Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Today is September 10th, but it’s 2 a.m. so it still feels like Monday night to me. I am working for the Merald on the 11th. I don’t know what I am doing, but I will probably be covering prayer vigils. I am worried about that, because last year, when I covered the National Day of Prayer, the Friday after the 11th, a bunch of little old ladies screamed at me.

They were upset because I took too many picutres, only about 14 frames. They were upset because I kept taking pictures of the same people, and they didn’t know why I was “picking on those poor people.” I chose to photograph them because I didn’t need to use a flash because of the light coming through the windows they were sitting next to. I asked their permission beforehand, and I only photographed people who said it was okay. This is not standard journalism practice, and it was why I only photographed the same four people.

They just needed someone to rail at, and I was convenient. I tried explain, but I burst into tears. I hadn’t cried yet at all. I worked 18 hours a day, beginning on the 11th. I hadn’t watched TV, except when Tower 1 fell, and I photographed the people screaming. Everything I knew came through on my cell phone from friends, or I worked on a story about it, or I heard it on NPR in my car. The church ladies told me they were sorry I cried, but I was an obnoxious bitch. I didn’t think you were allowed to say “bitch” in church. I tried to wipe away the tears, to explain I had those people’s permission, but in the end, they didn’t care, and I just left. I haven’t been in a church since, except for weddings of old friends, or weddings for work. Then they all called my boss to complain about me. I just cried, shot a portrait of a pro wrestler, stopped for Thai food, sang God Bless America with some ladies outiside the only hair salon in York that specializes in doing African-American women’s hair, holding candles at 7 p.m. with ladies with big curlers in their hair, or half of their hair in braids. Then I went home.

But this isn’t York, and the prayer vigils are certain to be different. I hope.

I guess I feel odd at prayer vigils, because I’m not sure I know how to pray. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I am pulling most of this next part from an email discussion with H.

I was saying that I like the way Spanish speakers treat the idea of God in everyday language. Saying “My God!” or “Go with God” are common phrases here. I even like "Ojala" and “Oja que si...” which is more common here. Someone recently explained it to me as stemming from the time of the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, and being an extension of the idea of "If Allah wills it..."  It's used here like, "Ojala que el nino sobreviva la operaccion..." so literally meaning May God (or Allah or extension of Allah as translated into Hispanic Christian Diety) will it that the boy survives the operation”, but without specifically calling upon God by name.

I remember when I was little that saying "Oh my God" was a very big no-no.  I had a Sunday School or Vacation Bible School ( I NEVER liked Vacation Bible School, but that's a whole other story involving sunburn, bug motels, and threats of eternal damnation- :) teacher who told us that saying "Oh my God" when you weren't praying was bad, in large part because of it breaking the First Commandment, but also because it got God's attention, and it made God angry if you said it and weren't talking to him. In my overly developed (and somewhat pessimistic childhood mind's) imagination, I would picture God doing important things like making miracles and babies and having to run out of his "workshop" to come listen when I said it, and then he would heave a big sigh and shake his head if I didn't have anything "good" to say to him.  

I know this is really weird.

I think this is why I am in a very much into using words like "meditate" and invoke "Universal Spirituality" these days.  I've been thinking about all of this stuff since I have been recasting my ideas about religion and patriarchy these past few years. I don't know. I definitely want to sort this out in my head before I have kids someday. I think finding some way to center oneself whether by putting things in a Karma Bank or into prayer is really important, and I'm not sure I've found the way I feel most comfortable doing it yet.  

When I was a very young child, my parents and I would recite the standard children's prayer- : “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take" and the part about "If I should die before I wake" scared me so much.  (I was, obviously, and still am A Very Big Worrier :) After my parents would tuck me in, I would worry about how one dies before they wake- would it be a fire? in my sleep? and if *I* could die before I wake, could my parents? Could Amanda? and so on.  And so, my insomnia was born...

When I got a little older, I tried saying the Our Father before I went to sleep and then asking  God to bless people in my life. But I would feel so bad if I left anyone out, so I would end up trying to bless all my great-aunts and cousins and friends at school and THEIR families because... what?... If I didn't bless them, bad things would happen or I didn't like or love them as much people I did remember? (This was all entirely self-imposed, by the way).  Then I used to fall asleep when I was praying, and I would feel really bad about that, like it was rude to fall asleep on God's time.

Right around that time I was taking my first communion and first reconciliation, and we were memorizing and learning all of these prayers, and I really didn't understand the idea of - how to put it?- penance recipes, I guess. Like, say 10 Hail Marys and three Our Fathers, bake at 350 for 45 minutes, and God will forgive you for "being mouthy." :)

Nanny gave me my first rosary beads, which I liked. I liked the idea of having something to touch and hold. Nanny gave me a pamphlet about how to do it, which was probably easier than explaining it one step at a time.  But, being a Very Literal Person for whom Following Directions was very important, (Hellooo! American public school system training!) I tried to follow the pamphlet to the letter, including the parts where it tells you to meditate on the Mystery of the Annunciation while saying the first set, etc. I was trying to remember the memorized prayers- which was problematic in part because when they said the rosary at my Pop-Pop's funeral, the part in the Hail Mary about having "the Fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus" had me thinking about underwear- (Fruit of the Loom, this when those commercials showed the people dressed as giant bunches of grapes, etc)- which I knew wasn't right, so I just focused on the "Fruit" part, since I knew it was wrong to think about underwear while saying a rosary. But then, since the "Our Father" comes right after the "Hail Marys," I began thinking it was "Orange Father" (Fruit+Our Father=Orange Father), so that was one distraction right there-

Naturally, having all the citrus fruit and underwear whirling around in my head made it hard to even remember what the "Mystery of the Annunciation" WAS, let alone meditate on it.  And I wasn't sure how any of that was going to help me a.) talk to God or b.) understand why Pop-Pop went to Heaven. :)

My parents took a very literal approach to helping me understand Pop-Pop's death.  He had been sick (actually, "all" he needed was double by-pass surgery, but it was too experimental and risky in the mid-80s, which is odd since it's so routine now, although he had diabetes, too, and more than one heart attack), and they explained it as a place where he could go and feel no pain and do all of his favorite things and play Pinochle all day with my Uncle Paul, Uncle Harold and Aunt Helen.

Unfortunately, when Uncle Harold passed away, Aunt Mamie (You've all met Aunt Mamie, right? Nanny's older sister who still dyes her hair jet black at 91 years of age and wears red high heels every other day? Apparently, she also used to keep hair dye in her refrigerator? This may make sense to you, then :) forgot to bring his dressy shoes to the funeral home, and they ended up burying him in his stocking feet. Aunt Mamie was tormented by this, and so, if I remember correctly, we "sent along" an extra pair of shoes in Pop-Pop's coffin, which, really, was very Egyptian of us.  

My grandfather was a gruff, but very loving man who often engaged in a sarcastic, but teasing banter with Nanny, which often started out with a firm, "GOD-Dammit, Doll!"   (I really have to do the imitation for you, and oh, don't worry, Nanny gave it right back to him and then they would laugh and kiss, and he would point to her head and say that she was "pixilated." Then he would point to my head and say the same thing. Nanny and I both have identical little moles on the left sides of our foreheads, which is where he would always point. I thought for a long time that we were pixilated BECAUSE of the moles. I found out when I was writing my college essays that "pixilated" means "to be driven daft by pixies," which suits both Nanny and I rather well, I like to think.)

So when Pop-Pop died, we went to close the coffin and say our final good-byes, and Nanny, who was standing on some phone books, or a "kneeler", I think, knocked the coffin when she leaned in to kiss him. This huge bouquet of flowers that was resting on top of the coffin fell on her head and covered his entire body. It was silent in the room, and then someone started to laugh, which really was the best thing that could have happened.  

This was 1985, and the Dust-Buster had just been invented, and the funeral home director, who is a close family friend, actually, just helped Nanny up and then Dust-Busted all the petals and leaves and babies' breath off of Pop-Pop.  Everyone was laughing this huge, relieved laugh, and then someone imitated him- my Dad, I think- saying, "GOD-dammit, Doll! Would you get these flowers off of me!!" and then everyone really rolled with laughter.

I read in a book once, I think it was something by Robert Fulghum, that when he was little, he spent a lot of time with his mother's family. His mother's maiden last name was "Howard." Everyone called his great-grandfather, "Grandpa Howard," and he was very old and had a long white beard. He died when the author, maybe Fulghum, was very young, and they told him Grandpa Howard was in Heaven. Shortly after that, he learned about Heaven in Sunday School, and the Sunday School books had pictures of God with a long white beard. Somehow, Grandpa Howard and God became one and the same in his mind, which was solidified when he learned the Lord's Prayer. Apparently for years, he believed the opening line was "Our father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name." Hee.

When I first began my work documenting practicioners of magic in Syracuse for an anthropology class, I was interviewing a witch named Willow, a round, middle-aged woman with kind, sparkly eyes, in Denny’s. She ordered a milkshake, and she was talking about the pagan belief that there are many gods, but all gods are one, and you may call Him, but usually Her, anything you choose. She said, “You can call your Goddess Shirley for all anyone cares!” Hee.

Anyway, when I am shooting these prayer vigils on what is technically tomorrow, although I will be covering the primary elections what is technically today, after I sleep for 8 hours, maybe I will figure out a way to send blessings for those who died, and those who lived and all of us who grieve, and maybe, just maybe, Orange Father, Grandpa Howard and Shirley will all hear me.

Vaya con Dios(a), mis queridos.

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