Austria is pretty much a Roman-Catholic country. At least it was, when I grew up. Percentage of Roman-Catholics: 95%+, Protestants: 4%+, Others: fractions of 1%.
Of course at school, the year started with a mass at the church. The five or six protestant kids being walked off by their pastor to their church, the big rest into the catholic church by the priest after the big gathering at the auditorium where the dean greeted the pupils. In the end, there were two loners left to wait for everybody to return from mass: a boy called Markus, son of an atheist family and me. Coincidentally, we were the same age and in the same class, and we also shared the same family name, although we weren’t related at all. No wonder, “Fröhlich” (which literally means happy, our names) became the synonyme for “weird” or “alien”. We were also the only two in the entire school exempt from the weekly religious classes. Unfortunately, we didn’t like each other much, otherwise the many hours spent hanging around together in the school hall, waiting, could have been fun. Maybe the clash between a know-all little Jehova’s Witness convinced of her divine mission didn’t match with someone out of an atheist family. So Markus mainly looked at me in wonder, keeping pretty much to himself, whereas I was getting bored with him, after he never wanted to talk about anything interesting to me (like: “Can’t we ask to attend the religious class anyways, just to have something to do” or: “Why are you celebrating Christmas and Easter at home, if you are not Christian at all” and so on).
I wonder today, if Markus ever felt, that the others looked at us with a mixture of curiosity and pity, too. I didn’t mind the curiosity bit that much, but the pity I hated. Heck, even Markus had pity with me for not having Christmas, or birthdays or Mother’s days in my life. Whereas I was eager to explain to everybody who did or did not want to know, what I was taught were the “real” religious reasons for it, knowing all the bible quotes backing up my arguments by heart.
Later on, after being expelled from my own church, I could have done with some pity. But there was none. The majority didn’t notice a difference any more. Besides, I knew hardly anyone outwith my own congregation. Just a few customers. Former classmates. My colleagues at work (two). The girl I shared a room with, after I had moved out at age 16, somehow assuming, that I couldn’t live in my father’s house, if I didn’t want to live by his rules any longer. And there was no way to explain and no way for them to understand, how my life had changed. My former friends and greater family would not (or weren’t allowed to) talk to me any more. My parents I had shamed to a point, where it made it impossible for me, to talk to them about how I felt. Plus, they were still living in their own coordinates, hoping, this last, drastic sanction would work and bring me back from my road to perdition (my father at least, still prays and hopes for this to this day, I know). It was only my stubborn pride keeping me from caving in, running back home for some of the pity I frowned upon earlier on. Then, I really was an alien, a legal alien, even to myself.
All sound a bit whiny to you? Back then, I just clenched my teeth. But today, writing this, I feel self-pity. And I am not ashamed.