Recently Brooksie asked me about what sort of spiritual environment we had provided our children.
Gulp. My first pass was “None.”
Brooksie has been a healer in our community for decades. She does massage therapy. And talk therapy. And sonic therapy. And she lights stuff on fire. And she sings. And she goes to church. She gets her charts read. She has a clairvoyant on speed dial. She’s basically a complete spiritual weirdo.
The other day Arlo came home from a Brooksie massage. He told us that Zafer was sending his love. “It’s legit,” he said. “Brooksie told me.” And we all believe it. Because Brooksie is genuinely “legit.”
I spent a couple of hours with her the other day. It was divine. And painful. These days you can sit me on a couch, or stretch me out on a bench, and there is a good chance I’ll just sob and go to pieces. I’m afraid most of the healers in this town know me from the snot I leave behind.
The question of “What sort of spirituality did we provide for our children” has stayed with me like a pebble in my shoe. Brooksie is off in the mountains leading some sort of ceremony or another—constantly helping people “do work” on their healing, and she wants an answer from me.
Yikes. Here’s the easy part: Tami was raised by a Jewish father and Baptist mother who settled on “nothing,” as an acceptable religious choice for their kids. A minister mother and a God fearing father raised me, so I got the full on Sunday School treatment, barely escaping the church just before confirmation. I have always admired my mother’s faith. But that’s religion. Not spirituality.
My spiritual path is pretty straightforward: Step one, complete rejection of Christianity. Step two: evangelical atheist. When my daughter Kaitlin was crushed in a car accident, I moved into the Holiday Inn in Des Moines, Iowa. I spent my days at her bedside in ICU, and I could feel the prayers coming down the hall. As my atheist brother Mark would say, “there are no atheists in ICU.” Step three: Confused. Possibly agnostic. It brought on the recognition that there is something inexplicable.
I did learn palmistry, and have read palms for beer. And I did learn to read the Tarot, but that is just because I come from a card playing family. I took up Tarot as a parlor trick, and gave it up when people accidentally started taking me seriously.
When I poll my children with the question, they respond with “earth centered” answers. Our “footprint” on earth is a spiritual aspect of their lives. Reducing waste, knowing the seasons, knowing the constellations and myths of the night sky, and allowing wild things to be wild are common refrains. Kaitlin claims that my “guaranteed eagle tours,” (kayaking junkets on Jordan Lake to which I routinely subjected the entire family) were spiritual. It seems they all got a big dose of paganism. All of our kids have a deep sense of these woods—complete with a knowledge of those places that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Let’s call us animists.
I littered their childhoods with Greek mythology—sending them off to “Athena’s sweet sleep,” and hanging a sculptural bird feeder named “Sisyphus” outside our kitchen window.
I would like to cast a wider net. I believe Tami and I have taught them to have an “open heart.” Our house has frequently been filled with what the children call “stragglers.” Those with nowhere to go on Thanksgiving, for instance, have long been welcomed at our table. As young children they protested against the stragglers. As young adults (far from home and “stragglers” themselves) they came to appreciate our hospitality. Maybe that’s not spirituality. But it’s something.
Before we had air conditioning I used to routinely load the children into the SUV and drive to Raleigh so that Tami could get some much-needed sleep. We invented the “First Church of Krispy Kreme,” based on a doughnut store. Whenever the “Hot” light was on, the doughnuts were served hot, and it became an article of faith with us. If we believed, and were living pure lives, the “Hot” light would be on at arrival.
At the Plant there is a red-shouldered hawk that seems to own the place. It alights on lampposts early in the morning when I arrive. It settles directly in my view shed on the top of buildings. It joins us for meetings by landing on the arbor over the chess set.
I’ve decided that it is my brother Mark. Others on our project have agreed and play along. The other day I was at Blossom buying some flowers and a red-shouldered hawk dove low and screamed over my car. I shrugged and figured it was Mark approving of my bouquet. My children have been raised by a believer in bird signs.
Zafer was a committed atheist. When at the Moncure School he was asked where hurricanes came from, he said “Africa.” Wrong answer. Hurricanes come from God.
The semester before he died his favorite class was “Comparative Religions.” He was digging it, for some reason, although I’m not sure it was germane to his potential business degree.
When it comes to our “spiritual environment” I’m not going to go with “none.” Instead I am going to say we offered our kids a mixed up hodge podge. Certainly some vanilla Protestantism (I can’t help it), with some exposure to Zen and lots of yoga. Throw that in with some earth centered animism, some ancient Greek pantheism, some story telling, and some wholly invented rituals, and there you have it.
Largely non-spiritual children. Drat.
As we sit here, grasping for anything, dialing up death doulas and reading books by psychics, laying down for “healing touch” and begging for anything that will release the grip of grief, we can’t help but note how under developed our spiritual lives have been…