Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Lesser Commandments

Lately I find a profound need to go to Mass every Sunday. My spiritual side pulls me through the most difficult moments and Sunday Mass is like a booster shot for my fragile spirit. The first time I returned to Mass after having the tube placed, I went alone. I knew that I would not make it through the service without decompensating, and I did not want to subject the children to that experience. I entered the church and searched out my friend, Donna. She happens to have four kids; I guess I didn’t think about the fact that I would be decompensating in front of her kids rather than mine. Still, I’m not their mother. I eased into the pew next to Donna and took a deep breath, “I’m here.”

The gospel that day was about the Road to Emmaus when the resurrected Christ joins two disciples on their physical and emotional journey in the days following Christ’s death. The disciples do not recognize their companion nor do they realize that they are not where they need to be. When the priest gave his sermon he spoke about how we all think we know what journey we are on. We are all so confident that we know our destination, but that we usually don’t have a clue. As he spoke my limited control over my emotions gave way. And I cried in Donna’s ready arms.

These days I’m really into PDA. No, I am not talking about public displays of affection. I’ve decided the acronym could be used more widely. It can serve its originally intended purpose, especially helpful in Paris, the motherland of PDA. Or it could stand for public displays of agitation, especially helpful in Italy where the most mundane conversations engender passionate expression. Or, in my current situation, it can stand for public displays of angst. I cannot count the number of times over the past 4 months that I have publicly dissolved into a tear-stained, snot-laden mess. I don’t even try to stop myself anymore. Instead I take a boy-scout approach: I prepare. I no longer wear make-up or contacts if I think there is the remotest possibility that I might cry. This, of course, means that I no longer wear make-up or contacts period. My purse and car are filled with tissues, and I steal tissue and toilet paper everywhere I go. And I’m starting to understand why old men don’t cut those hairs that grow out of their ears. They know it’s there. The just don’t give a crap. And I don’t give a crap about roving the streets of Durham looking like some escaped mental patient. I still prefer not to wipe snot on my shirtsleeves, but, hell, I may let go of that soon too.

But I digress. I was in church.

Donna got me through that first service, and I have returned each week. I keep looking at Christ on the cross and thinking to myself blasphemously, “I’m right there with ya, buddy.” But then I really think about it and I wonder, “Isn’t that the point?” The story I was told in Catholic school, as I sat there in my hideous plaid jumper, was that he became human so that he could suffer as we do. So why was everyone so pissed when Madonna hung herself on the cross? Aren’t we supposed to see our suffering in the savior? I swear that cross is what keeps me coming back every Sunday. When I look at the cross I do not feel alone. I feel like I can hang, so to speak, for another week.

This past Sunday we went to Mass as a family and sat in back of a young pregnant woman. Our pastor has a thing for incense that I borders on pathologic. I swear he is out to kill every pulmonary patient in the building. Before the first reading I am usually barely breathing. Every time I coughed the pregnant women glanced in my direction as if I was spewing TB into the air. “Alright lady, I get it. You are about to pop that kid out any second, and you don’t want to get sick.” I tried to get a hold of the cough but could not. So I went to the narthex, the entry area of the building, and sat on the floor.
Before I returned to the church, I washed my hands in anticipation of the sign of peace. As soon as I returned, the glances began in earnest. These were not, “Oh, you poor thing” glances. These were, “Why are you out in public spreading your germs” glances. I felt like a leper. “Lady,” I thought to myself, “you’re in friggin’ church.” There was not an ounce of compassion on her face. And then, the pièce de résistance, she took out the hand sanitizer after the sign of peace. I wanted to hoc a loogey into her hair.

I reviewed the 10 commandments in my head. “Nope, no ‘Thou shalt not give dirty looks to sick people’ on the list.” Could this fall under keeping the Lord’s day holy? I didn’t think she was acting very holy. Of course, I wasn’t feeling very holy myself. I kept trying to think about my mindfulness practice and send her “loving kindness.” But, really, I wanted to smack her upside the head. And, surely, that is not in keeping with the holiness of the Lord’s day.

Thankfully she left after Communion and I could enjoy the last 10 minutes of the service in peace. On the way home I mentioned the woman to Bill. Men usually don’t pay attention to all the non-verbal bullshit that happens between women so I was not expecting him to have noticed anything. “What was her problem?” Bill replied. “I think I need a button that says ‘Lucky for you, my cough isn’t contagious’ so that people don’t look at me like I am the Grim Reaper,” I laughed. But I’m really starting to think I should add the button to my list of things to do.

I wonder if God sits in heaven with his hand on his head and wonders, “Where did I go wrong?” That’s the way I feel when the kids leave their dirty clothes on the floor. Do I have to tell them to put it in the laundry? Isn’t it obvious that the dirty clothes will not walk themselves into the washing machine (and, for the record, I do not pick up after them and never have)? Why do I have to say it even once, let alone every other day? And, when I tell them to wash their hands, why do I need to remind them to use soap? Isn’t all of this common sense?

And isn’t it obvious that one should treat a sick person with kindness rather than disdain?

I picture God in heaven, plagued with self-doubt. “Should I have given them 20 commandments? Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. They seem to be having a hard time working from the general to the specific. Like the whole false gods thing, they don’t seem to realize that it extends beyond statues. Does anyone even worship statues nowadays? They probably think that commandment has been retired. I thought I made it so simple: Love me, love each other.” And like all parents, I imagine that he wonders where he went wrong.

As for me, I keep trying not to send evil thoughts in the direction of the pregnant woman. Somehow I don’t think God looks favorably on prayer requests involving the infliction of pain and suffering. But the Philly girl in me wants to give her a serious piece of my mind, but that would never do in the “southern part of heaven.” So I keep telling myself, “Let it go, Michelle. Let it go.”


courtney said...

I was laughing hysterically about your unholy feelings in church. You should submit this article somewhere! love you. courtney

Becky said...

I wanted to hoc a loogey into her hair.

you made me laugh out loud AT WORK...oh, yeah...prbly 'shouldn't' be reading blogs at work.

amy said...

i just started reading your blog tonight, trying to find a way to help understand what my best friend is going through as she dies...and you are helping me to no end...i almost peed my pants after reading this last blog entry...i too am a philly catholic girl and i was right with ya, i wanted to slap those bitches upside their head for you!! your strength amazes me...thank you so much for writing this, i know i wont be sleeping tonight until im finished reading it all...