Sunday, January 31, 2010

Letter to my son


“Some parents and their children bond over museum visits or sporting events. We bond over wringing out hand washing,” I joked. “Such is our life.”
“The life you put me in!” you said, with an undercurrent of accusation.

“At least you’ve got one!” I said to your retreating figure. But what could you understand of that?

I have always known how hard it would be, raising you alone. I was under no illusions. No teenage girl hoping for someone to love her. No broody, nearly-out-of-eggs career woman dreaming of stenciled nursery walls and cradling a warm, talc-scented head. I knew it would be a struggle and one that you would probably never understand and certainly never thank me for. But I did it anyway, I gave you life because you already existed and it wasn’t my job to contradict what was so evidently and powerfully a force beyond my control.

I’m sorry you don’t have the things your friends do, that you are ashamed to invite them over because your mother sleeps on the sofa and dries clothes by hanging them from the furniture.

The fact is you have so much. You just don’t know it yet. And one day you’ll be proud of me, I hope, that I’ve made it this far when so many times everything inside of me has wanted to give up, fold in, fade out. I hope you’ll never get to feel my loneliness, anxiety, the guilt that I can’t do better for you. I’ve tried my best, and when you’re a parent you’ll know that’s all you can ever do – get out of bed, try your best and hope that you, my child, will do better. But know that no one, no one, no matter how successful at this business called life, could ever have loved you more.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Honorary Jew


“Goldberg? Ms. Goldberg?”
“Er, my name’s Godbold. Are you calling me?”
“Right this way, Ms. Goldberg. Now if you’d just take a seat I’ll pull up your medical record.”
“God-bold. My name’s Godbold.”
“Now let me see, Goldstein, Goldsmith, we don’t have a 'Goldberg, Louise.'”
“That’s because my name isn’t Goldberg.”
“I’m sorry, I just glanced at it briefly. Let’s see, Goldbold.”
“Actually, it’s God, Godbold.” I attempt a smile, “Can’t confuse God with gold,” (at least, not if you’ve been listening to the series on idolatry at my church.)
“Uh-huh.” She doesn’t look convinced. Perhaps she’s set up an altar to a golden calf in the staff lounge.
“The name means, ‘good and brave.’”
“Oh, you’ve done that genial-ology thing?”
“Er, no.”
“Your family told you?” she asks suspiciously, perhaps thinking they’d got it wrong and it was Goldberg all along.
“Yes. My family has lived in Britain since about the year five hundred.”
“Ah, they went through the Holocaust and all that?”
“No, we’re Anglo-Saxon!”
“Oh, sorry, I thought you said you were Jewish. So, Ms. Goldbold, what is the reason for your visit today?”
“Regular check up.”
“Okay.” She types something into the computer. “And what is your first language?”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bad Platitude (with apologies to Rupert Brooke)


“Idols can be many things, in fact, anything we put before God. I’m not talking carved wooden statues here, but a spouse, a career…”
“Addictions,” suggests some bright spark.
“Yes, addictions.”
“Like smoking?” asks Ohio Dave, knowing our speaker tonight has struggled and failed with giving up. There is a murmur around the room. It’s good-natured ribbing, but with a barb. Is Ohio Dave going alpha male on us?

I lean further back on the sofa and gaze at the fairy lights wrapped around the gantries. Safe in the magic of my woods I lay and watched the dying light… We are in a rehearsal space, a fitting venue for this bunch of disenfranchised bohemians who don’t exactly like church, but can’t seem to entirely escape the imperative to meet with other Christians either. At least, that was the crowd until a gaggle of putty-faced theological students arrived. How do I know they’re theological students? Well, first they wear earnest expressions and second they look really stupid trying to play the drums. I do too, but I have the good sense to leave the bongos to those with rhythm.

“You see, idols can’t give you real comfort, or validation, love, whatever it is you’re looking for.”
(“No-oh,” I imagine the group sing-songing their agreement.)
“These things can only be found in God,” continues our speaker.
(“Ye-es,” I hear the group chorusing, like a bunch of kindergarten kids, but wait! Someone is actually going to state the obvious.)
“Yeah, and like, when you’ve got all those things, it’s like, ‘Now what?’” says a guy grinning and shaking his head at the idea that anyone could expect to find fulfilment except in God.

My hand shoots up, but the speaker is droning on about God’s sufficiency. Finally he can no longer ignore the arm stuck in the air.
“But what about when he isn’t?!” I say, sitting up straight so everyone can hear me. “What about when God isn’t sufficient?” My mouth starts to wobble. Oh no! Too much red wine. My indignation is spilling over into tears.

I remain upright at the edge of the sofa, waiting for the tide of words coming out of the speaker’s mouth to run up against some beachhead I recognize. It takes me a good five minutes, but I realize he’s talking about suffering. He takes a comment. Then another. They’re all talking about suffering and how we don’t understand it and, ho, aren’t we glad we didn’t always get the things we prayed for, and sometimes depression can lead to secondary depression because we blame ourselves about being depressed (is he talking about me?) and the rest I lose because it’s either not relevant or just the same clap-trap, trap-clap, quacking platitudes.

I take a swig of wine and collapse back against the sofa, the blue pin-pricks of light blurring and swimming overhead. And I knew that this was the hour of knowing, and I should find soon in the silence the hidden key of all that had hurt and puzzled me…

The speaker is annoyed. I’ve derailed his agenda and it’s time to wrap up. Someone taps me on the shoulder. Ohio Dave.
“He should have stopped and prayed,” he says, retrospectively directing events. “I understand how you feel because I hurt in that way too. I’m going to pray for you.” Before I can realize this doesn’t mean later – at his house, a safe distance from me – a hand is clamped on my forehead. Fortunately, his prayer is short, but when I look up a woman is hovering in front of me.

“I wanted to share a vision I had. I think it’s for you. Well, it was for me, but I think it’s for you too.” She settles in to describe walking through a fiery furnace and Jesus waiting on one side (because he’s coming to the east gate of the Temple, she tells me, as if that explains everything). The noise of a fool in mock distress, crashing and laughing and blindly going, of ignorant feet and a swishing dress, and a Voice profaning the solitudes...

“But we’re going to Glory, such glory!” she concludes. “It doesn’t matter what happens in this life.” Oh God, she thinks this is about suffering too. Didn’t anyone hear me? Oh no, of course they didn’t – I wasn’t given a chance to speak.

My new neighbor is as skeptical as I about whether ‘pie in the sky when you die' is really of any comfort.
“God’s a bastard,” he confides, and then tells me the story of a friend dying of cancer.

“Okay, thank you,” I say, jumping up. “No more counselling, no more praying!” I watch them draw together in concern as I walk to another group. Oh, for goodness' sake! Now I’m going to be known as The One With Emotional Problems. Emotional, yes, but I blame that on the red wine. And secondary depression, of course.

The speaker drifts in our direction, not sure of what to say to me. “Ah, here’s the man with all the answers,” I say, sardonically. Unsurprisingly, he abandons the attempt at conversation and instead annexes the friend who brought me tonight.

“I don’t buy all this ‘You haven’t been in my shoes, so you can’t understand,’” I hear him protesting. Your flat clear voice beside me mouthed cheerful clear flat platitudes… My friend rolls her eyes in my direction, a signal to go.

“It wasn’t about suffering!” I shout into the night air as we hurry down the dripping sidewalk to her car.

You came and quacked beside me in the wood.
You said, "The view from here is very good!"
You said, "It's nice to be alone a bit!"
And, "How the days are drawing out!" you said.
You said, "The sunset's pretty, isn't it?"
* * * * *
By God! I wish…I wish that you were dead!

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