Are You There, God? It’s me, Mishi.
Okay, so I totally ripped the title of this post off from that famous book, Are You There God, it’s me, Margaret…but I feel like it’s the right way to start, because this entry is about asking questions.
Maybe because we took the commercialism out of Christmas this year, I have been thinking a lot more about God and religion. Instead of focusing on presents and rushing around and decorations and shopping, we just spent time as a family visiting and eating and enjoying one another’s company. It was actually quite lovely and completely stress-free. I think we may have stumbled upon the secret of getting through the holidays…get rid of the expectations, the formality and the focus on monetary things and you are left with a very basic and stripped down version of Christmas that leaves you feeling grateful, gracious and glad to be where you are. It was truly wonderful!
But also having some free time reminded me that the original reason for the season, before the advent of Santa Claus and candy canes, was to celebrate the birth of Jesus. So I watched a few Church services and let my mind wander to that side of the Christmas experience as well. God and I have an on-again/off-again relationship. Not for any particular reason, other than that I have wavered on my beliefs, the strength of my beliefs, and what I really think.
I’ve attended a variety of Churches at many different periods in my life. I’ve tried Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian and United– I even went to Catholic Mass twice just to see what it’s like. I was baptized in the Episcopalian Church on Staten Island, New York where my mother is from, and when Stella was 6 months old Aimee and I took her to Staten Island to be baptized at the same baptismal font as my sister and I, my mother and gradfather were all baptized at. And, no matter where I go, I have found that I actually quite enjoy Church. I like the ceremony of it, I like the music, I like listening to the sermons with a critical ear and furthering discussions about it in my own mind. On boring days, I like counting hats in the audience or studying the stained glass windows, looking for the story embedded within. But I’ve yet to find a congregation that was completely right for me, so I continue to hunt around periodically, not quiet able to put my finger on what I’m looking for.
When you are dealing with something as inconceivable as the slow and cruel death of your daughter, I think it’s only natural to want to find some sort of higher meaning and reason for your loss. Since Stella’s diagnosis I have read every book I could get my hands on about dealing with the death of a child and overwhelmingly I have found that other parents seem to find their greatest relief and healing through religion. To be blunt however, when you are the parent of a child who is going to die, reading that other parents found acceptance through belief in God is not all that helpful to me. I am looking for some concrete and real coping methods, and somehow that solution rings hollow to me. Maybe I’m just jealous. I really admire people who have an unwavering belief and faith in God. I think it makes it easier to accept something like what we’re going through. I think it is comforting to imagine them in “a better place” with God, in Heaven, or as an angel. It must be endlessly comforting to believe without a shadow of a doubt that some higher power chose you to bear this burden and to live through this loss because of a greater lesson or greater good. It probably dissipates some bitterness and jealousy you have towards the world if you think that you were meant to suffer and it makes you better in the end. Over the last six months I’ve tried to find that peace and comfort with Stella’s cancer. I’ve listened to all the people who tell me they pray for us and that God is watching over us. I’ve watched some people try to “heal” Stella by praying over her and telling us to believe in miracles. I want to be able to look to the sky and imagine that some omnipresent person is smiling down and guiding us in this journey. Some days I can, other days the best I can do is convince myself that Stella came to be with us for a reason and that the randomness of life has simply hit us directly between the eyes.
I really wish that I could just believe, believe, believe, but I am in essence a fact person and I find many of the “facts” that have to do with God a bit questionable. If you factor in the scientific proof regarding how the earth began, the evolution of man, etc. many of the stories in the Bible begin to sound downright fictional. I guess that’s why faith is such an abstract concept to me. It’s like I want to believe so badly, but something keeps stopping me. Yet, when I feel the most hopeless and helpless, I always look to the sky for guidance as though there will be a message in the clouds. Today Stella is sleeping quietly on the couch next to me and the sky is just one big, grey blanket covering everything with fluffly white snow just like the movies. It looks cold and cruel outside, but it is still warm and cozy here on the couch.
This summer I was stopped by our elderly neighbour Rose. Rose it probably close to 90 years old and has lived next to me my entire life. She is Italian and speaks very little English. It was maybe 9 weeks after Stella’s diagnosis and I was walking down the street with Stella. Rose motioned to be wildly to cross the street, so I dutifully went to go see her. She frantically started telling a story in broken English. It was something about that she was “bleeding like a young girl” and was rushed to the hospital. She said while she was lying there, not sure if she was dead or alive, she felt someone stroking her hair gently and when she looked, it was Stella. Her eyes grew big as she grabbed my arm and said earnestly, “Mi-ch-e-elle. She an angel. It mean she an angel!”. Rose had no idea about Stella’s diagnosis, nobody had told Rose she was going to die. I remember standing there stunned, clutching Stella to my chest with tears prickling my eyes. I wanted so badly to believe that she was right. That Stella was an Angel who was sent to us to teach us and love us and be with us. This story might be enough for some people, but I still waver in my beliefs. Sometimes when I stare at Stella, at her perfect porcelain skin, her straight white teeth, her rosy cheeks, beautiful blue eyes and head of curls I do think she’s an angel…then she opens her mouth! If she is an angel she is one with sass, attitude and a penitence for mischievousness. I can only imagine the trouble she will get into with the other angels…
I don’t know God, I guess you and I still have some exploring to do. I am going to try to go to Church again for a few months. Someone recommended Eastminster Presbyterian on the Danforth. I’m not sure if I’ll find what I’m looking for, but any measure of comfort is welcome at the moment. In the meantime, I’ll just keep looking up at the sky searching for a little ray of light. Or, when it’s cloudy, I’ll just find it in Stella’s smile.
Is this the face of an Angel!??