When I was in high school, every February saw the annual ritual of “Sadie Hawkins Day.” Sadie Hawkins was a character in the old cartoon strip “L’il Abner” who took things into her own hands when it came to datin’, courtin’ and all the rest of the male/female frou-frou that so occupies the adolescent mind. She didn’t wait for a guy to ask her out. She asked him.
So, once a year, in honor of dear Sadie, my alma mater held a dance in which the girls asked the guys out for a change. The net result of this arrangement was to create a social situation in which a small but stable group of insecure boys were reminded for four years straight that no girl in the school would touch them with a barge pole. Your on-the-scene correspondent is here to tell you that this is but one of the reasons Graduation Day 1976 was a tremendous relief to me. It was also a reason that February, for many years, triggered in me a deep and abiding gloom. To a non-Christian like me, it was the least worthwhile month in the calendar. Christmas was dead and gone while dark winter still hung around. After President’s Day, there wasn’t going to be another holiday till Spring Break. Homework was only going to increase. And here was the Marquis de Sadie, putting up posters all over the school to remind you that, on top of everything else, pretty much everybody in the world-except for you-was lovable and fascinating to somebody.
In high school, I profoundly believed in my unique social leperousness, in my transcendent repulsiveness to the opposite sex and in my utter failure to be part of the In Crowd. On my worst days, I congratulated myself that this uniqueness was due to my vast intellectual superiority over the masses who Just Couldn’t Understand Me. On my next worst days, I swung to the opposite pole and accounted for my sense of unique isolation by accusing myself of being a peculiarly revolting specimen whom my fellow human beings could not be expected to tolerate for long.
What never occurred to me in high school was that I was not unique at all, and that the great mass of my fellow human beings felt as isolated, klutzy, stupid, and unlovable as I did. I was so fretful about getting “in” that it never occurred to me that a) most people were as “out” as I was and b) “in” was not all that worth getting.
It was our Lord, in his Catholic Church, who began to heal this terrible sense of being outcast. For our Lord is, if anything, the Center of all things. He is as “in” as you can get, the heart of all life, the center of all being, the very fountainhead of existence. And yet, right here, I found a paradox. For the Son of Man is cast out by men. More than that, he deliberately turns his back on all the social climbing, cliques and posturing that so occupied my high school mind (and continues to occupy the more sophisticated high school lunchrooms known as Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and New York). When the Sinmeister offered him chance to be People Magazine’s Most Fascinating Person of 30 AD (“All this will I give you,” said Satan, “if you will bow down and worship me.”) our Lord chose the obscurity and ostracism I so feared. When offered all the kingdoms of the world, he opted for the desert. Why?
Because he knew that at the center of this dog-eat-dog world there is no There there. He came, not to get in, but to get us. Where I was so sweaty about making something of myself in order to finally be lovable, he had long ago made nothing of himself-because he loved us. He came to heal the leper.