Sunday, March 30, 2008

On Spirituality...

Thank you for appreciating my potentially insensitive thought process.

It still strikes me as so bizarre that I choose to publish what once would have been my journal, and so greatly appreciate and love whatever bits of feedback my readers are willing to give me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

My sister posed an interesting question yesterday at lunch, the first meal together of our sisters weekend. She said, "I'm wondering if, and how, your spiritual and/or religious views were changed by Charlotte's death". It was a question that she posed to all three of us, sitting together around the sunny table in a Newport restaurant bay window. The walls were cheery yellow, and tall glasses of ice water stood before us on the table. We were waiting for our food.

The three of us had an attempted religious upbringing. Slightly. Our parents, who were both raised Episcopal by parents who probably did not believe in much but socially were obliged to go to church, were thoughtful in deciding it would be better to give their children a foundation in something, than in nothing. Although they did not really have much religious belief themselves, they dutifully took us, I'm guessing maybe every other Sunday, to the Episcopal church in our town where we attended Sunday school and were all three confirmed.

After confirmation the family trips to church dwindled, and by the time we were all in college church was limited to just Easter and finally to not really ever. Nobody is really with religion, but I would also argue that none of us is decidedly without some vague sense of spirituality. So this is where we're coming from.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we all had very similar answers to this question, which we answered one at a time, going around the table. I began.

I could see, when Charlotte died, the incredible usefulness of religion. How calming it would be, I thought, if I knew that there was a place, a prescribed heaven, where my daughter had gone? Where she would be cared for? Where I would perhaps one day see her again? I could see this incredible function of religion, but I didn't believe it. Not that I actually didn't believe in it, but I just didn't have a preconceived notion of what would happen. So now, having seen my daughter's strong spirit released, I didn't know where it was going-- and this, in the darkest hour, seemed too late to decide. So I just opened the door to all possibility, and left it at that. I didn't know where she was, and I would not deny any possibility. I felt sure that she would not leave my side, and would somehow stay with our family. But as to where she was, I did not know.

My sisters both also felt this same ambiguity about death, and this same utilitarian purpose of religion, which we kind of thought that for us, we would have had to already have had as part of us before we needed it. It wasn't possible for us to invent the belief, or adhere to it, when we needed it. We pondered how we had been given this taste of religion as children, but how for all of us, it seemed the "church" of kindness and good deeds that we got our values and beliefs from. We spoke of how Charlotte's death had brought us closer and more in touch with this religion of sorts, this way of being where you are just thoughtful and caring, and where you give of yourself willingly and openly, and expect nothing in return. We spoke of the love in our family, and the strong, caring values that have been modeled for us, and how Charlotte's death reminded us of the sincere importance of these values.

I think that all loss challenges faith in some ways. My sister remembers me saying, "No God would do this to my baby," and she interpreted this as me denying the existence of a God. Five years later, I clarified this for her. I neither confirm nor deny the existence of one God or Spirit that may influence what happens here on earth, and may work through certain people here on earth. But I am quite sure that if he or she or it exists, that it was not part of some plan to take my daughter from me. I don't believe anybody, even a Great Spirit, can be everywhere at once. So my daughter slipped from my grasp, and from this world, and then maybe someone, somewhere, saw her spirit out there in the spirit world, and gasped, and helped her soul find her way back to me. And perhaps the gift that a greater power has given to me, in return for my daughter's spirit entering that world, is the desire to help other people right through the experience that could have crushed and ruined me. So thank you, thank you, whatever might be out there, for giving me strength. Mostly, though, I believe in the human soul, and the strength of spirit that we all have, and I thank my little daughter Charlotte for giving me more than I ever imagined she could in nine little months here on earth. I believe she is still with me.

The picture posted here, with this entry, was taken when Aoife was two weeks old. We were out in the forest, by the river, at Charlotte's stone. My sister Stephanie took a family photo on her camera, and when she got home and put it on her computer screen, she called me right away.
"I am looking at this picture," she said breathlessly, "And I swear to god, there is an angel sitting on your shoulder. I can't describe it. You have to see this. It is incredible."

She printed the photo, sent it to me in the mail.

I opened the envelope, and I laughed. I laughed for a long, long time, and my smile could not be erased. There was no doubt. Charlotte was in the picture.

Here it is, untampered with, the only family photo we may ever get.


Birdies Mama said...

Wow Carol.
Your words are just so beautiful, you are able to write what it is so hard for me to articulate. I feel very similar to how you do about spirituality and perhaps where Birdie might have flown...and then come back to us.

Oh, and that photo....that photo. I love that photo, everytime I see it it makes me cry, its just so moving in so many ways. Charlotte is most certainly there!

Jen said...

What an amazing photograph. Yes, as someone similarly agnostic yet open to possibilities, I believe Charlotte is with you.

stephanie said...

I am glad that our conversation last weekend stimulated a blog entry. I was hoping I would make it into the blog some day!

I am going to try to post comments more regularly. I haven't been writing much because I feel that whatever I write will not do justice to what you have just expressed so beautifully. And I often feel speechless, like I don't even know what or how to respond.

I am a faithful reader of your blog and always read an entry feeling inspired and amazed that it is my sister who wrote those words. Sometimes you write about feelings, emotions or little stories about something cute or amazing that Liam or Aoife did and I think, yes, I know that, Carol has expressed that to me before or told me that in other ways. And other times I read your entries and am surprised how much I don't know about your inner experiences, even though I have been by your side and shared many experiences with you. So this blog has been wonderful for me in that I feel like I am getting to my sister all that much better. And that makes me happy. Keep it up, seester. You are an inspiration.