Making Whole

reconnecting,

The garment is worn out. There are only a few stalwart threads stretched across, warp without woof, and its fibers are surely too frazzled to hold up.

A reasonable person would have tossed it out or torn it into rags. But here I am, strangely peaceful as I thread the needle hoping to weave these strands back into a whole fabric.

Before drawing my stitches across the expanse I realize its boundaries must be reinforced. I sew a merry line around the edge, reinforce it with another line of stitching and then another. The jagged edge looks a bit like the borders around a state or map of a continent. Sewing is a contemplative endeavor and this small task gets me thinking.

I’ve never been great at establishing boundaries. By the time I was nine years old I read every newspaper and magazine that entered our house. My parents cancelled news magazine subscriptions because my childish reaction to what I saw on those pages was too raw. I still read about suffering in the morning newspaper. I still asked questions about  war, poverty, prejudice, cruelty, and greed — unsatisfied with answers like “God’s ways are mysterious.” I wanted to understand how grown-ups could let these things happen, how they couldn’t see. I wanted to understand all the way down to the mystery itself.

As a much smaller child I had a recurring nightmare. The dream was too large to describe, but I’ll try. In it could see life on Earth from a vantage point far above. Cars hurried along on roads, people lived in closed-off rectangles, everyone urged onward by a desperation that — from my dream vantage point — was tragic and absurd. They couldn’t hear me but I wanted to shout “It’s not real!” I’d wake up nearly gasping with horror.

Slowly I’d muster up the courage to run through the dark hallway to my parent’s room. My mother slept through any disturbance. Only my father would wake. He’d get up quietly, take me to the bathroom, and tuck me back into bed. On the nights when my misery wouldn’t go away, I’d brave that dark hallway again and my dad would let me sleep between them. Their bodies, heavy with sleep, helped to calm me.

Sometimes my father would try to parse the dream by asking me about it. I’d cry, “Everybody thinks it’s real, but it’s not.” And he’d try to explain it away, the way he did with my zoo dream, where animals burst from their cages to live behind garages and in back yards —- sadly unable to get back to their real homes. “Their cages are strong,” he’d say. “And they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” His words didn’t help. His presence did.

I’ve been a grown-up for a long time now. I spend too much time rushing around in my car and busy in my own rectangle as if this is what’s important, no greater  perspective in sight.

But my task right now is to stitch across the threads. Draw what’s pulled apart back together. Appreciate the needle’s strength and the thread’s purpose. Imagine it can be made a whole fabric. In a larger sense, there’s no other choice.

beyond boundaries

Bonfire Revelations

 

parents are people, kids recognizing parents as people,

Every evening at church camp was the same. We tidied up our cabins and then met back at the lodge. There we were taught songs and led in quiet games. Ours was a reserved sort of Christianity. The Presbyterian church  I was raised in proffered no talk of hell or being saved, no witnessing. The congregation was friendly in a formal sort of way. (Even so, I don’t think they entirely deserved the denomination’s nickname—“God’s Frozen Chosen.”)

I was nine years old that summer. My father had volunteered to serve as one of the camp counselors and bunked halfway up the hill in a cabin with the older boys. I was assigned a cabin at the bottom of the hill with the younger girls.

On our last evening of the week-long camp we were called out of the lodge after the final song. There stood our recently ordained young minister. He held flaming torches in his upraised hands like some illustration from a storybook. He passed them out to the counselors and told us to follow.

This was highly irregular. Fire? Hiking after dark? Staying up past bedtime? Our speculative whispers were unsuccessfully hushed by the grown-ups. We arrived at the clearing where morning worship services were held. It looked different at night. Shadowy trees loomed over the ring of log seats. Adults leaned their torches toward a dark stack of wood until a bonfire flared.

The minister offered a prayer and then talked about faith. I was so caught up in this out-of-the-ordinary moment that I didn’t pay close attention to his words. Who would? Kids know grown-ups like to go on and on about things. It’s best to let them. Meanwhile, I was mesmerized by the flames and how different our faces looked in the firelight.

Then the minister asked a question, something about how we knew God in our hearts. Silence settled over our group. None of us were familiar with faith discussed in such personal terms. The pastor looked around the circle with an expression kids know all too well. It’s the look teachers get when they are going to call on someone.

I was so timid that I tended to blush even for other people. One day in school, after his family had vacationed in Hawaii, Doug Bloomfield brought a grass skirt to Show & Tell. He cheerfully clicked on a cassette of exotic music, pulled the skirt over his pants, and demonstrated a hula dance. He didn’t seem at all embarrassed. In my third row seat I blushed a red so deep that kids actually looked away from the hula spectacle to stare at me.

Until now I’d liked this strange after-dark event. The cool night air scented with burning wood felt magical. But I was pretty sure asking people to talk about their own religious experiences was rude. Already I felt flustered on behalf of whoever might have to answer. The minister stopped waiting for one of us to volunteer. He chose someone.

The person he asked was my father.

My dad, a quiet and low-key man, wasn’t one to speak up in front of others. There was a long pause. I was sure I could feel his distress. Then my father spoke. He talked a little about growing up in the country where he spent time in the woods and fields. He said he still felt closest to God not in church, but when he was out in nature. He finished by saying he liked silence and that was a way of praying too.

A moment comes when a child begins to see a parent as a separate person. This was such a moment. I knew my father was drawn to the outdoors. He took us hiking, showed us how to skip stones across the water, let us get muddy. But this was a larger context. I saw he had his own reasons to spend time outside. I recognized my father as a man whose life was bigger than I’d imagined.

Although this was my first glimpse of him as a person in his own right, I also I felt closer to him. That’s because what he spoke was my truth too. In the little forest behind our house I liked to go to a particular spot by myself. I didn’t have the words for it, but when I sat quietly there I had a sense of being in a sacred place. I looked across the circle at my father and loved him more than ever. He looked back at me. His face was luminous in the firelight.

This appears in the anthology  How to Pack for Church Camp.