“Sole Survivor” by Rev. Paul J. Bern
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From that day forward, the relationship between my adoptive father and myself was continually adversarial.
My parents both became nearly impossible to please, and I absolutely hated school anyway, so there we were at an impasse. They were always insisting that I get better grades, and I would respond by doing just enough work to get a passing grade. So every so often I would get another whipping with a belt, particularly around report card time. Sometimes it was because I had a lot of behavioral problems at school, other times it was for an unsatisfactory report card, and once for going over to the house of someone I knew from church to listen to their Beatles records (the Beatles were a very big deal during this time). I remember one day I just sat in my room after enduring yet another beating – I don’t remember what it was for but that no longer matters – and cried to the point of sobbing uncontrollably about my whole situation. I was saying, “Why me, Lord? Why does it always have to be me that gets beat with a belt? Is my whole life going to be like this? Is there no way it can get any better?” It was at just that point that I heard what seemed like a soft, low voice. Although not audible in the human sense, it was just barely audible deep down from within me, and it said, “You can’t possibly imagine the things I have in store for you”. I did not realize it at the time, but I had just had my first encounter with the true God. Although I understood the words well enough, I failed to grasp their meaning because I was only about eight years old. But I have always remembered what happened when I was alone in my room that day.
The next time I had an encounter with God – which interestingly enough never occurred when I was in church – was about a year later. By this time the abuse that had been going on had gradually gotten worse. The animosity between my parents and myself had grown a lot right along with it, and the beatings had become more frequent. I remember hating not just my parents, but my entire family situation as well as detesting school. Quite frankly, I was bored nearly to the point of insanity with school. Second grade was a rehashing of first grade, third grade a rehashing of the second, and so on, as if we needed to learn everything twice in order to grasp its meaning. I have heard some talk and read on the Internet about the “dumbing down” of America primary and secondary schools. Well, this has been going on ever since the 1960’s at least, and probably even before that. It’s just that no one noticed it at first because it began so gradually. To this day, education reform has been one of the causes I have undertaken in my adult life.