Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Aw, it wouldn't all fit on a onesie anyway...

(brace yourself, dear reader, for I am about to be more vulnerable in this space than I have been in, I think, quite a long time...)

Over the weekend I received a message from a woman I used to call a friend. Turns out, she and her husband are expecting a baby in a few months. In this message they were soliciting some kind of contribution from their community: iron-on designs for onesies or quilt patches they can make into a baby blanket or something like that (Mom's quite the crafty one). When I saw the name in my inbox, I immediately went on the defensive. I didn't really read the note so much as press my ear to my computer screen, listening for a telltale ticking that would soon detonate and coat my hard drive in mysterious viral goo. But there was no need for all that; there was nothing even moderately provocative about this: only the request that members of their community give them something for their new baby--something handmade and with some integrity, not a giftcard to Isabella's House of Mother Couture or wherever expectant mothers buy battery-powered breast pumps and brocade baby slings.

Geeze, I must REALLY feel vulnerable because I'm being so sarcastic.

So the interesting thing about this is that forty-eight hours before I received this information, I dreamt that this same woman was pregnant, and that she miscarried. She was devastated. I knew this without having spoken to her, the way you know things in dreams; and frankly the way any woman who wants to have a child would be when God and her body have other plans. The dream was more complicated situationally and emotionally than I'm going to go into here, involving other people and lots of actions that spread pain and strife all around. But it's interesting that there was something to the dream, and I hope that the trauma remains imaginary and not realized.

(Sidebar: women keep trauma with their reproductive systems such a secret. This can't be good for us. Our downstairs neighbors have been grieving the loss of a brother for about a week now. Daily people pour into his home and eat and drink and talk--loudly--and play and run up and down his halls. This time of grieving their loss has taken the shape of an extended family reunion. This happens when someone living dies, doesn't it? We all run to the sides of the griever, deli platters and roasted chickens in tow, and sit and wail and beat breasts and pour ashes and tell stories and light incense and ghost money, and we also laugh and reminisce and have a little too much to drink and marinate in the ache of the absent loved one. Why do women not request the same when something goes wrong in their bodies? Why are we not more public about our illnesses and malfunctions? Why do we not make our grief shared, and openly, frankly, even loudly, mourn the loss of our water babies?)

This woman's been on my mind more consistently lately. My husband's been writing about her; he's working on a story about his spiritual journey, his family and our mulit-culti religious climate. Part of the narrative involves the circumstance under which we used to worship with this woman at her church, and no longer do so. Listening to the fracture from someone else's point of view is--what's the word?--provocative. It makes me feel sad all over again, and makes me wonder at what my husband must have been thinking and not saying when all of that drama was raining down between this woman and me. It shows me what he's lost in having been ostracized from the first worship community we'd found together that made him feel like he belonged somewhere, that he didn't need to know things he didn't know or practice things he didn't believe in, in order to worship.

So when I read this message in my inbox, the residual pain and fear that I'd felt after this relationship halted came roaring back in my body; it cut my breath short and my face got hot, and my finger made the mouse hand hover over "Delete". And then I hesitated. It was clear to me that this wasn't any kind of specific message to me, but more one of those corporate-shout-out-listserv-type things. But here this family was, gathering their community around them, encouraging any and all kinds of blessings and positive wishes for their new addition. As many problems as I had with my relationship with this woman, I remember how desperately she wanted to be a mom; in a few months, she'd be one. Was I really so hurt and alienated that I'd not wish her well in this new fork in her life's road? Whatever had happened between us, this was a baby: a fresh, budding new life. A new baby right now seems like the epitome of a spring metaphor, a being which by his/her very presence brings growth and regeneration and a kind of healing; could I send positive wishes and prayers for growth and discovery in the form of a onesie with the periodic table on the front?

But maybe I couldn't; maybe, given the fallout, I'm not allowed to. I felt, frankly, like persona non grata, like that one who hadn't been invited to the baby's christening, and had her knickers in such a twist that she was going to blow in on a noxious cloud of doom and belligerence and shower the baby and its family in curses for the next hundred years.

Yeah, her. I felt like tales of my brokenness and evil had reached so far into this woman's kingdom that, even if I wasn't a wicked, petty, grudge-bearing witch, that I'd be perceived by all as such, and that in that projection (likely a self-projection, but the problem is, I'm not sure) I'd not be strong or brave enough to break it, but instead would be bound by it to enact a kind of rage and ugliness that I just do not want to be a part of my life anymore.

It breaks my heart when relationships fracture and cannot be repaired in the House of God. I feel like it gives a bad name to all of us who claim that our faith and our love and our Jesus can do anything; we're willing to give Him as much power over anything that he wants, except for our pulverized hearts. What it must say to the world that we don't believe that our Jesus can heal us from ourselves, from each other. I remember as a girl that people would be "turned out" of churches that I was a member of for reasons I didn't understand--all I knew was that after a time, Brother and Sister So-and-so didn't show up to services anymore. As an adult, I watched this woman be turned out of a church we attended together, the first church I committed to as an adult. It had a lot of problems, as any body of imperfect people does, and for a while I thought simply that she was the victim of inconsistent leadership and the force of some pretty blatant evil. Now, I think that while those things are true, that also maybe she was repeating a pattern that's probably haunted her all her life: that of being the awkward Christian girl on the community outskirts who was rejected by all the cool Christian kids in youth group, or whatever socio-religious power struggle you want to insert. That kind of rejection was painful enough to bear once during puberty, and as an adult, she didn't have to take it again; so she found a worship community wherein she could become one of the cool Christian kids. Then, years later, when our relationship fractured, she found herself stuck in the same pattern, but this time--as a leader in the church we'd found--on the end with all the power, and without the ability to break the pattern; I, seeking the opportunity, not for a reinstatement of our friendship, but only the ability to worship beside each other in peace and safety, was denied. Turned out.

(Sidebar: so this is all armchair quarterbacking, right? It sounds good, but how the hell do I know if what I'm saying is true? I realize now that I know less than I thought about a woman I considered one of my closest friends for almost five years. This could be because I wasn't interested in her story; but it could also be that she was careful with what she showed me. I've put this idea together with what little I know of the social and religious scars she bears from the community she was raised in, and while it sounds good, I don't know if it holds any water. I do know that when I went to her and her pastor, seeking an opportunity to find a way wherein my husband and I could remain a part of the worship community now that we were no longer friends and was denied, I felt soundly rejected. The heavy oak door of a house of worship shut profoundly in my face, and it was fucking cold in that street, man.)

So now all this time has gone by. I have all this lovely, worthwhile perspective. I know more about myself than I did then. I can say, with some certainty, that I am not invested in any kind of relationship with this woman that is even remotely similar to the friendship we used to have. For years I felt like Timothy to her Paul--protegee to her mentor, the diminutive, slightly awkward and always in need of correction and guidance sidekick, for whom friendship is a favor. I am no longer interested in the pursuit of relationship that feels so unbalanced and unequal. I also want to be in friendships where I can be vulnerable and still be safe, where I can feel supported in uncertainty or fear, where I can be the soft, easy, quiet parts of myself without risking ridicule or chastisement. There are a number of reasons (my twisted pathology) why I sought a kind of friendship that wouldn't permit this in the first place; and there are also reasons why it worked so well for her, if in fact, it ever did. But if she's still served by this kind of friendship, well, it won't come from me.

Which is probably fine, because she doesn't want to know me anymore anyway. Which still stings. Still.

But that doesn't mean I don't want to offer blessings, real blessings, to her baby:

I pray that you grow up in a place where you can run as fast as you can until your legs feel like they wanna fall off and your heart pounds loud in your ears. I pray that you grow up unafraid of bugs, because as creepy as they sometimes look, most of them won't hurt you. I pray that you get a wide diversity of food to eat, that you learn to like vegetables and that you never have any food allergies. I pray you have at least one sibling, someone to complain about your parents with, someone to learn how to share with, someone to learn how to argue safely with, a confidant that you actually like, and aren't just related to. I pray, Dear Baby, that you learn that you can be afraid of something and still stand your ground, and that you can be angry with someone without treating them cruelly. I pray that you learn to have patience with people, especially with those you don't understand. I pray that you learn to love reading, and that you learn to love travel. I pray that you suffer one real heartbreak in life, in order that you might learn that your heart keeps beating even when it's broken. I pray that you learn to love deeply and fiercely, but that you also learn detachment, from expectations, from results, from others' reactions to you. I pray that you learn to enjoy community, but also that you delight in solitude. I pray that you learn to speak truth to power, but to do so gracefully, so that you might be heard. I pray that you learn moderation in all things. I pray that you learn to value and hold safe your reactions and responses to things, and that you feel and express them safely and thoughtfully, whether or not they seem timely or appropriate. I pray that you learn to listen. I pray you dance and laugh as often as possible. I pray that you learn how to observe yourself honestly and with compassion, and that you observe others with this same honesty and compassion. I pray, Little One, that you remember that even the least, worst, ugliest and scariest of us is Christ, and that you see us all with divine, sensitive, compassionate eyes.

There. I think I can press "Delete" now.

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