Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saint John of the Playground

It was a beautiful, clear day in Northern Appalachia yesterday, which made me think of that beautiful, clear day nine years earlier when the lives of everyone I know changed forever.  My little son and I walked to the playground, which is in the center of a large park planted with hundreds of tall oaks.  When he saw that no one else was there, my son began to cry.  "I thought there would be children here," he wept. 

I started to cry too, thinking of how I've been unable to give him brothers and sisters, of how lonely he is, and of how lonely I am.  I'd been praying that God would send me a good friend -- a spiritual friend -- but, even if He is so good as to do so, I know it'll never be like the old days, when Retired Waif would pop upstairs for a cup of tea any time at all,  and every other day or so I'd get on the downtown train and go hang out with Really Rosie.  The emptiness of public spaces here, even on a beautiful fall day, is striking, and if other people on my block are home during the week, I wouldn't know it.  It also struck me as poor parenting that, as my son sat on a horsie mounted on a metal spring and cried, I sat on the adjacent elephant mounted on a metal spring and cried with him, mourning the fact that there is so little I can really do to alleviate his own loneliness, or my own, or anyone else's.  Should I distract him with a game, I wondered, or would that just be dishonest, since loneliness is such an unavoidable truth of our human existence?  

And then I thought, Oh God, why can't You just speak to me in a language that I can understand?  Why can't You give me some clear direction about what You want me to do?  Why can't You allow me to feel that the things I profess to believe -- the communion of saints, for instance -- are really true?  For I'm no saint, able to withstand the spiritual darkness that Saint John of the Cross called "nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing."  If not a friend on earth, can't You at least let me know that the saints I pray to are indeed praying with me?  I know I'm asking for my blatant materialism to be confirmed and satisfied, but sometimes I need a symbol, something sensory, just some teeny little phenomenon to let me know that I'm not totally, irredeeemably mistaken about every single thing in my life. 

Soon enough, a little boy toddled up with his mother.  The boy was black and his mother was white, pierced, and heavily tattooed.  She sat on a bench and got on her cell phone, laughing, screaming, cursing, and discussing a friend's seven-year prison sentence for possession of "a pound of weed," while I helped her little son (who told me his name was King) and mine on the monkey bars.  I see many mothers like this in my comings and goings around town -- if I lived in the suburbs, where most mothers of my class and education appear to live, I never would -- and I'm inclined to judge them.  And I wouldn't doubt that they're inclined to judge me -- ethnic, no make-up, sitting on the ground with the kids, wearing a sweater and clogs, with a young son who is not quite like other little boys his age -- as well. 

Eventually, though, King's mother came over, and we got to talking.  Her son's father, it turned out, had recently been deported to Haiti, in spite of the fact that his parents had brought him to America when he was two.  He'd grown up on Long Island, and had been sent back just in time to lose his leg in the horrific earthquake.  Had she seen an immigration lawyer, I asked.  Yes, and even marrying him would not have made him legal, she said.  He was going to try to apply for asylum in Canada.  My heart went out to her, and I told her I'd pray for her.  She soon left, yelling at her little boy every step of the way for having wet his pants, and I walked home with my own son, who was now happy for the chance he'd had to play with another child.

I suppose King and his mother were the sign I'd been railing at heaven for, though I would have preferred a more lovely and gratifying one.  Please, readers, pray for them.


Anonymous said...

"Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

Emily J. said...

A very moving post. Prayers for all.

Rodak said...

It's comforting, somehow, to know that I'm not alone in my loneliness. Thank you for reminding me once again to look for the gifts hidden at the heart of seemingly ordinary occurrences. It is so necessary to keep one's attention on those things.

Pentimento said...

Rodak, I just posted a poem that I thought you would like.

Enbrethiliel said...


"I thought there would be children here!"

That has been haunting me since I first read this post.

Wherever "there" is for us, we always imagine there will be friends for us when we it becomes our "here."

I think I would have cried, too.

Pentimento said...

Enbrethiliel, that is well said. I think my son's statement of disappointed hope sums up my own loneliness too, both in the literal sense of having lost so many pregnancies, and also in the sense of feeling like I'm in a spiritual desert without companions or maps.

mrsdarwin said...

The sadness in this post is overwhelming. I'll pray for King and his mother, but I'll pray for your son and his mother as well.

Pentimento said...

Thank you, Mrs. Darwin.