A parent is a deity without power. On the one hand, Amy and I are totally responsible for every facet of Mendon’s well being. But on the other hand, he is as fragile as a robin’s egg dropped in the middle of an interstate freeway. If we are honest with ourselves, we can not really stop terrible things from happening to him. Unlike Zeus who tames the lighting in the sky, or Yahweh who parted the Red Sea with a simple utterance, I have all I can do to keep track of the pacifier!
If I am really honest, I can not prevent other people from being clumsy or hurtful. Nor can I guard Mendon’s peace and solitude from the grotesque intrusions of emotional turmoil, physical sickness and ultimately death. All I can do is take each day on faith.
But when I use the word faith I am not talking about the flimsy Hallmark card version which gets peddled by lazy preachers and shallow advertisers alike. Bad things will happen to me, to Amy, to Mendon, and to everyone else for that matter. To have faith that bad things won’t happen is not a sign of piety but delusion.
What is needed is the kind of faith which helps us understand that even though bad things happen, it is a good thing that they do. I’m talking about having faith in faith. This is the only attitude which allows us to accept the full weight of responsibility. To be faithful is to believe that no matter what happens to any of us, life will persist. Long after I have come and gone, I will be part of a life cycle that is never ending. This is also true of Mendon.
That said, I believe rituals can help to honor the sort of limitations I have been describing here. For example, by choosing to plant my wife’s placenta in a space that has special meaning to our friendship, we symbolically marked our entrance into the sacred guild of parenthood with a religious act of humility. It was a lovely ceremony. Without a shovel I kicked enough dirt to create a 2 foot hole. We took the ice block with its purple and white veined organic mass from the plastic biohazard bag, and then planted the thawing flesh in the earth. All I said was:
Thank you for this space. Here we can honor God for giving us life. We can honor these woods for giving all of these plants and animals life. Out of life came life. And when our life is over, we will return to this earth. When Mendon’s life is over, he too will return to this earth. Out of this earth will emerge new life. In spite of the worst calamities, life will grow out of life. Even in the darkest crevices of the abyss, and in the hottest tubes of bacterial hell, life will persist. Even if our planet were to perish tomorrow, galactic life will go on.
If we are to accept our limitations, and take on the responsibilities of growing up, it is life that we must embrace. We must accept it, even with all of its magnificent terror and shocking beauty. Not my life. Not the life of humans alone. Not even the life of our planet. We must have faith in life anywhere and everywhere. The fact that there is an anywhere is what we must have faith in.