[Dear Readers: Some of you received this piece already, with Hayley’s edits, suggestions and questions still in tact. Usually, by the time you read our blog, her ideas have been woven in by the writer. But, you got a chance to read her insights; only part of her amazing gift as a writer. Every time I write for our blog, I am the lucky recipient of her eyes and thoughts. Below I’ve taken her suggestions and tried to make them my own. Read on. We appreciate every single one of you. Thank you again and again for taking the time to read and think and join the conversation. Best, Miriam ]
“What is the allure of the mall?”
I asked that question to the teenage girls who populate our house. They are a tribe. A tribe of floral scented, lip glossed, push-up bra wearing gigglers.
Again, I asked, “What’s so cool about the mall?” It was the first day of summer vacation.
“It’s a sparkly place,” one said. They all agreed. Some of them douse themselves in sparkling powders daily. Their faces, arms and legs glint.
I agreed to the sparkle. “But the mall also has kiosks selling fake cigarettes and hair extensions,” I said, reminding them of the mall’s underbelly.
“Yeah, and you can try out new phones too.” One of the girls was interested in upgrading her phone. The girl tribe nodded. It was true, you could try out new phones.
So, I drove them to the mall. It was the first day of summer vacation. Other teenagers in town had driven north to Bangor, Maine to help Native Americans. They were on a “Help Weekend” that was part of their church’s many activities. Their liberal female minister made sure the church’s youth did community service. “Help Weekends” and food drives throughout the year.
My daughter and her tribe were heading in my car, south, to the North Shore Mall. After we had stopped working at the food pantry four years ago (it was too awkward to continue as a family when a divorce had undone us), I hadn’t replaced the charitable activity with anything new. In other words, we no longer were part of an organization to help others. Holding doors and saying please and thank you, are not counted in this tally.
If I wanted my daughter and son to build a shelter in Bangor, Maine, or clean a bathroom, or plant a community garden, I should have joined the progressive female minister’s church in town. Their youth group went away regularly on “Help Weekends.” No matter that our last name alone makes us Jewish, we would have been welcome at the white church with an enormous steeple across from the town library.
I have a church phobia. I had friends in the therapy field. Former colleagues who could help me conquer this, for goodness sake. I could have had one of them desensitize me. If I had, my children would have gone to Maine. They would have worked to better the lives of others that first weekend of summer vacation.
It all trails back to when a childhood friend planted the phobic seeds. The Jews killed Jesus, she told me. A childhood friend had planted the phobic seeds. She told me, over pancakes at her kitchen table, about Jesus. Her florist-father and at-home mother orbited gently about their warm gingham’esqe kitchen. And Heidi, that was the girl’s name, told me that the Jews killed Jesus. And in fact, that made Jews Jesus killers. Fork full of pancake, I stopped. The kitchen scene froze. If that was true, by extension, I too, was a killer. I believed Heidi. She was after all, an authority. She went to church.
I know now, that I am not in fact, a Jesus killer. In case anyone reading was concerned. But despite that resilience, I am still church shy.
After I dropped the girl tribe off, I opened the windows to release their lemony, bubble-gummy wake.
Sumer vacation had started. I had dropped the girl tribe off to further fine tune their consumer skills. My son was dreaming about his days as an employed 16 year old. I know, I don’t want to know what he was dreaming about. But, my children were not digging ditches. I was not digging ditches. Our weekend was whatever the opposite of a “Help Weekend” was.
I filled my car at a BP gas station. I checked my Blackberry for emails from Hayley or texts from Hayley. And other important people. I wondered again, how I had not seen the importance of joining the church. They had bake sales and sponsored concerts. I could have baked and socialized and known the names of the friendly faces I saw in our local coffee shop, Zumi’s.
But really, when I thought long and hard about the liberal minister and the “Help Weekend,” I had to admit I would not be able to join the church, no matter how liberal and wonderful their mission. But not because I’m Jewish. And that would be enough of a reason. But because it would only be for my children to gain access to “Help Weekends.” And that would be disingenuous. I would never be comfortable inside the church on the hill for too many reasons to list. But one of those reasons would be my discomfort with any type of organized religion. I know. Such a cliché.
In the way parenting demands of us, I understood, as my credit card was handed back to me by the BP gas station attendant (right, I didn’t pump my own that day), that I needed to make A PLAN. My aversion to church could not be what stood in the way of teaching my children about service. My children and I needed a place in the world where we consciously contributed. And ironically, the church I would not join, helped me to think about just where I could join and what.
For the record, I have incredible kids. Empathic, sensitive, smart, funny and kind kids. But don’t we all need a place to connect with the big help project that is living on planet earth?
To be continued…