It’s not the moments I was told would matter that do…graduating high school or college, settling into a career…not even the first time I had sex.
Instead, it is the mosaic tiles of memory that hold my life together with meaning; like, the time I snuck back into my dad’s house, after ten years of not speaking and I saw a picture of me at five, framed and sitting on his nightstand.
Or, when I stopped on a roadside in Senora, Mexico, to watch an eighty-two year old woman make paper thin tortillas on a trash can lid; the fire inside the can lit up the lines of her hands and face, telling a story of ancient earth, too many have long forgotten.
Or even the time my rattly Volkswagen van climbed route 385 towards Harney Peak in Black Hills, South Dakota, for the first time…and how, when I sat later, drinking in the Ponderosa air, I knew I was home.
I remember my first confirmation. Seventh grade. And how I prepared myself for transformation, for visions of Mary and Jesus and the holy life I was about to enter.
I sat for a long time waiting on that hard wooden pew, afraid to move or make a sound, while three rows back a boy threw up and the girl in front of me passed out. For weeks before, I had searched the stories of the bible for my spiritual name, thinking the vibration itself was enough to give me saintly attributes; ‘Jennifer’ was all I could come up with and within a year, I had forgotten who she was.
I held that statue for a long time, knowing that only the love of a mother could match the gods.
It was another five years before I stepped into a Catholic church and made peace with the empty vows that I had taken at twelve.
In Moulton Texas, of all places, in a Hispanic town of 800 people, I watched my oldest brother get married by a Haitian Catholic priest, who spoke only of love and kindness. Not once did he mention guilt or damnation—and for the first time beneath the cross, I knelt with gratitude.
It seems love and enlightenment are never where we think they should be.
Some say it’s all in the fuss…in the glamor of hairdos and gurus and sexy lingerie…in the auspicious tours of the Egyptian pyramids, during the lunar eclipse—or in the big man that comes to jet you off to Paris (or Greece) for the weekend.
But what about the man who makes you spelt and teff pancakes on Sundays, because you can’t eat wheat? And still kisses you and tells you he loves you, after you have ranted and raved at him for three days, trying to convince him that he really is the cause of your misery?
What about the grandfather who discovers, after fifty-five hard years of marriage, he still loves his wife and he takes her out dancing, calling her his new bride?
Or, the mother with severe diabetes—and sores on her legs that make it difficult for her to stand—who still finds the energy and time, each year, to make truffles and fudge, to send to her children?
Angelina Jolie sends a small fraction of her yearly income (which just happens to be around eight million dollars) to charity and gets recognition for her humanitarian efforts, while the New Age gurus abound, with catch phrases about ‘blessings’ and ‘oneness,’ have websites to take peace vows and get praised for their saintly attributes.
How about the woman, with very little money, who patiently cares for her husband at home, as he disappears into Alzheimer’s. One minute she says it is her sweet loving Ken—and the next, it is the Alzheimer’s talking; suspicious, yelling at her, wanting to know why she is on the phone, where she is going, who she is talking to and why she is talking to them.
She can afford only twelve hours of respite care a month—and sometimes, although she desperately needs it, she still won’t leave, because it’s not worth the third degree and upset she gets from her husband.
Do we reward her as her body breaks with the stress and her eyes recede into grief ?
Or do we complain that socialistic healthcare systems will be the downfall of our country?
Where, in the daily scope of our busy lives, do we place the sixty-year old vet with posttraumatic stress disorder, raised by his single mother in Brooklyn, who can’t leave his house unless he details his car, every day?
In the war, he says he got so good at making foxholes that he could draw exact lines, every time, without any measuring device. Perfect corners and a perfect grave he dug for himself, every night and then all day he would run, drawing out enemy fire and then drag his dead friends back across lines.
He was eighteen. The shrapnel still lodged in his neck makes it almost impossible for him to play the drums and yet, not once have I ever heard him complain.
And, what of my friend Lupe—beautiful Guadalupe—named after the mother of Christ, born and raised in San Diego. She tells me she is about to close down a business that her husband and her started and ran for eighteen years together. Forty years of marriage and right before their forty-first anniversary, her husband committed suicide.
She is tired and sad—and although she used to love to cook, she doesn’t much want to anymore—and because she is a Hispanic woman in the Southwest (which once was Mexico, in case your history book forgot to mention it) she gets things thrown at her in the aisles of Fry’s and told to go home.
A woman’s home and kitchen is her domain and as she serves her family and cares for them, she knows that she is serving God. They also say, in India, that they worship the Mother in all her beauty and forms—and yet, they continue to hide women, burn them in kitchen fires, name newborn girls names that mean ‘worthless’ and ‘useless’ and sell them for prostitution.
And here, back inside the land of the beautiful and the free, woman are still having to ask for—and fight—for permission to treat their bodies as their own, in the way they believe is right for them. Daily, they are reminded that any violation, rape or assault is actually, in some twisted way, their responsibility…and their own fault.
As people continue to set up camps and argue vehemently about who has the right to love who and who doesn’t and which road leads to God; white supremacists walk into mosques and gun people down in prayer, people in Lubbock, Texas, plan civil wars—and gun sales skyrocket in Colorado, after a kid destroys lives in a movie theater.
And at forty-four years old, I continue to not speak to my father but will sit at his bedside and hold his hand as dementia eats away at his brain and still, there is a picture of me at five, framed, on his nightstand.
Hokusai says, “In order to draw a bird, you must become a bird.”
But, what must we do to become human?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Like I’m Not ‘Spiritual.’ I just practice being a good person on Facebook.