Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Before someone told me the awful truth I was content to view the world as consisting of two bowls like the china ones in my mother’s cupboard. One bowl was filled with earth upon which some thoughtful deity had planted grass and flowers and trees. Atop this, upside down, its inner sides painted the loveliest blue, rested the other bowl. It was a comfort to know that when I lay down on my bed and pulled the covers to my chin, I was safely ensconced between the two bowls and I would never, ever fall out. Eventually some well-meaning adult told me that I actually was standing on the outside of a huge ball in mid-space and that, worse yet, the ball was spinning. Gravity, it was explained to my horrified mind, was the force that pulled all objects earthward and kept them from flying off into space. It was hardly reassuring now that my bowls were smashed to smithereens. It was a long time before I felt safe again.
I learned other frightening truths as I grew up. One was that nothing and no one, no matter how well loved, stays with you forever. My first brush with death occurred when I was five. It was Sunday morning and we had just returned from church. Still wearing my dress-up clothes, I went looking for my new kitten only to discover it crying piteously on the doorstep, half in and half out of the mouth of a snake. I screamed for my mother. She dealt the snake a death blow with the garden shovel but it was too late. Moments later, my poor little kitten was dead. I was inconsolable. Why, I argued to my mother’s explanation, could God not have gotten his own kitten? She had no answer and I began my long journey away from the simple faith of my childhood into the world of the unfathomable.
I was fairly selfish and self-contained as children are wont to be and I was sure that what happened in my life happened in everyone’s. When I stood at the top of the stairs in my pajamas and implored my mother to come up and get the monsters out from under my bed she told me there weren’t any monsters. She didn’t even come to look. She would have seen them there as plain as anything, their long tails curving into the darkness, their evil eyes casting reflections in the windows. I turned on the bedroom light and that brought her up the stairs. I told her monsters didn’t show up in the light but she didn’t believe me. She turned the light off with strict instructions to keep it off, and left me alone with my demons.
I was right about that, though. All my monsters still disappear with the light. In the dark reaches of the night when my mind turns somersaults, when undone tasks loom large or regrets come to haunt me, I remember that in the light of day these things will take on their ordinary, nonthreatening proportions and the world will again resemble two bowls of safety.