Dear Lily June,
For a skeptical scholar, I can be embarrassingly superstitious. In fact, I’m bordering on the ridiculousness of the Schumer sketch, where Bill Nye explains how the universe is more than a “vast expanse of energy, gas and dust” but is actually a kind of telepathic message system for white women:
It’s a bit like imagining faith as a process of holding a tin cup telephone up to God (if you will) or the stars (if you won’t) to try and decipher the message slipping along the line into your heart’s ear (the lesser known cousin of the mind’s eye). And yet, I cannot help but feel moved by the fact that, on our first trickle back into a kind of church, the theme of the sermon was Change.
Granted, like a fortune cookie or a horoscope, the theme was just broad and wide enough to feel like it was custom-tailored to anyone looking to start fresh (and who, in a January like this in America, isn’t?). A Dilbert strip once described a similar phenomenon (of predictions seeming to come true because they were so openly constructed by their prognosticators) as a “wide prophet margin.”
Still, I have to admit that Change is exactly what I have been seeking. A Change in how I approach faith and humanity (in as much as, in the past, I haven’t been attempting to approach these much, if at all). I liked that this Church, though Unitarian Universalists are usually described as being without a creed, described theirs as being, “We’re all in this together.”
I also liked that, as someone with OCPD who lives by self-imposed rules and rituals, I was being pushed by the guest pastor (a man who described himself as a “proud atheist”) to “dance nimbly and willingly” with the many ways life and the universe offer up Change.
The main Change I kept thinking of came the night before. I awoke at 3:00AM in a cold sweat and a wet chicken panic, anticipating the next day’s church attendance and its requisite potential for having to make chitchat with strangers.
Introverted to a fault, I tend to align with Sartre, believing my custom-made, tenth circle of hell is a cocktail party where everyone’s hobnobbing about the weather. I almost backed out of the entire experience for fear that I might have to (gasp) interact with another human being. And more than, worse than, that, I started projecting my fears onto you.
On Saturday during the day, you’d been a
holy terror total toddler, having public meltdowns at a bowling alley, breaking away from your parents to try and run up a lane to hurtle yourself, as a substitute for the ball, at the pins directly. I’d chased after you, only to have you erupt into piercing shrieks when I tried to pry you from the (literal) gutter. And that pattern just kept repeating itself–in stores, in parking lots, anywhere with public witnesses (though you’d immediately re-don your halo as soon as we were anywhere private, like home or the car).
Remembering all this, I’d become convinced by Sunday in the wee hours, that, with no daycare or babysitters as practice, you were going to unleash (albeit adorably miniature) Medusa snakes from your tangled hair the second we stepped away from the church’s nursery. Though I was the one who was afraid, I told myself I was being an unprotective mother to abandon you to the
trained professionals lion’s den awaiting you there. My heart pounded like your tiny tantrum fists inside my ribcage just imagining it, and my usual tendency, from that moment, would be to tuck tail and run the other way from the new opportunity.
Instead, I made a simple, all-important Change. I prayed. I reminded myself that it was in God’s hands; that if He wanted us to be in Church the next day, He had the power to make it so. I asked God to open my eyes to the signs of whether or not we were in the right place. I gave up my figurative, illusory grip on the cosmos. I put out into the universe that I was afraid, and I waited to feel confidence and peace. And (drum roll, please), are you ready, Lily June? The truth is, after I prayed I felt…just as bad.
I didn’t feel the Almighty hand of God reach down to rub my soul’s figurative shoulders. The great burden of my anxiety didn’t come crashing down like waves upon the shore. I sensed NO CHANGE WHATSOEVER in my mental state, even though, spiritually, I’d done what I felt was the right thing. So I stayed up longer, feeling alone and afraid and watching Shameless and playing computer games to distract myself from the fact. Eventually, I crawled back into bed and was able to catch a scant few more zzz’s before church day.
I kept thinking of that Change–that step I’d taken toward God, toward the universe, toward admitting power was not entirely within my own grasp–as we dropped you off the next morning at the nursery, and you, surprisingly to me, turned your back to your parents and your attention towards your caregivers and their plethora of crayons.
I continued thinking of it as I listened to the sermon, even as I kept checking your dad’s cell phone frantically (as it was their policy there to send parents a text if their children weren’t adjusting easily). And I couldn’t help but laugh when the service was over, and I rushed back to your side only to hear from your caregivers that you had exhibited an interesting behavior during play:
You wouldn’t stop hugging everybody. You’d play for a few minutes, coloring on paper or slipping down a slide, before rushing over to hug the other toddler in the room (Zooey), the workers in the nursery, the little baby they had doing tummy time. Clearly, Lily June, you have a lot to teach me. (In the meantime, I’m just so proud of you for not being the room’s biter!)
Of course, just in case my radar wasn’t precisely tuned into the full range of humor the universe has to offer, I had to laugh even harder when I saw, this morning, the email come into my inbox with Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. Today’s offering on display? Immutable. Meaning, “not capable of, or susceptible to, Change.” Proof that while it might send messages, the universe also isn’t above, like you, engaging in little play.
- By Anonymous – Camille Flammarion, L’Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), pp. 163, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=318054