And to all my Christian, post-christian, post-religion, and all my lgbtq+ family out there. Take care of yourselves this season. Wishing you all the hope and revolution of the Magnificat.
To My Nephew,
December 4, 2015
She cried, you know, at your baby shower. After opening the brand-name stroller and seeing the names of all her coworkers on the card, and their warm eyes shining hopefully back at her, she managed to whisper a soft thank you. I didn’t realize it until then that all she ever wanted was approval, acceptance – basic love.
Growing up she showed this in unexpected ways. Or maybe not, with four other siblings; maybe she picked the only things not already taken. Your uncle Matt, was a volleyball genius in a small town, Uncle Nick was a high-energy and moody teen, Uncle James was a nerdy youngest child, and I was the student. Your mom liked life, wasn’t exceptional at anything obvious, though when I look back I can see her quiet, riotous Marian heart.
Or maybe because it’s Christmas, and I’m just thinking about Mary a lot. When Mary shares the news with her cousin, she starts by thanking God for being “mindful” of her. I think this is what your mom wanted. Not to be watched over, like how people pray, but to be considered as an appropriate option when the appropriate situation calls for it…and, to once in awhile, be chosen.
We grew up babysitting for church moms, neighbors and schoolteachers. Your mom always liked kids and babies. One day she took her babysitting money and bought a bag of Chupa Chups in bulk. She brought them to school and sold them at 300% markup until one of the teachers caught her. In that one lunch hour she made a profit of $50. She had wit and what my mother called “street sense” – this vision of how to work things, push buttons – make change.
She certainly knew how to push my buttons.
Before you came along, she worked with people with disabilities. She challenged the assumed communication and learning barriers. Where others declared people unteachable, she taught them to feed themselves. Where others declared people incapable of making decisions, she learned to read facial expressions and allowed the people in the room to play Anne Murray as much as they wanted. She used the right words to point out inappropriate record keeping, breaches of client privacy, and healthier practices. She was gracious, but revolutionary, as I imagine Mary was when she declared how He would bring down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the humble. Without even realizing it, she was an advocate.
She was married then, but not to your dad. I like to remember how your mom was at that workplace, but it means I have to remember him too. And I have to remember how she finally got the attention of our parents, and the years between when we had nothing to say.
When she’s ready, she’ll tell you all about it. But I’ll just say that I think this is when she lost that righteous fighting spirit – when she was pushed out, lost faith in the good fight, was barely able to fight for herself. As the bible rarely mentions Mary after the birth, the budding church pushing her away from her son, your mom felt no longer useful, as if her time as a person had passed.
I remember when she called me to tell me she was getting a divorce. I was at college and hadn’t talked to her since her last birthday. I don’t remember having any feelings about it – we barely knew each other anymore.
One year after, we came home for Thanksgiving and shared our old room. I had tucked my most current journal under the bed, just like I used to. The journal was a gift from her – a beautiful red leather paisley showing she knew me better than I thought. By the end of the holiday, she knew me a whole lot better as I caught her on the day we left, reading the last pages of my journal. We didn’t fight then. I was too busy gasping for air around the sudden tightness in my chest.
She was the first family member I was out to. After that, we talked even less than before – and never about the journal or what bisexual means. I barely had words for that myself yet and so I waited, waited for her righteous anger to expose me to the family, to finally have someone on the outside with her. But she did not. I can see, now, how she protected me, whispering quiet words of change in the ears of others. Like how we pray to Mary to lean over and whisper in her sons passing ear, to set ideas in motion. I’m still not out to your grandparents, and I don’t know that I ever will be. But your mom was the feller-buncher that removed groups of obstacles at a time, slowly maybe, but effectively enough that the forest of Christian conservatism was no longer so thick I couldn’t find my way out.
Years passed, she married your dad and found new work. And we didn’t talk about it. But then she had and lost your older sister. When she miscarried, I did what I always do – I wrote about it. I called her, shared the poem, but our hearts ached and we didn’t talk long. She always wanted children, twin boys she said.
He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.
I couldn’t think of anything good about this. She was neither rich, nor starving, not unloved but denied this love. And I struggled to remember if Mary had any other children. If she ever had anything that was just hers, or if this is the life that justice-seekers have. To give and give and give.
But he extends mercy from generation to generation.
And she had you, premature and tiny. So small I didn’t even know what to do with you when you came out for my wedding. I didn’t know how much I loved you then, or your mother. It wasn’t until she had you that we began to have visits that didn’t have us hurting each other with silence, words, or making decisions on top of each other. I saw the way she loved you, open and fierce, and that was the sister I remembered before the first marriage. She saw the way I loved you, goofily, giving and unguarded. And we saw how to love each other well.
We’re still learning though, and now you’re at an age where you’ll start noticing the tension. I want you to know how you’ve healed us. How you heal your mom after every miscarriage with your head-rolling laughter and blueberry cheeks. How every time we visit and you’re around, we trust each other a little more. And I want you to know that she’ll fight for you even when you fight against her. That she’ll whisper for you like she did me, and destroy whatever forest you find yourself in to make your path just a bit easier than her own. And I’ll be there, behind you, behind her – to break your fall when you trip, to remind her to whisper and you to live.
But she will be the mindful one. The one that will always rotate around you – that even at the widest circumference, she’ll always be facing you.
Names have been changed, but I guess if you know me, it probably doesn’t matter.
The Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55