I am not spiritual. I don’t really know what it means to be spiritual, but I’ve guessed “no” when I’ve been occasionally asked. I am uncomfortable with the unknown. Maybe that’s why I write fantasy books, because the mystical, magical space my brain craves is self-contained, manageable—delicious but reassuringly confined to my own rules. I don’t know.
My mom thinks I’m spiritual. She also thinks I probably secretly believe in God. We’ve argued about this before.
“I would know it if I did,” I say.
“You just don’t like the way it’s described,” she says, “that doesn’t mean you don’t feel something.”
I shake my head and think she just wants her daughter to have religion. She doesn’t want me to miss out.
I don’t want to miss out, either, but my mind stays strictly on its path. I listen when friends talk astrology, but only out of politeness and sometimes, if I’m feeling wild, fun. I don’t want to miss out, but much more than that, I’m proud of my straightforward rationalism.
This story I’m about to tell is one of the only spiritual things that’s ever happened to me. The others were tiny. (I’m defining “spiritual” like this: it felt spiritual.)
A little over seven months ago, two weeks before my pregnancy was due to end, I woke up on the toilet in the middle of the night. I didn’t remember getting up, walking to the bathroom, sitting down. But I remembered what had happened and it made perfect sense. Maybe an hour before that, along the slippery ribbon of unconscious time, I had gone into labor, and I wasn’t ready.
“I’m not ready,” I said, “I don’t know how to do this. I’ve never done this before. I’m too young.”
“It’s okay,” said a woman I’d never met before. “Don’t worry, honey,” she said. “I’ll take over for a while. I’ve had three kids. I’m not young anymore. I know what to do.”
I was so grateful for this woman I’d never met. I trusted her instinctively. She was warm and strong and gentle, and she exuded an air of competence that put me immediately at ease. I went back to sleep and let her handle the situation.
I slept and this other woman, this immensely kind stranger, labored for me. She managed the contractions with quiet, confident resolve. She didn’t make any noise at all. She wasn’t afraid. She knew exactly what she was doing. It was her idea, actually, to go sit on the toilet. She knew to hold onto the towel rack and lean forward through each contraction, channeling the pain into her grip, letting it move through her and out into nothingness.
I woke up on the toilet with the sensation of threads separating from a tight weave, the aching pulling apart of oneness into duality, and then she was gone completely and I was alone. I knew and didn’t know in that moment that it had been me all along. I still believed for a second that she’d been there, that I was only now stepping up to reclaim my body and do the rest of the work. For a dream-flooded instant, contractions really were a thing that could be transferred and shared, and labor was a vehicle that could be climbed into by a helpful volunteer and steered. I had been so afraid of it, I had felt helpless approaching it, but I woke up perfectly calm. I was ready.
(the bulldozing vehicle of labor. source)
I didn’t tell Bear about the other woman until recently. I think I just forgot. Or maybe it was too weird.
The rest of my labor was sensible and painful. In my own head, even when I couldn’t speak any longer, I was thinking, “OK, shit, I think I need more fluids, I feel faint. What did I eat this morning? Why did I have that damn iced coffee? I’m probably jittery from the caffeine and there is no way that’s helping. Oh my god, this is going on forever. Why are they talking like I can’t hear them? Obviously, I can hear them. Don’t poop, don’t poop, don’t poop. I’m not supposed to care if I poop! I’m supposed to be way past embarrassment! Why do I care about anything right now? I thought I’m supposed to leave my body or something. Nope. I am right here in my body and it hurts like hell. AAAHHHH!! LIKE HELL!!!! WHHHY??! OK, OK, this is total bullshit. Should I try to hallucinate or something? Maybe look at myself from above? Maybe from some type of scaffolding? Don’t poop, don’t poop…”
I wasn’t too surprised. That’s me. I’m like that.
I’m not like the other thing. Like the blurring. I don’t usually slip into a gray area or brush against the tendrils of the inexplicable or find myself at the edge of the infinite.
But wow, it was nice. It made me wish I could peer over that edge again sometime.
Not that I expect to. I don’t.
Writing this, I’m thinking, “Sleep is inherently otherworldly, that’s the nature of dreaming. Your body was under unfamiliar duress and your subconscious was attempting to make sense of it. Duh.”
I’m struck, arguing with myself over the validity of my one big spiritual experience, that it probably doesn’t matter how and why, but that the how and the why are often the parts that I heap with the most significance.
I’m not really able to do it, but I wish I could just say, “whatever—it was awesome,” and leave it there intact in the history of my life, a rupture, a tear in the space/time continuum, a shimmering, warping, beautiful anomaly. Captain Picard, strictly rational, would understand. He’s seen the incredible, the mysterious, and he knows that’s just a normal part of deep space exploration. I wish I didn’t require everything to make such small sense when, if you draw back, everything that exists is a crazy, inexplicable miracle anyway.
(Swoon.I still love him. I will always love him. source)
Which is, you know, probably why the laws of science and rules of human conduct are so intensely important. In a way, they’re like a fantasy novel. They close the circuit. To believe in the context of the fantasy world, all of its rules have to make sense.
I’m not a believer in something bigger. Maybe I’ll never be.
Yesterday a friend from synagogue sent an email around explaining that he was going to Israel and would visit the Western Wall. He offered to tuck the names of ill loved ones into the cracks and say the prayer for healing, on behalf of anyone who wanted it (this is a tradition).
I almost ignored it, but then, in a rush, I wrote back with two names and a little joke, keeping it light-hearted, keeping it “You never know! Ha ha!”
Because, really, why not?
You never know.
Sometimes you just have to let go and poop.
I just think poop is funny, because I’m immature.
But seriously, even though I don’t believe, I can sense it, something trembling just past the line of reason and understanding, brushing the tall fence I rely on to protect me from chaos. The unknown is there, waiting. And in the depths of my unconscious, whole stories beneath the grounded ground floor, I suspect against suspicion that I am probably relieved.
After all, that woman who helped me, she was so nice.
* * *
Have you had an obviously spiritual experience? I’d love to hear about it if you feel like sharing!
Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when Eden and I are hanging out with my friends around the table, and we are both in a good mood. And there is dessert.
Here I am over at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life, talking about how I wish women could just look their age, at whatever age– it’s empowering and good when we do.
This is a version of the last post, about eating disorders, on HuffPo
And this is my piece about how Eden doesn’t yet know how she looks, on HuffPo
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