Saturday, July 26, 2003

Dating Jesus

There are several authors' works I live by. None of them include any critically acclaimed holy books. These books are too subtle. I applaud you if you have found a way to interpret them that satisfies your intellectual and spiritual needs, but I simply haven't the patience.

When I was a little girl, my mother sent me to Sunday School in my little black patent leather shoes. They clicked all the way down the street to the Baptist church where I would spend the following hour colouring pictures of Jesus. I don't remember actually attending any services, but I do remember when I reached a reasonable age to serve at church luncheons and sudden I was in high demand.

What I learned from these luncheons is that Nova Scotian Baptists eat cream cheese and maraschino cherry sandwiches. Baptists, I established after serving a second round, do not believe in eating crusts. Coming from a household that offered only homemade 100% whole wheat bread, this was heresy!

I was baptized Anglican, but I haven't a clue how that distinguishes me from Baptists. The church ladies were never that particular when they called on the youth to serve tea and finger-food.

When I reached junior high, it was no longer cool to serve at luncheons. The church ladies gave up on me after a year of calling my mother, and alluding to my voluntary excommunication. My mother was unable to pressure me into it; not even she wanted to attend these socials.

While in junior high, my best friend joined a Pentecostal youth group, prompted by her father and his sometimes questionable parenting tactics. They would help keep her on the right track, he thought. How could she refuse an opportunity like that? She begged me to attend. I avoided the youth group for weeks. My other best friend and I had just spent the entire summer trying to make her question her faith for kicks. How could I shame myself by hanging out with God's groupies?

Well, I did. I realized quickly it was an untapped social resource. It was fantastic! Here I was, meeting other kids, all older than me, all willing to take me under their wing. I was positive we could get one of them to buy us beer. I was wrong. They were true believers and never, ever drank; I thought that was fascinating. They were just like other kids, but more at peace somehow, exempt from some of the turmoil of the teenage years.

It took a while for me to realize they were stoners. Pot wasn't something I'd considered doing, but at the tender age of 15, it was certainly something I was curious about. The minister's son seemed to be the most corrupt of the group, so I set my sights on him, sure he would satiate my thirst for knowledge of the seedy underbelly of Christian youth groups. I sat next to him at every opportunity, my stream of daydreaming broken only by the nightly question: "Are you ready to accept Jesus into your heart?"

There I was, having lustful thoughts about the minister's son, wanting to have him tell me all about the illegal acts I'd heard he'd committed. The minister often alluded to these sins, and thanked the Lord he was able to free his son from such vices. Thank the Lord he has a hot son, I thought. That's all I ever thought at youth group. So, when they asked me the nightly question, I was pretty sure I wasn't ready.

Still so young, I was aware of my wild oats and fully intended to sow them. Not yet, I'd say, desperate to stave them off. As became routine, there would be a group frown and they'd move along to someone more pure of heart. One-by-one, everyone was "saved". Soon, I was the only bad seed chasing after the minister's spawn.

I should have known it couldn't go on like that, what with all my drool and fawning. I was expelled from the Garden of Eden that was the youth group, but not before my first real kiss---a long passionate, sloppy, gag-me-with-your-tongue-you-bad-boy-ex-con kiss. The unfortunate thing is that it occurred at 4 a.m., about an hour after my parents had notified the police that I was missing, and began searching the highway ditches, preparing themselves to be devastated. They found me, immediately post-kiss, sitting in the spawn's car at the government wharf.

It was all very romantic, but as with many religious epiphanies, persecution followed. I was upset that I'd scared my parents, but simultaneously thrilled by that hot first kiss. Being grounded isn't so bad when you have steamy daydream material.

Soon after that fiasco, I was taken aside at the weekly youth meeting, to a room where the youth leader had propped a large sheet of poster paper upon an easel. While he drew a cluster of exes he said, "This is the youth group." Then he drew a lone letter "x" on the opposite edge of the paper and said, "This is you. We don't want this to happen." He circled the cluster of exes and drew an arrow toward the one that represented me. "So, we're going to have to ask you to leave." That was it; they were scared I was leading people away from Jesus. I was the resident evil.

Friends stick together, though, so my two best left the group with me. We were just going to have to develop a new plan for meeting older guys, I thought. I was still hopeful, and later that summer, it just so happened there was a new candidate in town. I spotted him immediately. He was driving around with the minister's spawn, and I thought that made him seem all the more carnally desirable. The spawn stopped his car and chatted me up, introducing his friend.

This boy was a francophone angel sent from Quebec, who was staying at the minister's house to learn English. His accent made my knees weak. Over the course of the summer, he would become my first love. Each day was spent at the beach, often in silence. We held hands for hours, and melted into each other's gaze, sharing little dreams and compliments. We kissed but never anything more. It was so fulfilling, so perfect and pure, that nothing more was necessary. His name was Emmanuel.

Had I known him months earlier, I'd have been able to tell the leaders of the youth group that I would accept him into my heart readily. In fact, I would lay it on the table. I would be willing to break it in his honour.

As the end of August approached, this young Adonis prepared to return to his homeland. The day he left, I was crushed. CRUSHED, like only a first love can do, but, it ended bittersweetly. He left while I still worshiped him like a god, before either of us could screw it up.

We wrote each other love letters for a full year, and then when he started dating someone else, he broke the news to me so gently I could only be happy for him. He always assured me I would have a special place in his heart. He set a precedent. Each and every potential boyfriend would be compared to this hot, young gift from god, chiseled in his own image. I knew how I wanted to be treated; I wanted to be a goddess. I lived by the guidelines he set for me as best I could. Jesus saved me from my adolescent soul, cured me of angst.

When I moved to Quebec for university four years later, he called and left a message on my answering machine. We were living in the same city. A lot changes in four years, though, and I didn't want to risk devaluing my memories. I never returned his call. I wanted to keep my faith just as it was.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

*Real* opportunity cost

My last entry was less of a whine about my current positions in life, and more of a comparative analogy to recent events that inspired me to step back and reconsider the feeling of vulnerability I know so many of us have.

I was not whining, I was feeling rather reassured.

Quite a few people I know these days, of all ages and locations, are faced with career, marriage and citizenship choices. They all know what they want: happiness, reasonable freedom and above all fulfillment. This translates loosely into: success. I am not talking about the American dream. As far as I can tell, the American dream has been appropriated by the media and it's less of a dream and more of a military mandate as of late, so I will just talk about something more new-agey. I am talking about how hard it is, once we know what we want, to develop the best way to get there. We feel as though, if we mess something major up along the way, the destination just won't quite be all we'd imagined if we find it at all. That scares the hell out of most of us, which is why we developed mottos like: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. We remind ourselves, that we have to enjoy the journey. We do *have* to enjoy the journey when we can, but I'm saying it's very OK to be scared sometimes.

I found myself walking along Rue St. Catherine, the shopping district, taking another unplanned day off work due to visitors from out of town. I was thinking of my opportunity cost. I felt I should have been working, or at least learning how to make video clips on my computer or something. Justifying my day off by thinking of it as an investment in my long term future proved effective, though. These were no run-of-the-mill visitors; these were potential in-laws. I plan to like my potential in-laws and have them like *me* dammit!! Since my plan seems to be working, I allowed myself to feel productive, and therefore, happy.

As we walked along in this bustling busy wave of shoppers, I noticed an unhappy little girl crossing the street with the pack of people we'd joined. She was on the heels of her mother, a cold looking woman in a business suit, and I felt sad for her. She looked as though her mother was very angry. The little girl was wringing her hands and her bottom lip trembled. The woman was so angry she didn't even look back to see if the little girl was ok.

My god, I thought, how can anyone be irresponsible enough to allow a child to walk through a crowd like this without holding her hand. The girl was in a slow run, keeping up with this woman. I was very concerned so I hurried my pace to keep up with them. At this point, I really looked at the dirty t-shirt the little girl was wearing, how her curls hadn't been brushed, that her sneakers were muddy and thought this prim and spotless mother and muddy sneaker-wearing daughter match was an unlikely pair. I fought through the crowd to get closer to the girl and asked her, "Are you lost?"

She nodded and took my hand. It almost broke my heart. It *did* upset my stomach.

I told her she was OK and I was going to help her. We walked nearer to the buildings and I became fearful that she would get lost in the crowd again. Someone had already lost her! She looked so vulnerable in this crowd, I wouldn't be able to bear knowing it happened to her again. I felt it was very important to tell her exactly what the game plan was for getting her back to her parents. We would go to a store and ask to use their phone, so we could call the police and tell them that she has lost her daddy. The police would call her daddy and tell him not to worry, they would get Sonia to him as soon as possible.

But, I wasn't thinking clearly. My boyfriend was with me and I had forgotten he had a cell phone. We could have called right there. In any case, he took care of the police report while I entertained this little girl. She was a darling 8 years old with a quivering lip that almost made me cry. Instead, I joked around with her, asked her questions about her dad, what she did that day and all the while I was thinking: I am still a stranger to her. I wanted nothing more than for her to know she was absolutely safe. This was more than I could ask.

We were instructed to bring her to a specific street corner where we would meet the police. It was a long 10 minutes of waiting once we got there, but this little girl was so brave. She had tears in her eyes, and looked as though if she started she wouldn't stop. Sonia held them back. I told her it was OK to feel scared, that it could happen to anyone, that her dad surely had already spoken with the police and that in a few minutes they would come. I think I talked too much, but it stopped her from crying.

The officer parked across the street and we waved him down. I introduced Sonia, and said in a light silly voice, "She's lost her daddy." The officer answered saying, "Well Sonia, we just *found* your daddy!" He thanked us, too, and I felt like gushing a "you're welcome." But, I feared if I started *I* might not stop. Besides, there was no one really to thank here, we all just did what was necessary.

At that age, kids often still have the impression that policemen are altruists, that their job is to help people...and I could see the relief in her face. Finally she felt completely safe. Midway through the crosswalk, she turned and yelled, "Thank you." My heart broke for the second time that day. I didn't want to let her go, I was still worried for her.

In the same way I have felt a major soft spot with doctors who have helped me or my family in a time of need, I loved this little girl immediately.

The event has taken me a while to get over. I was so relieved that *I* was the one to find her. It is scary enough having children walking with you on a busy street, knowing the frightening variety of people there...especially in that part of town, but thinking that she was ALONE just makes me ill. Now, I am not giving myself credit as the only person who would have helped her. There were so many other people around and they saw her, too. It just scared me that I was the first one to step in. The point, though, is that I did. I will never see her again, I will never meet her father...but for all three of us, it turned out OK.

It's OK to be scared, we just can't lose hope.