Queen for a Day

In second grade I developed a nasty, prolonged case of mono that hung on for most of a year and boomeranged back in the next, forcing me to stay home from school, read a lot of really good books (I read early and often), and watch a lot of really bad television. My favorite program at the time was the wildly popular daytime game show Queen for a Day. A precursor to today’s reality TV, it featured several American housewife contestants competing for the title of that show’s “queen” by confessing their personal and financial troubles.

The women—often in tears–confessed their Dickens-like tales of handicapped and diseased children, AWOL husbands, and looming destitution and requested desperately needed services such as medical care and material goods while a huge “applause meter” measured audience response to each woeful story. The most applauded, victimized, apparently suffering woman was then swaddled in a sable robe, literally crowned queen, awarded a bouquet of roses, marched up on stage to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, granted her wish, and showered with additional sponsor-donated prizes of appliances, trips, and entertainment-related gifts.

At the time, my mother—then pregnant with my youngest brother—had been ordered to bed rest because of a blood clot in her leg that threatened both the pregnancy and her life. Outside the warmth of our tract home the Cold War continued to rage and I found it hard to sleep, consumed with fear about the Commies doing what Commies seemed programmed to do (according to my elders): bomb the stinking daylights out of nearby New York City before soon-to-be-a-goner President Kennedy even knew what hit us.

The Sisters of Charity advised my parents I might have to wait another year before making my first Communion because I was missing so many Catechism lessons. Suffice it to say I was one anxious little girl. My mother’s baby might die and end up in Limbo forever. My mother might die, leaving me to take care of my father and my younger brother Michael who drove me crazy. We all might die a slow, painful death of radiation poisoning as the fumes from the bomb the Commies would drop on Manhattan wormed their way north up the Hudson. And I would never make my First Confession (prior to my First Communion) and get forgiven for sins large and small I’d been accumulating since I drew my first sorry breath before I perished in a nuclear holocaust.

I would lie on the couch, the Campbell’s chicken noodle soup I’d prepared for my Mom and me growing cold on the coffee table, a damp washcloth on my forehead, and watch Queen for a Day, fantasizing about starring in a children’s version—Princess for a Day! I could already feel the welcome weight of a jewel-studded tiara, certain I would win hands-down if only I could share my story of impending disaster, abandonment, and devastation. I would request a bomb shelter for my family, a Papal exemption from my Catechism classes, and a doctor who knew how to dissolve blood clots for my mother. The old guy with the mustache would tell me how brave I was and give us a new dryer that didn’t’ sound like it was bringing the house down with every load and maybe even a lifelong supply of Hershey’s kisses, if only I could get up on that stage and belt out my special sob story.

I bring this up because this last week in this dream of my so-called life I’ve been feeling once more sorely tempted to perceive myself unfairly treated, helplessly abandoned, misunderstood, and unable to release a tale of undeserved suffering at the hands of insensitive costars replaying over and over in my head. Even though I’d been asking for help from my right mind and patiently awaiting the sane, reassuring response that all is well I’ve come to count on, I found myself transported in time to that living room couch of yore, once more identifying with the suffering of 1960s-era American women and yearning to compete in my own reality TV contest for saddest yarn.

But as I lay awake last night reviewing the details of the unprovoked demands and attacks I perceived myself victimized by–from severe winter weather (yes, you heard that right—weather) to unwarranted criticism to unreturned phone calls to the shiftless city officials responsible for the perilously rutted, icy Denver streets–that little girl longing for a spotlight in which to share her frightening plight came back to me, along with my right mind. And I couldn’t help but smile. As we are reminded in A Course in Miracles Chapter 26, X. The End of Injustice, paragraph 4:

“Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated. In this view, you seek to find an innocence that is not Theirs but yours alone, and at the cost of someone else’s guilt. Can innocence be purchased by the giving of your guilt to someone else? And is it innocence that your attack on him attempts to get? Is it not retribution for your own attack upon the Son of God you seek? Is it not safer to believe that you are innocent of this, and victimized despite your innocence? Whatever way the game of guilt is played, there must be loss. Someone must lose his innocence that someone else can take it from him, making it his own.”

Every time I perceive myself unfairly treated I am pointing the finger at someone or thing “out there” in an imaginary world of my own making. Blaming my physical or psychological dis-ease on external attacks to avoid returning to the mind that made the whole thing up and choosing again for a different inner teacher that knows my renegade experiment in individuality never happened.

Attempts to compete in the game of suffering are always but thinly veiled attempts to compete in the game of guilt, a game in which I exist as a separated identity but it’s not my fault. The assaults of a brutal world prove my greater innocence compared with your greater guilt but sooner or later and usually sooner the unconscious guilt in my mind over believing I pulled off the impossible crime of pushing God’s Love away arises again and I must project it outside, experiencing it once more as an incoming attack beyond my control. And then share my story in exchange for the compensation my suffering extracts from the relatively less victimized.

What a racket! As I backed away from the stage, set down my proverbial tiara, and watched the applause meter plummet to zero, I drew an imaginary breath of relief, once more certain I needed no external gifts to offset the tragic legend of my days because the guilt from which the story sprang so seemingly unbidden was itself the only tragic story. But it was just a story. And I was at least finally beginning to outgrow its allure with help from a part of my mind that had done so long, long ago.
“The world is fair because the Holy Spirit has brought injustice to the light within, and there has all unfairness been resolved and been replaced with justice and with love. If you perceive injustice anywhere you need but say:

“By this do I deny the Presence of the Father and the Son.
And I would rather know of Them than see injustice,
Which Their presence shines away.”

I am now speaking regularly at ACIM Gather radio, Wednesdays, 5-6 p.m., EST.


  1. Jane Walling says:

    Loved your article. I can relate to so much you said. I use to watch planes fly over from Offutt Air Force Base and wonder who they were going to bomb and I was in shear terror! And “Queen for a Day”–tried not to miss that one:)
    Your articles are so honest and you write so amazingly. Thanks for being such a good teacher and student and demonstrator. Love, Jane

  2. Hi Jane:

    For some reason I never received an email notification of this comment of yours. Anyway, thank you so much for your very kind response to my essay. I really appreciate it. And thank YOU for being such a wonderful teacher, student, and demonstrator!

    Love, Susan

  3. Cataclysm? Catechism? All a schism?. 🙂 Isn’t it amazing the seeming diversity of our victim scripts? Yet none of them are true, thankfully! So helpful to notice when our temptation to identify with our ‘unfairly treated selves’ raises it’s ugly crown on our ‘drama royalty’ heads. Thanks for another exposé of the only unjust identity (ego). 🙂

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