starting out, i'm not sure where this story is going. i know the emotions that prompt its telling, and will trust their instincts. fear and grief have kept me from touching some of these memories for some time now.
before surgery not long ago, i was asked "what is your religion?" the question caught me off guard, as it always does. and as always, i answered "methodist". i don't want to waste their time, should the surgery go badly, searching the hills for a shaman to perform last rights. let the preacher do it, and be done with it.
the truth is, since i was very small, i have had no religion. i would go to sunday school and listen to the warnings of sin and redemption, but i knew that if jesus was who they said he was, he would say "forget that shit", and take us all out to feed the hungry. or at least to the woods, where god really lived.
but i played the game out of fear. not fear of the fire and brimstone....i didn't buy that for one minute. actually, for a little girl who was experiencing things that little girls weren't meant to experience, life was bad enough in grade school. if this was life, i wasn't doing it for eternity. but i went through the motions, in varying intensities at different times...... to keep the peace, and to retain some standing in the community.
years later, after drugs and alcohol had finally brought me to a surrender of sorts, i figured out that it wasn't a religion that i needed all along, but a higher power, something enduring and sacred and powerful. the first place i found that was in the woods. in the stillness, the clamoring of my mind and spirit would drain away. god was in the wild things, all along. to this day, my best prayers are murmured into the sweet ancient dampness of leaf litter on the forest floor.
eventually, i began to meet my god in other places in my life, like in my children, and the patients i cared for. a time came when my husband and i were moved to apply to be foster parents. we ended up with an agency that placed the sickest, most fragile children, and those who were dying. i found that god lived large in these tiny, needy children. and that brings me to the princess.
shortly after starting the approval process, we recieved a call about a placement. it was during the football game on new years day. a little girl was being moved out of her current foster home after a short stay because they weren't able to care for her. the agency hated to return her to the hospital. she only had a few months to live. would we take her?
we said yes. the very next day, i went to a pediatricians office to pick her up. i was blown away when i first saw her. she didn't look like any baby i had ever seen before. her head was misshapen from microcephaly, and she was blind and deaf. she had to be fed through a tube, and struggled for every breath.
i was terrified. after some brief instructions, i picked up that baby girl and took her home. she would change my life forever.
it was chaotic settling her in. we hadn't had much time to prepare. actually,there is no preparation for an experience like this. you just take a deep breath, and go through it.
i used to sit beside her crib at night. this baby baffled me. i love kids, and bond almost instantly with them. little j. remained elusive, and i was beginning to understand why. when you pick up a baby, or any creature, there is an interaction between you, a look, a sound, a response. a give and take. not so with j......how do you bond with someone when you don't even know if they are aware of you? she was struggling to breathe that night more than usual. i picked her up and nestled her into my arms, trying to find a position to ease her breathing. her heart was racing wildly. although i knew she couldn't hear me, i began to sing a wordless song about comfort and safety and knowing you will never be alone. i promised that baby that no matter what it took, i would see her through this journey....she was my baby now and forever, in my heart. that's when the god thing happened. her heart began to slow down, and her breathing eased. heart to heart we sat there, and i knew she slept. i was in the presence of something so big, and so humbling. i loved her from that minute on.
fast forward..... j lived many years beyond the the doctors' prediction. there was a lot of joy, and sadness and struggle in her life. but we weathered it together, she, safe, in the middle of this crazy family, her misfit tribe. then circumstances changed, and she was moved to a new foster home, and then another. before too long, she died.....alone in a hospital.
my son says i wailed like a banshee when i heard the news. i just remember the despair of promises made and broken. as nothing but a former foster mother, i retained no rights to this baby. i told everyone that i was going to that funeral, i didn't care what anyone said. i had amends to make, and wanted to see her one last time.
i traveled to philadelphia, where her daddy had made arrangements for a memorial service. no veiwing or casket..that was private, for the family. i was exluded....the only mother she had ever known. i went to the church office to ask if there was any way i could get invited to the funeral home where the viewing was. i was desperate to see her. the pastor looked at me and said "she's upstairs in the sanctuary, they are waiting for you there".
when i walked in and saw that small white casket, my knees buckled and i lost my breath. a woman who was waiting for me ran up, put her arms around me, looked me in the eye and said "i know the god in you". i thought that was a weird statement-- no god in this broken heart-- but soon forgot it in the swirl of a new found family that swallowed me up.
i stood by her daddy's side as we buried her. i asked his forgiveness for breaking my promise to her, to him. he hugged me and said "you were her mama, and that was enough".
i miss her every day of my life. i am so grateful for the privilege of caring for her. she taught us all more about love than all the bibles and poets and philosophers in the world combined........that the most powerful love is that given when you expect nothing in return.
so what does this have to do with my religion? well, i was still religionless. which didn't concern me overly, except for the need to feel some clarity about my spirituality. my friend joe said to me that i sounded a bit like a pantheist. whoa, new word! i got the book "the elements of pantheism" and read it. it made sense to me, and fit in with my cobbled together thoughts on animism, the spirit world, and the wild places. pantheists believe that everything around us, the whole universe, is god. that god is in everything. i could just about get my mind around that.
fast forward a little more. i'm going through a difficult time in my life, and alot of uncertainty. i had been dealing with an illness for about a year, when a dignostic test came back abnormal in december. for the first time since getting "sick" i realized that i actually might die of this illness, falling on the wrong end of the statistics. i wasn't so much afraid of dying as i was of being sick, and losing control. the next few months stretched out long in front of me.....not knowing is the hardest part. i was so tired of it all.
the universe, in it's kindness, put a friend in my path. one of those kindred spirits that come around all too infrequently. a friend who gave alot of support, and asked nothing in return. a friend who listened.....uncritical, unshakeable. a friend who i will probably never meet, but made me laugh, and think, and cry. and i got to thinking about the lady at the funeral that day, and the meaning of her statement to me. it suddenly made all the sense in the world.
god is not just in the wild places of the universe. in whatever form, whatever incarnation he/she comes to you.....god is everywhere. but most importantly, god is inside of us..... that thing that connects us, and makes us whole, down deep in our wildest places, where we quiver with life.
i am so grateful for my friend, who helped me to finally get it, about religion and spirit and forgiveness and hope. about a little girl searching for her center, and a baby girl searching for a home. about a stranger in a baptist church, who saw the god in a religionless woman. it has, finally, all come together.
babygirl, wherever you are, i am sorry. i love you more than everything, and i will love you forever. i miss you, but i am going to move on now.
and to my friend, who inspired me to weave all these fragments of my life together......i know the god in you. thank-you, michael. i am able to move on now.