Selling My Skull on E Bay
Sister Mary Theresa was an imposing figure of a woman. She would have been even without the penguin suit. Although I couldn’t imagine her without it. She was a giant to me, the shortest kid in class. But, in fairness, she was taller than Father Michael as well and stout enough to fill up most the doorway to the cloakroom when she stood in it. She wore a large rosary as a belt with beads the size of the shooters we used in our marble games on the playground. But the crucifix was the impressive part. A six inch piece of stained maple wood with a heavy pewter Jesus nailed to it. Sister Mary Theresa was my sixth grade teacher. And she loved to swing the crucifix around in a circle as she walked around the room looking for misdeeds on the part of her students while we recited our lessons.
On this particular frigid Canadian winter day, I had my hands in my desk, which had an opening in the rear. I was carefully pulling seeds from a pomegranate and popping them in my mouth when she wasn’t looking. Timing was crucial to my success. We were reciting the times tables all the way to twelves and when she was nearby I had to have an empty mouth so I was loud enough for her to hear me. Usually, she took the same path around the room. But today, she took a shortcut and I didn’t hear her come up behind me. The blow to the back of my head brought instant flashes of light to my eyes as well as intense pain.
“Hands on top of your desk where they belong,” she commanded.
I quickly placed my hands where she told me to. On the one hand, I was lucky she hadn’t caught me eating. That would have led to a visit to the cloakroom and a razor strap applied so vigorously to the palm of my hands that mittens became irrelevant in -30 degree playground. On the other hand, the back of my head throbbed and I longed to touch it but I couldn’t until her attention was directed elsewhere. When I was finally able to access the damage, there was a distinct lump growing on the back of my head where the crucifix, accelerated by centripetal force, had struck. Jesus was now imprinted on the back of my skull. I had quite literally been struck dumb by the Lord. And I had the scar to prove it.
Newspapers and the internet often carry stories about religious icons such as Christ appearing in toast, banana peels, potato chips or some other mundane item. Jesus seems to have a fondness for food. Perhaps he didn’t get enough to eat at the last supper. The truth of course is that humans have a genetic predisposition to see faces where there are none. It was an evolutionary advantage to being able to make out a predator’s visage in the bushes prior to its strike. Humans who were good at it survived and became our ancestors. Those who couldn’t see the tiger for the trees did not. They became lunch.
The ability to see patterns, whether they are in fruit, clouds or squiggles on paper, is crucial to our success as a species. Pattern recognition is foundational to math, science, and all forms of communication. The problem arises when we see patterns that aren’t really there. Gamblers are notorious for seeing patterns in random events. That is why there’s a Gamblers Anonymous and not a Casinos Anonymous. People often invoke patterns in their everyday lives. Good luck items for sporting events, mini rituals to start the car, and superstitions are practiced by many who should know better. Most are harmless.
But some are harmful to not just the individual but to society as a whole. Women’s rights, for example, are under attack. It’s hard enough for women when significant parts of the world treat them as disposable property at worst and second class citizens at best. But now, enlightened countries, such as the United States, have birthed politically powerful elements who blame social ills on the increased freedom of women from their biological realities. These political forces see a pattern where there is none. They see a correlation where there is none. They blame increased Grrrl Power for all they think is wrong in the world.
Science, technology, and societal changes have made it easier in the last 100 years for women to control their physiology rather than be controlled by it. And that control opened up many more options for how women can live their lives. But even as progressive forces try and extend these freedoms to women world–wide, reactionaries are turning women’s successes into hollow victories. Exhibit A is how abortion and birth control are becoming scarcer for the lower and middle classes. Religious groups have managed to separate reproductive care for women from health care thus depriving them of important financial resources. Taxes on tampons show how tone deaf reactionaries are to the actual needs of the women they claim to be protecting. To paraphrase the old saying, “Lord, protect me from my friends; my enemies I can handle myself.”
The 2016 presidential campaign is more proof of how detrimental false pattern recognition is. Candidates tripped all over themselves trying to be first to blame the 1%, illegal immigrants, or Muslims for perceived problems in the country. And voters, who see problems where there aren’t any, eagerly lap it up. Meanwhile they ignore real problems. Global warming comes to mind with its attendant diseases, droughts, and super storms. But there are plenty of other issues that are being ignored because “If we just build a wall, put prayer back in school, and women back in the kitchen…” all of our problems would go away.
Overall, I suppose the benefit of the human ability to see patterns is a good thing. You couldn’t be reading this otherwise. But I have a plan to take advantage of this most human of traits. I have instructed my sons to take my skull after I die and list it on EBay. If people can get $500 for a tortilla with Christ’s image on it, imagine how much a human skull with Jesus imprinted on it will be worth? Thank you Sister Mary Theresa. You increased my net worth substantially.