They are seven and nine, strong and beautiful, and they can sing on pitch now, so we sign them up for the youth choir at church. This new church, it's traditions, they've felt like coming home. It's been my safe place after twisting, twitching in auditorium chairs in the dark, gritting teeth through sermons, muscles taught during worship music. I sat down in the hard-backed pew, the choir sang, we stood and sat, and prayed and confessed together, and I felt something open inside that had been locked tight for most of my life.
I used to wear glass around my neck like a worry stone heavy, grounding me in the present. My fingers found it every time I had to smile, had to speak, had to move through people. Glass must be stronger than rock, because I wore through the rock I held in my pocket for the same purpose, and my pendants are just shiny from all the anxious stroking. One is a whirl of color like a pinwheel of hope: through the grayest days of my recovery, I would look down into it's infinity and dream of living in color again.
The other is my Lake Superior. I carry a piece of this place I've loved, where I've rested, to remind me that peace is possible. I hold it tight between thumb and middle finger, like a piece of the land where hope will be found again.
I haven't worn these much while sitting in the hard backed pews. But yesterday, my girls joined choir. It is an oddity of this era, that when your children join something, you join, too. Dropping the girls off, I was corralled into a small room adjacent to where they are rehearsing: mandatory parents meeting. We stand around the edges of the room, most of the moms sitting against the wall, in groups of three or four, a cacophony of laughter and the twitter of voices thunderous in the small space. I reach for my neck, my cheeks hot. But today my neck is bare. I finger an earring instead, try to put a neutral half smile on.
The meeting takes only 30 minutes. We are signing up to take turns in the choir rehearsals, chaperoning. All of it brings the familiar bile back up my throat, and my lips are tight now, not neutral any longer. It's not because I hate being an outsider. It's not because I wish I had a friend there to talk to. I don't feel left out. I am haggard with the desperate fear that I will be forced to be included.
Fear is not orderly. It doesn't measure threats and mete out just the right amount of panic. It is all or none. Put your thumb in a wound and twist, and there will be the metallic soulless scream, the tortured twisting of the body, the bunching up of the face. Put me in a room of church people, make me look in their eyes, listen to their conversations, and that is what is happening inside.
Oh, Father, how will this be possible? I have no desire to pass my wounds on to my children. I want to them to be in Sunday School, the choir, the pageants, VBS. I want them to feel included in your Body. I am much happier hanging out as the ugly little toenail on the Body of Christ. Yet I don't want to isolate my children down here by the dirt with me.
The meeting is over. The mothers gather around the rehearsal room door, peeking in at children. I give each of mine a passing smile. They can't see the glisten of tears through the glass. I walk down a quiet hall, give my silent scream. Wander back and find a recessed doorway and fold myself in it, sitting down there on the threshold, in the basement of this church. I am the woman battling, elbowing silently, isolated, through the throng, unclean, exhausted, reaching out to touch the hem of the Master's garment (Mark 5:25-34). Just a moment of healing, Christ.
The children emerge, piling out the doors laughing, still singing. My oldest is her usual self: a new experience, however enjoyable, leaves her exhausted. Her younger sister is bouncing on the toes of her flats, talking a mile a minute. I put on the realest smile I can muster. For this - for you - I sacrifice.
What I will not tell you on your first day of choir is exactly that - this is a sacrifice, my children.
By the time I free myself from the throngs of the church, I am fleeing a haunted house, not a safe place. I run with the children across the park to the car, slam earbuds into ears, turn up the Grace Potter. My husband grasps my shoulder but I can't say it, I have no words now, I am still running inside. Tears pour, music flows, I find a rock in the bottom of my purse and I rub, I rub, my soul prays in sobs.
You would not let me be wounded again, Father?
We are home, and the cocoon of this day has surrounded me completely now, and I am huddled in the dark. My husband plays music out in the bright house, making dinner. He's out there, telling the night to leave me in peace. I hear the words of the song. Pull them to my neck to finger.
And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars