Telling stories, or what makes us human

Once upon a time, a mermaid, caught in a net, begged a poor fisherman to take her home with him to live. No, he said, I can’t. I am a lousy fisher; I have too many mouths to feed already! But she pleaded over and over: Don’t throw me back!, and finally he relented and carried her home, tucked under his arm (for do you know? Mermaids are quite small in real life). 

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His wife initially protested, but the mermaid’s charm warmed the woman. The family widened the circle for her; she became the daughter and sister they’d wanted. Most days, the mermaid sat outside, watching silently from a cart (she can’t walk with the fin). She loved to watch people talking, working, playing, singing there in that Italian seaside town. 

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My white kids with their backpacks

Catholic grade school, mid 1990s. We were prepping for a field trip to a metro art museum: stay with your chaperone; be on your best behavior. And “When you see black people,” the teacher said to a sea of thirty white kids, “you just treat them like anyone else. Just say ‘hello’ if they say hello.”

I remember this because it was weird to me then, two years into living in the rural community. Sure, diversity in that rural area meant you might meet a Lutheran or a Baptist; someone whose ancestors disembarked at Ellis Island from England instead of Germany like so many of us with weird consonant-heavy last names painted on the sides of barns.

I want this to be a totally weird story for my kids, too. I want to someday tell my kids this story and have them go, “I can’t believe that happened.” So to do that, we’ve gotta seek to put ourselves in positions where we may or may not be the only white Christians from middle-class backgrounds in the room, right?

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This isn’t an easy thing to write about, talk about, or live out — especially with kids who right now are more concerned about their Christmas lists (already) than their perspectives on diversity.

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Owning a piece of earth

We found the house taking a long detour home from worship on Sunday. When we turned on the street I thought, “I could live here.” Maples, the first in leaves, lined the street.

When we stopped outside the house, I thought, “I feel as if I already live here.”

An hour later, as we waited for the realtor to unlock the door, I felt my heart beat in my throat. Louisa was on my hip; we’d woken her from a nap to see this place, and she was groggy and her fist clung to my shirt. And inside, I kept saying, “Dave. This is it.”

They flipped light switches and pushed garage door buttons, and banged the side door open and shut going in and out, claiming the house with their informality. “Are we going to live here?!” the girls asked as they ran around the back yard. Louisa’s grogginess morphed into hyperactivity.

“I think we are,” we said.

This place is going to be home, God willing. 

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Lighting candles, praying for sidewalks

I lit a few thrift-store votive jars tonight at dinner.

“God, thanks for these candles, which remind us that though today is pretty ordinary, it’s actually a holy thing, all of us around this table. Thanks for the sunshine outside, still, and this food, and these people.” And we threw in some more words for “hurting places” (my children’s term for what other kids call boo-boos), and for the monkey bread on the counter. I’m here, all the way: cold linoleum under my socks and all.

Flickering lights in those glass jars held my attention throughout that whole meal. I’d taken them down from the shelf this afternoon to wash them. The effect was mesmerizing. The sparkle! Drawing me back to right here, right now, this cliched-but-true spilled milk; these kids complaining because it’s bean soup again. Dave here for dinner, thank God.

We’ve had a string of afternoons of ennui, these girls and I: a pudgy-fingered toddler rips a plastic T. Rex from her sister’s bony grip, and they both scream, and my voice is thick with fatigue. I bark: “Please. PLEASE.” I cannot break up another fight over plastic prehistorics. I cannot: Not until April.

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And about those sidewalks

In the days before homes and hearth-fires, house crickets were depressed wanderers; aimless. Every other creature on earth seemed well-suited to their homes; why not the cricket? Their grasshopper cousin cajoled them to try out their legs, to no avail. The ape suggested, since they were so unhappy, they just give up. And the mole: the Read more about And about those sidewalks[…]

A small patch of stable ground

The weight of the Rubbermaids bent the wooden shelves in the garage. It was, what, 19 degrees, and I had Dave lugging them inside earlier this week. “Why now?” he moaned. He’s been going to the gym, all that bacon, and his arms, you know. “Because –” I started, not sure how to explain why now Read more about A small patch of stable ground[…]

To which God is saying, ‘Yeah. Duh.’

Earlier this week: The window opened wide, vertically, and the neighbor stuck out her arm to wave hello, and leaned on her elbows against the sill. “What are you tracking?” “We don’t know yet!” Violet yelled up to her. Surreal: sparkles of snow swirled from their roof; the snow on the ground untouched by boot prints, but only for Read more about To which God is saying, ‘Yeah. Duh.’[…]

What’s that ‘one thing necessary’?

“One of the chief obstacles to this perfection of selfless charity is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a brilliant success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything Read more about What’s that ‘one thing necessary’?[…]