After my parents died within less than a month of each other, I decided it would be best to find a full-time job. That way, I would have somewhere to go each day and the chance to meet and mingle with a group of what I hoped would be new friends.
I’d been a freelance writer and author for many years, and the chance to bring in a regular paycheck and, hopefully, ease my grief seemed the perfect antidote to losing my parents.
Years before, I’d been a high school English teacher, then a writer/producer of educational filmstrips. Remember them? (If you’re weren’t in grade school by the early 1980s, you probably never heard of these rudimentary frame-by-frame visuals with recorded sound.) I’d also written a slew of books and figured I was the perfect candidate for a job at Loyola Press in Chicago. The head of the editorial staff agreed.
Loyola Press is a Catholic press started by Jesuits back in the day. As a Jew, I wasn’t sure how that would go down, but my first assignment was to edit a series of books on reading and writing for elementary and middle school students. Okay, I could do that. And I did. The only signs of religion were the crosses that dominated the office walls and the prayers that began every faculty meeting or special event. I put my head down and pretended to go along.
The Jesuits would have been proud because I prayed that my next assignment would augment the English series—maybe a focus on writing or literature or critical thinking. No such luck. I was asked to edit and update Finding God, one of the faith program books.
I couldn’t do it. Heck, I wasn’t sure I even believed in God. And I wasn’t interested in finding Him/Her.
“You know I’m Jewish.”
“Of course, I do. But this won’t be too much of a stretch.”
Were they kidding? I couldn’t come in to work every day, sit down at my desk and read the New Testament or revise text about the importance and finding and keeping God in our lives. I could easily sabotage the whole deal and write about bagels and lox instead of wafers and wine. I could underscore the pure fantasy in much of the Biblical stories. I could scream profanities so loud that the Jesuit priest in his second floor office would come running—well, running is a bit of an exaggeration. He was getting on in age and walked with a cane. (At least, that’s what I remember.)
So, I started searching for homes in northern California. I’d wanted to live there since I’d graduated from college and decided this would be the perfect time to get the heck out of Dodge. A move would be a perfect excuse that even the Father could forgive.
I was uncomfortable about quitting after only a year+ on the job and put off my resignation as long as I could. But the Finding God project was scheduled to get underway, and I couldn’t hold my cards any longer.
“I can’t do it,” I told my immediate boss. She was Catholic, too.
“You’ll be great. You can be more objective.”
Objective? I doubted she or the higher ups wanted objectivity. I was, after all, a Bagel Bopper who, while not religious, resented the notion that Jews were Christ killers and that the Catholic church had remained silent during World War II when they knew damn well about the slaughter going on right under their noses.
But I’d heard that Jesuits were tolerant of other religions and believers in free education. I couldn’t argue with that.
Still, I quit. Before I packed my bag and walked out the front door, I made my way up to the second floor office of the Father and titular head of Loyola Press. I don’t remember what I said. Probably some bogus about being needed to care for an elderly relative or needing time to write a novel. I couldn’t possibly tell the truth and confess.
Father (I wish I could remember his full name) was generous and kind. He wished me best of luck and thanked me for my service.
I felt like a—well, like a traitor. Maybe I was getting religion, after all.