“Spiritual exhibitionism?” Susan asked in spite of a mouthful of olive and thyme bread.
“Spiritual exhibitionism,” I nodded and sipped my corn chowder.
“Your writings will be that exposing?”
“Feels like that right now.”
“Well, I sure hope you use that phrase for an opening”, she said.
It’s not surprising that my friend, Susan, directed this opening sentence. She reads voraciously. She collects the best lines, phrases or sentences from the many books she reads. For years, she and I have shared these tidbits, but the difference between us is that she files them randomly in any one of her literary pigeon holes. When she opens her wallet or her appointment book in an effort to reduce duplicate or forgotten promises, pieces of paper flutter to the table. It doesn’t matter which side is ‘up’, there will be something noted in her handwriting.
With that level of dedication to a good turn of phrase, what prevents her from putting them together in some fashion so we can all enjoy them, I have asked. She just shrugs and says, “Yah, I know.”
She also has God stories. For a period of time, it was painful for her to talk about God. From the stories I managed to eke out of her, it seems she has been good and angry at Him. That anger grew during the years she had to watch her little son suffer the horrors of cancer. That anger continued over the years following his death. It lasted through the painful divorce from the father of her children. With her father long passed, her only chance for support came from a mother who seemed more capable of doling out guilt than love. And the church was certainly not a key factor in Susan’s life.
In the late 1980s, Susan’s mother also died. Susan decided the best use of her inheritance was to travel the world. I recall her saying one time that she had dire determination for nothingness. In the throes of falling apart, she was to find the mystery of “everythingness”. Here’s what Susan wrote and sent to me just today:
“I’m looking at a photo of myself in Cygnat, Tasmania in 1988. There I am at 46 years of age, in my baggy, orange polka-dot jump suit (bought at the local “Op” shop) dancing around a Hippy drummer with a dozen similarly attired counter-culture creatures. We were all there for a weekend folk festival and these fabulous dancing females were singers of ethnic folk music.
I was on the other side of the world, living with two young women in a shack with no heat, light or running water. We cooked vegetarian food in a wok in the fireplace, lived by natural or candle- light and carried our water from the neighbour’s hose. I was in heaven!
I felt I had no roots…nobody knew anything about me…I had no identity. I wasn’t anybody’s daughter, wife or mother. I was simply “Susie” from Canada and I loved that sense of freedom and anonymity…I could be anything and anyone I chose.
What I failed to realize was, like the chameleon I had become, I was pathetically trying to become like everyone else… anybody but me.
However, thanks to an incident in this little town of Cygnat, I was beginning an entire year of emotional and physical growth. I was beginning my spiritual growth. It was an incident that I will never, ever forget:
My “new best friends” were off rehearsing on a Sunday morning and I was (as usual) absorbing my surroundings… everything that my senses could behold. Almost subconsciously I was aware of church music being sung way off in the distance. Like a lemming, I followed this music and came to the door of a church. The music was glorious and FAMILIAR. When the music ended and an equally glorious English voice began to speak, I, without thinking, quietly opened the door, entered the church and sat at the end of the last pew.
Immediately I began to weep. I stayed there, head bowed, weeping through the rest of the service. When I realized the congregation was filing out, I saw myself sitting there in pieces, wearing a ridiculous outfit, feeling uninvited and blubbering uncontrollably. Still I didn’t leave.
All of a sudden there was a presence beside me. Someone reached over and handed me the most pristine, white, “holy” cloth I had ever seen. Gratefully I took it and tried to “staunch the flow.”
The minister didn’t say a word. He simply stayed beside me. After a while, when I could, I began to talk. There we remained, with me pouring out my life story, letting all the fear and sorrow that I’d bottled for so long, come rushing out. He displayed the most amazing, silent compassion I had ever felt…just by allowing me to be.
Some time later, a “church lady” was brave enough to approach with medicinal coffee and cookies. Eventually my confessor and I joined the others. Nobody seemed the least bit surprised at the events of that morning.
Now, in sober (literally) retrospection, during that entire year, while I believed I was “flying on my own”… joyous, ageless, independent and living a life I had only enviously read about… I was actually running away from my WASP upbringing and the life into which I had been bred.
It has taken years to realize the depth of my roots and how much I needed them for my spiritual growth. No matter how far I traveled or what I tried to become, there was always the two of us…God and me!”
Just when we think we are falling to pieces, it’s amazing to learn we are actually being put back together again.
Today, Susan doesn’t practice my spiritual belief system. She doesn’t read the Bible in the morning with her new husband of five years. She does not attend church. But in all the years I have known her, she has had numerous spiritual books in her possession – dog-eared, high-lighted, folded and scribbled upon. When we hit on a subject of great spiritual import, she rushes to a tome and immediately finds the supportive passage faster than the employee-of-the-month at the Library of Congress.
Neither of us are fully put together again, but we like who we are. Plus, these days when we feel that we may be falling apart, we know we just need to sit quietly for a while and let “Amy’s Friend”, as Susan calls Him, do the Work.