Virgin Birth

I don’t know what possessed me to watch the documentary “The Business of Being Born.”  Several women give birth at home in this movie, and you see every detail of how it happens.  I wondered– very theoretically since I currently am in no danger of giving birth– whether labor is more like getting a root canal, or more like mourning.  Is it pain that is bearable, or worth feeling?

Then the Advent reading about the angel coming to Mary struck me differently.  She was going to have a baby.  Probably without an epidural.  And childbirth back then was Russian roulette.  Many women died.  Giving birth might even be scarier than thinking your baby was a God/human hybrid.  Who knows?

We obsess about the “virgin” angle, which, if it’s even accurate from a storytelling perspective, doesn’t necessarily have much to do with sex.   It just makes good use of the ancient “oops, it must have been [a] god who impregnated me” narrative.  Knowing that creation can come from an individual plus God, rather than the community, is a new idea.

Around Jesus’ time, there is a new individualism in the religious movements.  You are more than your place in the group.  Mary is about to become a singular celebrity.  You can see all the glory and tenderness of individualism, and all the disconnected brokenness are just around the corner.  You can do it!  You can make things that express all the wonders of your talent and your experience!  On the other hand, you can’t be your tribe, or whose son you are.  You will have to make your own way.

Christmas isn’t Easter.  The secular parts of Christmas are so awesome that the religious parts struggle to compete, even for us religious types.  And the theological significance, compared to Easter, is thin.  Jesus was born.  Good for him.

The religious sentiment I have at Christmas is about God being in the love of small, vulnerable things.  Christmas is the church holiday that’s about babies.  It is so dangerous to love the vulnerable.  Yet people love children, especially, at Christmas, and sometimes they even love their own desire to help, and their own soft, optimistic natures.  Watching people create and give, even when they are afraid or in pain, is all that gets us through dark winter.

Send Off

A hospital is an exciting place:  some people are there to sprout new people;  some people are there to die.  The post office is clearly a less dramatic location.  Still, as I stood in line, I was cradling my stack of papers like I held a state secret.

There were three people ahead of me.  All of them looked like they might be college kids studying abroad, maybe from India.  They were all sending small packages to the same place.

I imagined one of those boxes appearing on an Indian stoop.  A woman in a pink sari would lift it up, smile at the American stamps and the smeared, beloved name of her child in the return address, and yell,  “Hey, it’s finally here!”

I was sending off 30,000 words.  I wouldn’t say I had sweated over every single one of those 30,000.  I would say I had scowled or pondered or stretched or rebuilt most of them.  Thirty thousand words of fiction costs me about four years, an hour a day, plus all the reading and looking and moving and thinking of my thirty-two years.

When I was eighteen, I left home for college.  We drove the white minivan full of my important junk.  All the way across Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania.  I was terrified, and relieved, to be on my own.

I was the first kid in the family to leave.  So I think that plenty of the time, I was not missed.  There were other kids demanding their attention, and I had been pretty checked out of the family before I left.

On the other hand, I remember feeling that I was destroying the family.  My parents had divorced eight years before that.  The first destruction was their fault.  But the second destruction was mine.  I was breaking up the family.  I would be gone.  I was growing up.  It was a strange sort of revenge.

I think of things I write like children.  Things I made.  Things I worked with.  You have to send them off when they are grown up.  It won’t help anyone to keep them at home.  I don’t have my own children, but I am a teacher, and I have practice moving people along when they are ready.  God knows no one should stay in high school longer than necessary.  On to senior year.  On to college.

I hid the address on my package because it said, “Novella Contest,” and I knew it was extremely unlikely that anyone would say, “Hey, it’s finally here!” when they opened it.  I was trying to protect it, just for a few more minutes.

I finally got to the front of the line.  “You want insurance?  Confirmation of delivery?”  the clerk asked me.

“No, just regular mail,” I said.   “It’ll get there.”