say this bucket contains the whole ocean and that bucket of drops is not ocean."
"Are you saying the Bible is not true?" Her voice was trembling.
"No, I am not saying that. Your bucket of drops is as much pure ocean as Darwin's, but neither of you is great enough to carry the bucket that holds the whole ocean."
He waited the width of a silence.
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Yes, I think there is enough there for you to think about." He sat up to lean on his desk. He turned a fat ring with a blue stone in it on his finger. It wasn't a wedding ring. He didn't wear one. It could have been a fraternity or college class ring.
Taking a deep breath of our discomfort, he said, "You have study hall this period? It's only a few minutes until the bell, you can go get your books for the next class."
Walking with Mary down the deserted halls, I, alienated, dissolved the dream of going to her college to learn to be a missionary in the Kentucky mountains. In the case, Bible versus Buckets, buckets were winning.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010