Back in the days Before Technology, when I was growing up, we entertained ourselves by interacting with other kids.
The Cold War was going strong and the threat of nuclear destruction loomed large in the news. As did the famine in Ethiopia, which parents used with masterful effect at the dinner table.
Popular music had a lot to say on such matters, too.All in all, it was pretty clear to me that it was our responsibility as a generation to solve problems like world poverty and conflict.
Among other things – such as inventing a prosthetic copper kneecap, so my mother would no longer suffer from arthritis – I planned to become a nun and help the world’s poor. Like Mother Teresa. Only protestant.
I practised by wearing a sheet on my head while reading the Bible on the slippery dip in the backyard.
I may have taken my responsibilities to all humankind a little more gravely than most kids my age, but it must be said, this wasn’t an entirely selfless impulse. In my elaborate imaginary world, my Good Deeds would earn me universal approval and recognition.
Sunday School also instilled in me the importance of being gentle. Should the day come when I was smote on the right cheek, I would be poised to offer the left one for a second smiting.
Or so I told myself.
I had conveniently forgotten that as a five-year-old I threw a piggy bank chock-full of copper coins at my younger brother in response to some pretty low-grade verbal provocation.
Not only was my brother younger and smaller than me, but he had some very definite views about pants – namely that life was much better without them. So, there he stood, small and pantslessly vulnerable as I hurled the piggy (formerly a guest at my backyard tea party) with every hope that it would crush his skull.
This was by no means an isolated incident. In high school, I consistently chose the path of most resistance in response to the merciless teasing of my male friends.
These early forays into violence didn’t go so well for me. The piggy bank episode saw me banished to my room, and my satchel-swinging fury only ever succeeded in escalating the high school teasing. Clearly I would need to curb this ferocity if I hoped to achieve anything Good in the world.
Then, as a 20-year-old, working in a summer job at university, I became friends with a 27-year-old vegan lesbian anarchist who attempted to expand my worldview with a slightly more sophisticated version of the playground What If game.
Her argument made sense, but I couldn’t see how it gelled with my aspirations to be an ambassador for peace. I stowed it in my bank of Important Things to Think About Later.
A year after my refusal to kill Hitler, I made friends with a funny, spunky law student who had an inexplicable crush on her weasel-faced ex.
Weasel Face was pasty and scrawny with unwashed rat-brown hair that straggled down to his hunched shoulders. He worked at Macca’s, but considered himself to be a writer in the mould of Jack Kerouac.
It was a classic you-could-do-so-much-better scenario, but my friend didn’t want to do better. She wanted Weasel Face back.
One night, I was out with a group of extended friends, drinking and talking. As the night wore on, people left one by one. Until I found myself alone with Weasel Face.
I still couldn’t fathom what my friend saw in him, but he didn’t seem so unbearably offensive one-on-one. I stayed and played a couple of games of pool with him. Finally I told him I was heading home, and he asked if he could come with me.
He was persistent.How was it that this worm still held my friend’s heart in the palm of his grimy little hands and didn’t appreciate how very lucky he was?
I knew I had the power to destroy him, and it was a deeply uncomfortable feeling.
The next time we saw each other, it was in another large group at a pub. Weasel Face was sitting at my table, needling a gay friend who was sitting with us.
But as he continued to rant, my hackles rose.
That didn’t look like happening any time soon, and I felt no inclination to argue with him. I didn’t value his opinion, and he didn’t value mine. So why was he trying to cow me with his disapproval?
I really did just want him to stop talking.
I made a surprisingly calm and measured decision.
And his reaction was unexpectedly satisfying.
For a second I was at a loss for what to do. I knew I couldn’t sit back down with him at the table and continue as if nothing had happened. So I picked up my bag and left.
It was in that moment that I finally recognised my childhood ambitions for the fantasies they were. I had never been cut out to save the world through passive resistance.