Recently, my sister asked me to be godmother to her new baby daughter. I accepted the honor joyfully and enthusiastically even though I knew this meant I would have to bring my otherwise jewish family to church.
If my own mother had come to terms with my interfaith status I figured that God, too, wouldn’t mind my inclusive approach. Even my in-laws seemed up for it. (After all, some of their best friends were Presbyterian.)
In the back of my mind, still, I wondered if I was going to get into any cosmic trouble for dipping my toes in both pools like this, trying to live a double life.
On the morning of the ceremony, when my children and husband had miraculously clothed themselves in a timely manner and we were ready to make it to the church on time, I couldn’t find my purse. Considering the relative enormity of my purse (think “train case” for grandma) and size of my apartment, this is like not being able to find an rhinoceros in a ring box. I spent thirty minutes scouring every inch of our abode and thinking how is this possible? After I verified that the purse was not in the hamper, the refrigerator, or somehow in the microwave I decided to leave without it, concluding that this was a sign from God telling me that I am way too absentminded.
“You should have a designated spot where you always put it,” my husband suggested as he had on half a dozen other occasions. This time, though, maybe with God’s help, he managed to say it in a sweet, compassionate way rather than in his usual tone of how can you be trusted to keep track of the children if you can’t even keep track of your purse! As a result, we did not get into an argument, I said a little prayer for no traffic, and we settled into our drive into the city.
I spent the trip with my mind racing, retracing my steps and trying desperately to divine where I could have lost my purse. Where could it be? What was even in it? My keys, my cards, my cash, a gift credit to Williams&Sonoma, baby photos of my kids that were no longer available on snapfish because my account was accidentally deleted, oh jesus, my diary? Oh no.
It was getting bad. I would be mortified if some stranger had read my diary, I would also probably be arrested.
Then, in contravention of my natural proclivities, I decided to stop thinking about it. Facing this long stretch of hours ahead of me, the service followed by a lunch, then a party, then a dinner, I knew that there was nothing I could do right now to resolve the issue. I was just going to have to wait.
Of course we were late to the service but all of those present–my parents, my in-laws, my sister and her family–were more relieved than angry to see me. Whether or not I was sufficiently “Christian” to be a godmother had taken a backseat to the more important issue of whether I was going to be there at all.
My children hunkered down with various electronic devices that had been muted and were significantly more entertaining the diversions available to me when I was their age and had to resort to doodling on the donation envelopes, checking the underside of the pews for chewing gum, or reading the bible for God’s sake.
When the time came for the baptism itself I moseyed up to the font, prepared with my one line, “I present this child to receive the sacrament of holy baptism.” I stood with this little baby, surrounded by multiple generations of my family. I was reminded of my sister’s own baptism when she was a baby and I was her 7-year-old big sister. Now, I had my hands on my son’s shoulders, trying to keep him from splashing the water in the font, just as my parents had kept me in line 33 years ago. It was a layering of moments. (I was moved, certainly, but heaven help me if I ever proclaim how “blessed” I felt.)
My parents were behind me, not quite at ease, (my jewish in laws were standing behind them) but heaving a certain sigh of relief.
I thought back to when I had just brought my first baby, my now squirming son, home from the hospital. That first evening, as I cradled my son in my arms, my mother gazed at me. She had this serene, happy look on her face. I expected her to say something like, “He is so cute,” or “Isn’t this amazing?” the thoughts that were running through my mind at the time, but instead she smiled, looked me in the eye and said, “I am just so happy it is not me.”
At the time I shook my head and laughed a little, failing to understand what she could possibly mean. Four months later, when I had slept a for a total of 48 minutes since my son’s arrival at home, I had an inkling. But still no idea, of course, “Talk to me when you have a teenager,” she would say every time I would call worried about a cough, or a rash, or a reluctance to color within the lines. And she’s right. That’s the thing about moms. They really are always right–and in front of audiences who seldom appreciate that correctness until it is too late.
Now, looking at my parents’ beaming faces there at the baptism, I knew they were pleased. Truly, truly I say to you, the girls are all grown up, each with her own family, and they are together in church.
My soon-to-be goddaughter performed divinely throughout the baptism, laughing and smiling the entire time. I made my promise to help raise this child in accordance with the Christian scriptures, and I did mean it. Even as I held the hands of my jewish children and even as I hoped that my jewish in-laws weren’t quite paying attention.
After the baptismal ceremony was over, the church service continued and I noted that the building was not struck by lightning. I took this as a sign of divine indifference.
We continued with the offertory, the Agnus Dei, the Lord’s Prayer, and communion, elements so ingrained in my consciousness that, like the streets of my old neighborhood, they feel like “home” even though I haven’t visited very frequently in the last twenty years.
My mind drifted back to the mundane, and I felt a quick jolt of stress as I remembered, “Where in God’s green earth did I put my purse? What am I going to do if I really lost it?”
As I mentally went through the steps, calls to the credit card companies, a trip to the DMV, replacing that bulky brick of a car key…I quickly shifted into the plea, “oh God, please let me just find it.”
Then, remembering that I was in church, I quickly retracted that “prayer” as soon as I heard it juxtaposed against the others being offered, “Help John find a new job, help Joanne find peace as she battles breast cancer…” Et cetera.
All right all right! Jesus. You’ve made your point. I am not going to worry about it until I get home.
Looking back at my parents, who were still beaming with pride (my mother not yet discovering that I had failed to purchase enough tea and coffee goodies for after the service), I had an epiphany.
That horrible, “out of control” sensation that I was feeling because I was not sure if I was going to find my purse when I got home, was nothing (and I really mean nothing) compared to what my parents must have felt after I was diagnosed with cancer as an infant. Forty years ago they were the ones submitting prayers for health. They were the ones wondering if “at the end of the day” they were still going to have their daughter.
I felt a surge of gratefulness. I might be walking around with one eye missing (and wondering if I was ever going to find my grandma bag) but, unlike my parents, I never had to worry like they did. By the time I was able to understand what “cancer” was, I was busy collecting pennies and pencils from my friends in exchange for taking my eye out at recess. Thank god I never had to wonder if I was going to “make it.” Thank god my parents did that waiting for me.
I hoped I would never have to do something that hard, but understood that I probably would.
But not now. Not today. Nothing bad was happening on this day when the worst that could happen was that I was I had lost my purse. And if someone read my diary? As a “blogger” I am not really in a position to complain about that.
Miraculously, I did enjoy the rest of the day. The weather was beautiful the kids were well-behaved. My mom didn’t even seem too bothered that I had failed to get enough food for the party. We all, including my in-laws, were just happy to be together. Not quite singing Kumbya, but happy.
Later that night when I returned home and I walked into my apartment, I did find my purse. It was in plain sight, right by the bathroom door in all its back-breaking enormousness. I don’t know how I could have missed it in the first place.
Maybe this didn’t quite constitute a “miracle,” but there was no denying that I had lost and found something pretty awesome this day. And the whole time it was right there, ready to be picked up.