Whether you accept or reject it, God’s Love for you is permanent. After God has forgiven me, granted me His Compassion and showered His Blessings upon me, then I have to feel at every moment God’s Love. I have to feel that the One who has forgiven me, shown me His Compassion, and blessed me, really cares for me. If I feel that God really loves me, then only can I have true and abiding happiness. The Creator is all love for His creation. But the creation quite often does not feel it or realize it. Since I am part of God’s creation, it is my… duty to feel God’s Love at every moment. Only then will I try to become good, divine, and perfect, and please Him in His own way. —Sri Chinmoy, 1931-2007 [emphasis is the editor’s]
I will experience love as a light that begins in my heart and spreads out as far as my awareness can reach; as images arise in my mind, I will send love and light in their direction. —Adapted from The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2004)
I Will Send Love and Light
I guess I’m a late bloomer. I don’t have any bazooms yet, and until recently I wasn’t interested in boys except as pals.
Whereas, Mama told me once, while she was ironing Daddy’s dress shirt with a tender expression people don’t usually wear while they’re ironing, she was eight years old when she fell in love with Daddy.
It was the day he and his brothers were out riding their bicycles and they stopped to ask Sister Alma Rose if they could have some water from her pump. (Sister Alma Rose still has a working windmill next to the house and several more out in the fields, so she can pump water up out of the wells without electricity.)
Mama was drinking lemonade on the porch with Sister Alma Rose, who graciously asked the boys if they’d rather have lemonade instead of pump water. They said, “No, thank you, Ma’am,” and scooped water from the pump into their mouths and splashed it on their faces.
They were about to ride off when Mama asked if she could run over home and get her bike and ride along with them. Isaiah and Jesse just laughed and did some wheelies to show off, then turned and went lickety-split down the hill. But Daddy stayed behind and told Mama she could ride with him if she wanted to. So they crossed the road and got Mama’s bike and went all the way to La Mesa and had cherry phosphates at the Rexall. (From The Ancients, Part 1: Daddy Pete, by Mary Campbell)
Lust is not love
Apparently I am changing hormonally, though it doesn’t show on the outside, as far as I can tell. My (ha-ha) bustline, waist, and hips are exactly the same size, which is about seven inches, and I have to wear belts to keep my jeans from falling down.
It used to be that when I saw romantic scenes in movies I would close my eyes and plug my ears and ask Pablo, or whomever I was with, to tell me when the mushy part was over. Suddenly I am wildly interested in mush, and there is this one part of The Runaway Bride where Richard Gere is just looking at Julia Roberts and the hairs on my arms stand on end.
I have seen this part of the movie about thirty times because my friend Tootie (you do not want to know why she is called “Tootie”) owns the video and we watch it every time I spend the night at her house because she, like me, has just gotten interested in boys as sex objects. (If there is one thing that Sister Alma Rose has taught me, it is that lust is not love.) [Note to Mama and Daddy, if you are reading this, I don’t mean “sex objects” literally, okay, I just mean hotties, foxes… um… heartthrobs.]
So although I am not quite 12 years old I am in lust with David Harkness, whom everyone calls “Lefty” because, naturally, he is left-handed and is a really good baseball player and he throws and bats left-handed but can switch to batting right-handed in the blink of an eye. And all of a sudden, life, which had, for me, always consisted of childhood and was therefore not terribly complicated, got terribly complicated.
So what I did was, so that I’d be able to have sparkling conversations with Lefty, I studied up on baseball, and left-handed baseball players, and especially switch-hitters, notably Mickey Mantle, who played his entire career for the New York Yankees and who was the American League‘s Most Valuable Player three times.
Coming of age
Before I got this crush on Lefty, I never, ever thought about what other people thought about me. When I was comfortable with someone, then that someone became my friend. When I was uncomfortable with someone, then I avoided that person. Hilltop Elementary School is so small that there aren’t really “cliques” like those I’ve read about at larger schools… so there’s no “in crowd” and there are no popularity contests. Smart kids seem to hang around with other smart kids because they sort of speak the same language, not because they’re snobs or think they’re better than someone who is great at, say, running track but totally does not get algebra.
Every once in a while a family will move to Hilltop from someplace like the Persian Gulf or Africa, and Sister Alma Rose always knows about it and tells me to be especially kind to their kids, which is how I met Mehrnaz, whose lovely name means “the sun’s glory.”
Mehrnaz is about my age, but she couldn’t wait to move to America because in America she would be able to have a Barbie doll.
I had outgrown my Barbie dolls, of which I had maybe twenty (including Air Force Barbie and Ken, who are African-American, and two Native-American Barbies, and then a bunch of other quasi-Barbies made of molded rubber or something).
So I gave them all to Mehrnaz, which made my little brother Johannes cry, and I’m ashamed to admit that it never occurred to me that Johannes would want to play with my Barbie dolls, although they’ve been sitting out in plain sight for years and Johannes never showed any interest in them until they were on their way out the door.
But Daddy, who tries to be broad-minded about these gender-role things, reverted to type and promised to buy him a dump truck, or it might have been a chain saw, I wasn’t really paying attention), and even though some of them (Barbies) had stupid hair because I had tried to cut or style it, and some had dislocated shoulders and compound fractures, Mehrnaz cried and hugged me and Mehrnaz’s mom cried and hugged me.
And they hadn’t even seen the Barbie house yet, or the closetful of other Barbie accessories (including Barbie’s T-bird convertible and the rest of her fleet plus a foot locker full of clothes, with the tiny shoes in plastic zipper bags meant for pills), which Daddy was going to bring over in his truck.
But back to Lefty (or “but I digress” —I’ve always wanted to write “but I digress” in a story)… I had known Lefty for as long as I could remember and we always got along fine. Sometimes we walked home from school together — his family lives about a half-mile west of our farmhouse — but it wasn’t like we were boyfriend and girlfriend or anything.
And now I was writing our names in hearts with Magic Marker all over the inside cover of my school notebook and trying out my first name with his last name — “Fanny Harkness,” which isn’t too bad, especially if you consider that I could just as easily have fallen in lust with Tim Ranney — “Fanny Ranney”? I don’t think so — who is very cute, even though Tim’s dad puts a bowl over Tim’s head and cuts his hair so that he looks like Moe in the Three Stooges.
Suddenly, because of the Lefty thing, I am very self-conscious about my clothes and my hair and about not having any bazooms — and before this I have never had a self-conscious moment in my life, not even when I was in sixth grade and wearing these pretty white corduroy culottes that I had made in Camp Fire Girls, and our teacher, Mr. Lee, who looked like a young Gregory Peck, asked me to go up to the blackboard and solve a math problem, so I stood with my back to the class for a full five minutes working this problem, and when I sat down again, the dear, sweet boy who sat behind me, Larry Levin, leaned forward and whispered that there was a gigantic bloodstain on the back of my culottes. I thanked Larry and raised my hand, and when Mr. Lee called on me I just pointed to the door and he nodded and I stood and picked up my books and backed out of the classroom and kept walking backward until I reached the nurse’s office, and the nurse called Mama, who brought me clean clothes and Towelettes and “supplies,” and I freshened up and changed and went back to class and nobody ever said a word about it.
But now I’m stuffing Kleenex in my bra and trying to pluck my eyebrows and wondering if Lefty is in lust with me the way I am in lust with him. So one day I am walking home from school by myself and it’s a day that baseball practice has been canceled, but I don’t know that, and I don’t even hear Lefty walking behind me until he says, “Hey, wait up, cute little Fanny,” which is what he has called me ever since he figured out what a double entendre is, and I am so startled I trip on my own foot and drop all my books, which has happened dozens of times, that’s why Lefty sneaks up like that, only this time, instead of laughing, I am embarrassed and I can’t think of a thing to say, not a thing. Whereas I would normally have said, “How about helping me pick up these books, Creep!” in a friendly way.
But I don’t have the presence of mind to say anything normal, because all kinds of other stuff is rattling around in my head. What’s happening is, I’m trying to see myself through his eyes and I’m wondering if I have bad breath and if any new zits have popped out today, and I can’t even meet his eyes. When I finally think of something to say, it’s totally lame, like, “How come you don’t have baseball practice today?” and I try on this dazzling smile I’ve been practicing, and he looks at me a little oddly and explains why he doesn’t have baseball practice and I’m not even listening because I’m still trying to crawl inside his head to see what he sees when he looks at me, and then, to my total and extreme humiliation, he says, “What’s wrong with your mouth? Hey, I’ll bet you have Bell’s palsy!” And he takes off running, like Bell’s palsy germs are going to leap onto his face. “See you, Fanny,” he calls back. I try to yell after him, hoarsely (he can’t hear me), “Mickey Mantle won the American League MVP award three times.” And as soon as he’s out of sight I sit down on the grassy shoulder of the road and burst into tears and get a few hundred chigger bites on my upper thighs along the edges of my underpants, and I’m thinking, I’m not ready for this, and wondering if it would make me a terrible, mean person if I asked Mehrnaz for my Barbies back.
I could barely see Sister Alma Rose’s house from where I was sitting, because of her undisturbed oak grassland that she is so proud of, but I can see Sister Alma Rose, wearing one of the big, flowing gold dresses she makes, so that she looks a bit like an oak herself, and I can feel her eyes on me, and they’re pulling me like she’s a magnet and I’m an iron filing, so I pick up my books and scratch my chigger bites in a very unlustful manner, and I drag my sorry self to her porch, feeling despised by Lefty and practically everyone else in the Western Hemisphere, except Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette, and of course the latter has already made my frosty glass of lemonade appear and then vanished, which no one the size of a sequoia should be able to do the way he does.
Love is a gift
My face is tear-streaked and I’m sniffling and wiping my nose on the sleeve of the ice-blue boatneck sweater I had worn that day to make Lefty fall in lust with me, but I don’t have to explain anything to Sister Alma Rose. She sees all, she knows all.
“Miss Fanny,” she said, handing me a clean, lavender-scented hankie for blowing my nose, “y’all just lost part of yourself in that boy — the watcher part, the observing, outward, interested part. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Miss Fanny together again. Who’s the only one who can do that?”
“I am,” I said miserably, folding my arms on the green wicker table and laying my head down on them, “by the grace of God.”
“And right now y’all can’t put yourself together because parts of y’all are still with David Harkness, thinking about how y’all can look and act and smile and smell like lilacs and otherwise perform for him like a trained seal next time so that he’ll fall at y’all’s feet. Fanny, there are women in this world who can manipulate men into loving them. Praise God, y’all ain’t one of them women. Because if y’all get all tangled up into wanting to be loved, y’all got nothing left to love with.
“Now y’all listen to me, Fanny, because I ‘most never lecture y’all, do I?”
I shook my head, as well as I could with it buried in my arms on the table.
“All right, then. Next time y’all catch yourself trying to be good enough, to look pretty enough… next time y’all start performing… stop right then, and remind yourself that love is a gift; y’all can’t earn it.
“Then silently say this prayer, as many times as y’all need to, and I don’t care if y’all are in the middle of a conversation with David Harkness or in the middle of y’alls presidential-nomination-acceptance speech, and y’all look like a blinkin’ idiot, y’all say this prayer silent in y’all’s head. Y’all know the prayer I mean, don’t y’all?”
I picked my head up off the table so I could nod.
“Then say it with me, Fanny.”
So together we said this prayer, which Sister Alma Rose calls my getting-myself-back-together prayer:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore in me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with thy free spirit.
They say that kids hardly ever learn from their elders and that each generation makes all the mistakes that the previous generation made. But from that day to this I have never, not once, tried to shape myself into something I wasn’t in order to win approval or to be loved. I have never, as Sister Alma Rose has said it, “put someone else on a pedestal” made of my “own stuff.” I have, instead, tried to love purely and generously, have tried to radiate love “as far as my awareness can reach,” and I never (hardly) worry about whether I am getting love back in equal measure.
This is not me saying, “Hey, aren’t I just the most wonderful thing!” No, it’s two other things entirely:
- It’s easy, and it makes life much more fun, to be one of the watchers instead of one of the watched.
- Somebody wise, I can’t remember who, said that most neuroses come from worrying about what other people think of you.
Sister Alma Rose has a framed cross-stitch in her hallway, exquisitely embroidered and decorated, and it says, “Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it. —Mary Baker Eddy”
We sat quietly until the moon rose — a huge harvest moon that seemed to fill the eastern sky. “Lookit that,” said Sister Alma Rose. “The Ancients say that if a heart beats pure, the moon can feel its throbbing; and the moon grows strong and governs the tides; and in the end, Miss Fanny,” she said, touching my cheek, “love really does make the world go ‘round.”