(This is something I wrote when my twin granddaughters--now almost 15--were still babies. Mimi wasn't married yet and Tegan and Eleanor weren't born. I don't think I've posted it before. If I have, forgive me.)
May 5 and 6
VISITING THE TWINS AND THE KIDS
Even though I’ve lived in Connecticut since 1980, I am incapable of driving to New York City and back without getting horribly lost. The problem is the Long Island Expressway (I-495). On the way down, knowing I have to find the BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) I am always semi-convinced that getting on the LIE would take me out to some village on that accurately named “long” island rather than to Lafayette Street in Brooklyn. So I take some exit or another after the Whitestone Bridge that leads me far astray. Often I end up at JFK airport, but this time I ended up on the Jackie Robinson Parkway (cars only) which promised I’d end up in Brooklyn, just like Jackie did to play for the Dodgers. God bless him.
But the part of Brooklyn I ended up in was not a part of Brooklyn I’ve ever seen. (Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of Brooklyn I’ve never seen—and this was part of that.) I drove like a fool, thinking I’d see something familiar, which I finally did—Atlantic Avenue. Atlantic Avenue is the subway stop I get off to be near where Mimi and Josh and Cathy all live, so that looked promising. Surely I’d see something familiar, something I could relate to, some landmark that would guide me to Lafayette Street and Josh and Cathy’s condo. And it did, once I stopped at a Mobil station and asked a gentleman from the Indian sub-continent which way I needed to go on Atlantic Avenue to find the Brooklyn Bridge. (I despaired in asking him if he knew the way to Lafayette Street) and was told in that lilting accent that I was going, oh, in the exactly wrong way. The whole mess added an hour to the trip, but I arrived, feeling buoyant and brilliant at having made my way through all those missed turns to my destination. I am, after all, a remarkably optimistic person.
Skipping what happened between then and going back to Connecticut (all of which is the point to this and will come shortly) the trip back ended up in even a greater misadventure of lost-ness. Again, alas, it was the LIE that messed me up. I think it is telling that the initials for the Long Island Expressway spell “lie” in English. I knew I had to take it, but when faced with the choice between ‘eastern Long Island’ and ‘Mid-town Tunnel” I chose the latter and wrong option. So through the Mid-town Tunnel we went and then we took the FDR (is every road in New York reduced to initials?) in the wrong direction, turned around, took it north and then the Tri-boro Bridge to the Bronx and, eventually, New England. Another hour, at least, since a bike ride for breast cancer slowed us down considerably, of my life spent driving on the wrong roads in New York City. It’s why I always want to take the train. But my wife, who is the only person in the Western Hemisphere who can get more lost than me in New York, likes driving since it gives us so much more freedom and saves so much time. Yeah, right!
Going home she was a good soldier and didn’t abuse me much at all for being such a klutz and almost getting us killed by a New York City bus when I took a sharp right and missed seeing the red light. Thank God for good brakes. And all the way home she kept pointing out cars to me—since I have to get a new car soon, really soon—and asking me how I liked ‘that one’ or ‘this one’. We were driving her Mazda truck, bright red and the survivor of two recent accidents, because my 1995 Volvo has over 300,000 miles on it. My son calls it “the Death Trap” because it is and my daughter calls it “the helicopter’ because it is that loud due to a long past saving muffler. I would as soon drive it into the jaws of Hell as try to go to Brooklyn in it. The number of things that could go wrong on such a trip are mind-numbing. So I need a new car, desperately.
I also need a new computer. I lost 12 pages of breathless prose about the sacraments two days ago for reasons I cannot, for the life of me, understand or correct. I had to try to recreate them and then print them out lest I lose them again. My printer is out of black ink now and these words I’m writing may never see the light of day unless I save them to a floppy disc, which doesn’t always work on my computer. So I need a new computer, desperately. A computer and a car is what I need and I don’t feel up to the pressure of the process to obtain either. When I think about buying a car or a computer, I feel the way I feel driving around New York City, thinking I know where I’m going and not knowing at all….
That’s the first metaphor I want to address here—the experience of thinking you know where you’re going and not knowing at all. That defines, in large measure, my experience as a priest of the church. I almost always ‘think’ I know what I’m doing and in the end—just as I’m paying the toll for the mid-town tunnel I never intended to enter—I realize how wrong I was, how misguided, how lost. It’s not always a bad thing, by the way—this being lost phenomena, this not-knowing-what-you’re-doing experience. Often, I’ve found a soft landing after the big, long, terrifying fall. Often, it seems to me, flying by the seat of your pants without even looking at the information available on the control panel ends up in a good place. But sometimes not.
The second metaphor that struck me in my trip to Brooklyn to see my daughter and my son and my daughter-in-law and my remarkably gifted grand-babies is this: How Different The World Would Be If We Always Talked To Each Other The Way We Always Talk To Babies.
Whenever I see Morgan and Emma (my twin Asian-Anglo grand-daughters) I am struck by the fact that though they are twins (fraternal, since they don’t look at all alike except they both look like my two children) they are so distinct and different and perfectly ‘whole’ though not being at all alike. They keep switching roles, for example. A month ago, at Easter, when they were at our home, Morgan was more out-going and engaging than Emma. Emma would tear up when someone besides her parents held her. Morgan would laugh at anyone. And, on this visit, Morgan had become a “Mommy’s girl” in a big way. She was constantly looking for Cathy and anxious at some level if her mom wasn’t holding her or playing with her. Emma, on the other hand, seemed delighted at the attention of an old, bearded man like me. She would ‘flirt’ with me across the room and play with me almost indefinitely, constantly engaged with my voice and the way I made faces at her and the sounds we shared.
But that’s not my point. My point is this: adults take on a ‘way of being’ with babies that is drastically, even diametrically opposed, to the ‘way of being’ they have with other adults. The metaphor I want to suggest is this: why don’t we continue to relate to each other the way we relate to babies?
Imagine this for a moment: the waiter/waitress at the over-priced restaurant you’re eating at comes to your table and says, in a high pitched, excited voice…”Hey you! How are you! You are soooo cute! You’re soooo adorable!” And all the while, s/he is making these exaggerated faces and making noises with his/her lips that sound like “Brrrrrr” and singing silly songs that he/she thinks you will enjoy.
And what if the car salesperson or computer salesperson stuck out his/her tongue and tickled your chin and said, “I just bet you want the best deal you can find on this car/computer. You are so cute and smart I could just eat you up….Come on, let’s go find just what you want….” And what if the Secretary of State said to the President of Iran, “look at your cheeks! They are so adorable! Let me pick you up and hold you and give you sugar….” And what if the Pope said to the Archbishop of Canterbury: “Oh, you little dumpling, you….Whoo-weee….You want to have some bread and wine with me? That’s just what we both need, come on over here, you sweetie!” And the Archbishop answered: “Look at those precious shoes you have on, you little Pontiff, you…and you’re such a Big, Important Pope…I just love you so….”
When do we forget that we were all babies—cute, lovable, outlandishly wonderful and perfect the way we are? Walking around Brooklyn with those two cute, lovable, outlandishly beautiful and perfect just-the-way-they are twins, I was amazed how people who might otherwise be stand-offish or wrapped in their own limits or even aggressive and unfriendly just melted when we passed by. Street corner toughs found smiles beneath their fierce demeanors. Bag ladies asked what the babies’ names were and found a way out of their protective shells. Business men in suits with their cell phones to their ears making ‘big deals’ stopped walking and grinned and said ‘hello’ to the babies, if not to us. Teens wired into I-pods, trying to ignore the world about them, would stop dead in their tracks, take out their ear-plugs and come over to “ooo” and “ah”. No one, it seems to me, can be so heart-hardened or distracted or frightened that they don’t simply dissolve into who they were meant to be when confronted with two 7 ½ month old babies in a double stroller. And they didn’t just give nodding attention—they noticed Emma and Morgan didn’t look exactly alike. They paid attention to the details of these two small creatures.
And I was aware, walking around that part of Brooklyn, over to the park and back, that people were reacting to all the babies—and there were a plethora of babies…all the world, or at least all of that part of Brooklyn, has enough faith in the future to reproduce with abandon. And, beyond the baby thing, I noticed how people reacted to the thousand and one dogs—probably more dogs than babies—that were out walking on a perfectly beautiful May Saturday in that part of a borough of New York. People love dogs and babies—it’s simply True (I suspend my disbelief in Truth for this particular phenomena)—and they revert to a part of them that is pre-Industrial Revolution, pre-French Revolution, pre-almost anything except what it means at the most deep down, most marrow of the bone, most essence of DNA meaning of being a human being.
What if—just ‘what if’—the church reverted to that level of acceptance and treated every human being as if they were a baby or a puppy? How profoundly would that shift the nature and ‘being’ of the church as an irrelevant institution?
I’d like to take it Global and imagine world leaders treating each other as if all of them were babies or puppies. But that’s beyond my grasp and purpose—I should stay with the church. But this I know and know fair well, if the church would go back to her roots and think about everyone—I mean that literally, “everyone”—as a child of God, there would be a major shift, rearrangement, incredible ‘altering of the occurring’ for how people experienced the church’s being and purpose and gospel.
Add to that the relief the church would find in going back to my first metaphor. What if the church openly and publicly admitted it couldn’t tell its ass from its elbow, couldn’t find its way from Brooklyn to Cheshire without being confounded by I-495, didn’t know the “Truth” from a tea cup, was as lost and confused and confounded as everyone on the planet? Wouldn’t that make a difference and matter in a surprising and powerful way? Wouldn’t that convince people, with a knowing and wry smile, that the church might have some fucking idea or two about what it meant to be a human being searching for the right exit, driving too fast and missing the turn-off, lost and frightened as we all are?
I was holding Emma and talking to her when nobody else was around. I said: “you are beautiful and perfect just the way you are.” And she shrieked and smiled and grabbed my nose. “And I have no idea,” I said to her in a voice I would normally only use for a baby or a puppy, “what life has in store for you.” She laughed and made a perfect ‘O’ with her sweet, perfect mouth and reached for my glasses. “But this I know, O Emma,” I was singing now in a tune I half remembered and half made up, “you are the best girl, the perfect girl, the girl we have all been waiting for….”
That is true of every person on the planet. Really. So, what if the church believed that and proclaimed it?