"If there is a Hell, it's when we stop caring about each other."

the mouse that roared's picture

This poem had a huge effect on me, even though I'm an atheist. It's such a wonderful poem, though... It's from the book "True Beleiver" in the "Make Lemonade Trilogy" by Virginia Euwer Wolff. It's written entirely in poems. In it, the main character falls in love with her old friend, Jody, and she later finds out he is gay, and her two friends, Myrtle and Annie, become fanatic Christians (just so you know the background for the poem):

It was a sudden impulse. The church I pass
on my way home from the hospital
is always the same, with often a homeless person
reading a magazine on the stone steps.
I got off the bus there instead of coming right home.
It was near dark, and I naturally wondered
where that homeless one would sleep.
I walked up the steps and went in through the heavy door.

In there it was quiet, no city sounds came through
and somebody was running a dust mop
under the benches. He comes right over to me,
carrying the mop with him.
A medium man in a sweater and glasses,
he tells me he's the minister.
I don't know what to ask,
and from somewhere sideways in my mind
out came Myrtle and Annie's play.
I blurt, "If a girl had an abortion,
could she come to this church?"
It was not my urgent question
but it would stall while my courage came to me.
He took off his glasses
and said, "Of course. We're here to help you."
"It's not me, I was just wondering."
"Everyone is welcome here," he said in a believable voice.
"Would you like to know about our youth services?
right over here, our schedules, our bulletins,
our calendars, our youth ministry,"
he puts his glasses back on, holds the mop in one hand,
and we go over to the side of the church where there's a table
with neat piles of papers in different colors.
He begins to hand me several.

"And another thing," I go on ahead,
hoping this place is as private as it feels.
"Would you let--do you have any--"
I hear my voice getting softer--
"Can any--could any gay people come here? Or not?
Or do gay people go to Hell?
You wouldn't--there's no--is there a--
or--oh, never mind. Never mind. Here, I'll take these,
thanks--" I start to leave.

But this minister slows me down. "Of course,
We welcome everyone.
We're mere human beings.
God doesn't turn anyone away,
and neither do we."
He looks at me, a gay girl who wants an abortion.
"We weren't put on Earth to exclude each other," he says.
He smiles at me in such a friendly way,
I would almost go to this church. I take a chance:
"But how do you know for sure? About God or anything?"
He leans on the dust mop handle. "We can only hope.
We can only be as sure as our faith."

"Thanks," I say, rolling up the colored papers,
"I have to go home now."
"Thank you for coming in," he says. "Go in peace."
I head for the door.
"Young woman?" he says. I turn around.
"If there is a Hell,
it's when we stop caring about each other.
We wouldn't wish that on anyone."
He waves his hand, lifts the dust mop
and heads back where he was.

"Go in peace."
I don't remember anybody
ever saying that to me before.


tarni's picture

Wow. That's from a trilogy? I

Wow. That's from a trilogy? Is it the first, second or third book? I'm just wondering, but I'd love to get hold of those books. It sounds wonderful! Thanks for the excerpt, I loved it. It hits home in just the right way.



"People who take you at face value will always be your true friends. Truth + laughter = good friendships."
--milly the fairy

the mouse that roared's picture

I'm not sure

I've only read "True Believer," and it made sense to me, but I think it might be the second book, though I'm not sure. I'm glad you liked the excerpt and I hope you enjoy the books! They're wonderfully written.

Andrewgirl3's picture

my confirmation teacher said

my confirmation teacher said something that made sense one week and it left me thinking. she said, "The only reason why there are different religions is that god needed to be presented in different ways in different cultures to be understood". I'm still undecided about go though

*Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen*

the mouse that roared's picture

That's an interesting idea. I

That's an interesting idea. I suppose I haven't thought about it much, but I like it. It's a sweet thought, and it makes sense.