Another little draft-y piece from the memoir:
In 1983, my parents had planned to send me to Sri Lanka by myself, to visit relatives and reconnect with my roots. At twelve, I was already disturbingly unlike the girl they'd expected me to be. I was a good student -- straight A's in grammar school, as expected, though that didn't continue in high school. But while in seventh grade, I told my parents that I didn't believe in God.
We were a devout Catholic family; before taking long trips, we would kneel in my parents' bedroom and say a novena to St. Christopher, the patron of travellers. A novena is a very long series of prayers, hours' worth, and hard on the knees. I went to church every week, and didn't swear, and confessed my sins -- pretty honestly, if I remember right. They were mostly along the lines of I talked back to my mother. Everyone we knew were Catholics -- the kids at school, the kids in the neighborhood, the other Sri Lankan immigrant families. There was no other world.
Although I was studying at a Catholic school, not all of the teachers were nuns. Some of my favorites were, of course -- Sister Ligouri in particular, who never seemed threatened by the smart-aleck kid who always had her hand annoyingly raised, begging to be called on. But my science teacher in seventh grade was a lay teacher, a woman who I believe did believe in God, but who was willing to talk openly to kids about difficult religious questions.
Why did God allow suffering? Was it fair for the virtuous heathen, those who had never had the opportunity to learn about God, to be sentenced to an eternity in limbo? And most crucially, why should I believe in this God, rather than some other one? That science teacher didn't have answers for me; she let me think about the questions. And while it may not have been her intent, I ended up realizing that the only reason I was a Catholic was because I had happened to be born to Catholic parents, and raised Catholic. If I had been born to Buddhist parents, I'd be a Buddhist.
I didn't take the next step; it didn't occur to me then, at twelve, that my family had not been Catholic forever.
But I decided I couldn't be a Catholic anymore, that I would have to be an agnostic, not at all certain that God existed at all. I told my parents this, but they didn't take me seriously. They still had me confirmed as a Catholic at thirteen, and coerced me into attending Sunday Mass for some years thereafter. I went angrily to church, but I stubbornly refused to say the prayers. I figured if God really was as good and all-knowing as they claimed, He would understand my reasons.
I couldn't help singing along with the hymns, though -- they were too beautiful.