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third parent

You were Spirit-filled women wearing soft perfume and pantyhose, shoes kicked off and crying freely, arms raised, mascara smeared, interceding for husbands and children. You listened and gave advice, and encouraged me to get up and sing into the microphone. You praised. You nurtured. Full of spirit, indeed.

You taught me the sacred stories, Sunday after Sunday. You told us the story of Noah and the Ark and we sat, our full attention on your facial expressions. You taught us to sing, to harmonize, to act, to tell stories through music and motion. You gave us a space to fall down and get up again.

We gathered for potluck meals after hours-long Sunday services. It was like eating around a fire after a hunt, I imagine– everyone so hungry for food and so full of human companionship, tapping into an ancient need.

You were men in three piece suits with shiny cufflinks, giving sermons about the End Times and insights about Old Testament prophecy, selling books afterward. Once, as I sat in Sunday evening service on the second row, you called me out for not paying attention. With a red face I raised my notebook to show you I was taking careful notes of your words. You apologized and moved on. I wanted your approval.

You gave up your Saturday mornings to do car washes with us, raising money for camps and conventions, buying us pizza and soda, and you may not have known but known we looked forward to it all week: your attention.

We snuck out of Wednesday night service and went down the hill behind the church, for no real reason other than we could. You found us and brought us back inside. You let us throw pies in your face and tolerated our immature sense of humor without ever letting us know it. You cried with those of us who missed parents, who came to church looking to fill holes in our lives. You made us believe we would change the world with our prayer, our witness, our zeal.

You took us to the river, to Mexico, to Africa. We held ourselves down on the Land Rover seats, driving along bumpy red dirt roads, and I heard you say if one of those fags ever tried to touch me…; my face went hot and I don’t remember the other part of that conditional. I learned that you could be small and scared and pitiable.

One of you sang in the choir and took out your rage on your wife at home. More of you practiced compassion in your families. You drove miles to pick me up, let me stop by your house after school, gave me cold water and cookies, told me stories and gave me important clues about this life.

You gave me a car. You looked me in the eye. You teased me for the impossible crush that lasted all through my teenage years. You drove us out for a concert and almost hit a horse on the way home, and we rolled toward the front of the van, waking rudely from our sleep on the floor. 

In college, when I tried to sort out the complications of falling in love, you told me that if I married that boy, God would take away my calling. I followed my heart (thankfully) but spent the first year of my marriage trying to figure out what that even meant–to lose one’s calling. I had once thought you wise on a spiritual level–discerning–and it took so much time to see what it was for what it was.

You told me stories of the day I was born, how I wore a onesie that said The Apple of His Eye and you sang skidamarink a-dink, a-dink, skidamarink a-doo, I love you whenever you saw me, even at my Dad’s funeral all those years later.

I remember thinking you were God when you stood behind the pulpit. All through my childhood, I saw your face when I prayed. 

I’ve been thinking lately about this village; about what it meant. We, the children, were given heavy things to carry. We were given great amounts of love and affirmation. We were given falsehoods with the very best of intentions, and I’m still unpacking them. 

You were my third parent: teaching me how the world works. How much love we’re capable of, how little we really know.

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thin

In the morning, I lift her out of the crib. She rests her head on my shoulder, tucking her little body into the side of me. We whisper our morning greetings to each other. It’s Easter Sunday, and I stayed up last night to press her little denim dress with the ruffled skirt–one, two, three layers. I slip it over her head, and button the little white lace sweater over it. I carry her to the bathroom and comb her hair, telling her all the while how beautiful she is. (And she is! My goodness.) We’re almost done, and she slips a little toward the round sink. I catch her, but she’s felt the scare and starts to cry. It takes time for her little self to calm after things like this–five minutes of shhhhhh and pat and sway. My sensitive-souled girl.

Before, something like this would have stolen the morning from us.

Later, we eat breakfast at the church and wait while the big kids hide eggs outside. When they’re done, we march our three out the door. The boys are off in a flash with their buckets, having done this before. Aimee walks with her basket like she’s been practicing, stoops down to collect the eggs she spots. After four, she dumps them all out triumphantly and collects them again. We laugh, and take pictures, and shiver a little in the cold Spring wind. What is it about Easter, always chilling us in the thin outfits we insist on wearing?

I’m not trying to make anything more spiritual than it already is, and that feels good. This egg hunt, this celebration of Spring, is also a celebration of resurrection and all the rest of it. Whatever I may feel or not feel, it doesn’t matter right now. I am rediscovering simple, good things. Among them: I have a daughter who laughs and runs (runs!) with her Easter basket, I have two brown-eyed boys–one who still belly-laughs and one who goes deep into his thoughts and says, when the pastor asks, that Easter is about celebrating hope. I have a man by my side with warm hands and an imagination about life. We’ve dreamed together, and we’ve learned to let ourselves be tired.

I could never make these things more beautiful than they already are.

I’ve been holding two things side by side: great beauty and great sadness. I make inquiries about therapy, for myself this time, because I want to be happy. That is all, and it is enough: I want to be happy. I am worthy of happiness, I tried recently to say to myself in the mirror, and couldn’t quite look my reflected self in the eye.

I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to ask for this kind of help.

I talk through the hour-and-a-half session like it’s ten minutes, and learn to breathe into the spot in my chest where the pain throbs. It helps. Let me be your container for awhile, she says, and I agree. I feel like there is an ocean to organize into glass vials–to label and sort and store. I can’t fathom it, really, but it’s comforting to think that someone else can. You don’t just walk away from a fear-saturated belief system and have no cost to pay. But it’s time.

Time for new things to be born.

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