Tuesday, March 29, 2011

God of the Ocean

There was a time that I doubted the existence of God.

Hard to believe, I know. To be totally honest, it was less that I didn't believe in God and more that I wasn't quite sure that God believed in me. I wanted the God of Infinite Compassion. What I got instead was God's Evil Twin Brother. While I had little evidence of God's mercy and love as it played out in my life, I had ample evidence of how God (or His Evil Twin) was really trying to fuck with me. I knew, from an early age, that I was lost and alone, slightly broken and beyond repair. 

It was all God's fault. Truly, it was so much easier to deny God than to face the idea that I had been abandoned, so much easier to defy God than hunger for a redemption that never came.

And I defied God with a vengeance. I thumbed my nose at Him, ignored Her, talked trash whenever I could. Talked loudly, and with passion. I wanted to hurt God, just as God  had hurt me.  I vowed to never sing again - the one thing I had that had brought me any sense of peace and wholeness, the one thing that had led me on a shining and sure path to God and grace.  

I gave it up in a heartbeat. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I drank too much, in order to drown out the silence of God. And if not alcohol, anything would do: drugs, shopping, food, sex. I used everything I could to bolster my doubt, to delight in my heresy.

That'll teach Him.  Ha!

I spun through my life like a whirling dervish.  It was a mad dance, and I careened off people and places with equal abandon. I reveled in my dance, ratcheted up the speed.  I became a ghost in my own life, untouched and disconnected. Empty.

I carried that little pocket of emptiness with me everywhere. It was so comfortable familiar, like a worn old robe that slips on so easily, that drapes just right against the contours of your body - covering and concealing. I could forget about my war with God and just move faster into the empty, all sensation, devoid of meaning. One night, one day, again and again, stretching into eternity, pure and empty. And it was good.

I drank my way, stumbling and frenetic, with brief forays into over-indulgence of every kind, from Chicago to California. Fueled by the passion of social justice, I flirted with the belief that if I acted with integrity, that integrity would transfer to me, by osmosis or proximity or luck. I would feel unbroken at last. I hungered for wholeness, drowned it with alcohol, prayed to a God I was convinced was an illusion, who could not hear and who would refuse me at every turn.

And then I stood in the ocean.

We had taken an Adventure Day, we rabble-rousers, we agitated agitators. We took a day off from saving the world and drove down the coast from our offices in San Francisco to Santa Cruz, to play and cavort and drink.  We basked in the sun, let the salt breeze caress our pale skin, wandered the boardwalk without thought or care. We laughed easily, and teased mercilessly. We were released at last from the social and political battles that we had used to define us, and that had given us purpose for so long. We devoured the day and wandered into the mist of evening almost spent.

We ended where the earth ends, where earth and mist and water come together in ceaseless susurration and motion. No one had ever told me, this Midwestern child, how noisy the ocean could be. No one had told me how the ocean could excite every one of my senses, make them tingle and feel alive as if for the first time.  

I wandered away from my friends, drawn to the edge of the sea. )I stood there, the water lapping against my ankles, licking up my calves, the salt drenching my skin and tangling in my hair, the moon - huge and round, its golden light skipping along the waves in a path to eternity - the moon rising like a promise, surrounded by the laughing roar of water and sky. I stood there, in that vast and endless sea, in the gathering night, and met God, at last.

My God, at last, the God of Infinite Compassion, of light and sound and forgiveness. God of the Ocean.  

It was all so huge, so boundless! No one had ever told me. No one told me that, in the face of all that holiness, the truest prayer is not spoken but heard. And for the first time, I listened. I quieted and calmed my heart and my fear, and I listened my prayer, a whisper of moonlight and a shout of the tide. I was so very small against that moon-kissed horizon, and I felt comfort and peace and whole.  

I listened, and my prayer was forgiveness, my prayer was redemption. My prayer was love. I stood motionless, exhausted and enthralled. Empty still, but ready to be filled.  Broken still, but ready to be healed.  I listened a prayer again, and at last, there was love, and there was God.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy birthday to my beloved boy: a Mother's Love Song

My son turned twelve the other day.


A dozen years.  I stand in awe that he reached this milestone unscathed.  Just before his first birthday, my mother called, wondering what the theme of his party was going to be?  Theme?  One year olds have themed parties?  Really?  My suggestion of "one year no breaks, yay!" did not go over well.  We settled on football, a manly endeavor, appropriate enough for a boy.  The one year old boy who was a little freaked by the candle flame but really enjoyed smearing chocolate cake all over his face (after the candle was blown out, of course).  (I may struggle with my maternal instincts (or lack thereof), but I knew enough to not let the baby play with a lighted candle). He may actually have gotten some of the cake into his mouth, just before he passed out from a combination of sugar overload and the fever caused by the flu that apparently struck at the tail end of his birthday party.

Happy, cranky, cake-smeared, sated, snuffly and fevered.  One.  One year, no breaks.  What a miracle.

I was terrified the day he was born. After nine months of pregnancy (that felt like a thousand years), I was still not convinced that I had any maternal instincts.  At all.  Even as a little girl, I looked at the prospect of motherhood with some trepidation.  I never played with dolls.  In fact, I thought they were silly toys.  They did nothing, said nothing, fell over if you didn't hold onto them.  I saw no difference between the dolls of my girlhood and an actual baby.

Babies speak a language all their own, and there is no handy Rosetta Stone providing a key for translation.      How can any person have the capacity to distinguish all the subtle variations of their cries--- pitch and strength and length and whine and wail and squalling, wordless need?

They need to be fed.  Every day.  Many times a day.  They need to be cleaned, since they tend to drip fluids out of several different orifices, sometimes all at once.  I saw that green, bulbous sucky thing that was designed to vacuum mucous from the nose.  Eewwww.  Really: eewwww.  Let's face it: babies are bundles of endless and infinite need.

Dolls are one thing.  If they break, if a dress gets torn or a head gets pulled off, you can fix it.  Or get a new one.  Or send it to the island of toys we don't like anymore.  If they fall, it's no big deal.  Those eggs that they use these days in High School health classes, to teach kids about the awesome responsibilities of parenthood?  If you don't fake feed the fake baby, you get ten points taken off your grade.  That's it.  And then you go to your next class and move on with your day.  This does not flow with actual babies

Babies are small and defenseless and helpless and fragile beyond belief.  What if I broke him?

There were complications enough.  Given my vivid imagination, my somewhat dark personality, I had no trouble being the What If Awful-izer.  I spent hours thinking up worst case scenarios: what if this, what if that, what if what if what if, until I wanted to scream.  Delivery was no picnic.  More complications, and no drugs.  Dammit.  I begged for the epidural.  The only legal high I was going to qualify for, and I failed.  There was pain, and fear, and more pain, and hovering doctors and a hovering mother and a slightly green hovering husband and pain beyond belief and fear that filled me with ice and more hovering doctors and an emergency C-Section.

And then: my son.  My beautiful, beloved son.  Squalling and crying and covered in fluids that I don't want to  think about, even now.

He sounded like I imagine Heaven sounds, on a really good day.

And now he is twelve.  Relatively unscathed.  He is not quite as fragile as he was, not quite as defenseless.  I have not broken him.

I am far from a perfect mother.  I snap at him.  I yell and nag.  I am inconsistent.  My follow-through could use some work.  He watches too much television, doesn't eat enough vegetables and plays way too many video games.  He can recite all eleventy seven thousand Pokemon but can't remember if he brushed his teeth. He learns all the lessons I teach him.  All of them, including the not-so-good ones.  He is funny and smart and kind and loving and annoying and needy.

Yes, he needs me still.  He's no longer a baby, but he is still needy.  Needs to be fed, to be clothed and cared for. To be loved.  And I have managed to do this one perfect thing: to love my son unconditionally, without question or reserve.  Ever and always, as he finds his way and walks his own path through this world, he will find shelter in my arms and know, without doubt, that he is loved.