Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dead Monkey Babies and Butterflies

Oh yea-ah! It's that time of year again. Actually, it's not. It's over now. The Ancient Christianity and African Americans Conference was this past weekend, but it was GOOD, GOOD, GOOD. And I get to tell you all about it.

It was in Detroit this year, and what a pleasure it was to have my friends in the Big Motor. All of the ACAA favorites were there. Father Moses Berry and Father Paiscius Atshul. Iconographers Father Jerome Sanderson and Mother Katherine Westin, and this year Dr. Albert Raboteau came. Holy Moses can that man speak! It was a treat in every way, and I can't remember being so happy in a long time.

My good friend Gina went with me on Friday morning. We left home a little after six in the morning so we could attend morning prayers, but Lord, have mercy, we ended up taking every imaginable wrong turn and didn't get there until just before the first speaker.

I can't describe what it was like to walk into the door. The familiar faces smiling at me. Big hugs, and bigger love. I always have this feeling that no one will remember me, but they did. I saw Mother Pachomia and waved and gave her a huge grin. Mother Nicole thought I was waving at Mother Bridget. Mother Bridget and my Godmother look a lot a like, but I'd never met Mother Bridget. I didn't even see her. My Godmother thought that I didn't recognize her, but I did. I'd know her anywhere (up close) from a distance, Orthodox Nuns in full habit can look an awful lot a like, and more than once I walked up to one only to have her look up and not be Mother Nicole. Here's a funny thing about not recognizing people, I took the time to curl my hair. My hair often looks a hot mess, or is covered. Coiffed hair is a rarity. Three people didn't recognize me! Including one who I go to church with and see much more than once a year. Ha!

Fr. Jerome spoke first. I knew his talk would be about forgiveness, but you know how it is, forgiveness is one of those words you gloss over because you really don't want to do the hard work of forgiving. I saw "forgiveness" in the program, but I didn't know this weekend how real it would get to me.

Fr. Jerome opened his talk with an utterly horrifying story about a mother monkey who's baby had died. She didn't want to let her baby go, however. I could relate. So, she just kept carrying the baby. Soon the baby began to decompose, but she wouldn't let the baby go. The story went on, but it was a little hard to concentrate because I'm visual, and I kept SEEING that monkey carrying her dead monkey baby, and the image was compelling enough to completely arrest my attention. Eventually somebody got that baby out of her arms, and I think it involved her falling out of a tree, or something, I missed it. I didn't miss her dragging around her dearly departed, however?

Father Jerome said we all carry our dead monkey babies. I know I've been dragging mine along (and I have a bunch of them) for years. No matter the smell. No matter the flies, maggots, and decay. No matter the people that it keeps away from us, or the living people who could be in our arms if we would open them to receive them.

I sat in my chair, listening, thinking about all the ways that I miss opportunities to forgive seventy times seventy (and more). The smallest slight from my husband, and I pick up a dead monkey baby. A reader says I mispelled something, and I go on a six hundred word rant (a literary dead monkey baby). I apologize dear reader. And I removed said rant. The gazillion times a day my own sins, past and present, beat me up, and I have difficulty forgiving myself. Not forgiving one's self seems so easy. Sometimes it actually feels good to feel bad about oneself, but unforgiveness, no matter who the recipient is, is just another dead monkey baby. I sat there chastised, sorry for the way I've held on to my past and in many ways kept Ken and myself somewhere we have long left behind. I'm sorry, baby. I'm sorry Claudia Mair. And I'm sorry to anyone out there who I have sinned against. Forgive me. Easy to say yes, but I'll truly try to treat you right.

Anyway, I was going to stay over at the retreat center that night, but I only wanted to go home and be with my husband. I lay my dead monkey baby down in the presence of my dear brother and sisters in Christ. I wanted open hands to hold the man I love when I got home.

Later that night, there was a special presentation at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History. Father Moses had several artifacts from his own museum, including slave neck chains and leg shackles. He always brings fabulous antique quilts with him. I love to hear Father Moses speak.

Dr. Carla Thomas pulled a fast one on me that night. She said, "I'd like for you to read a poem." I thought if I said, "I don't have any poems with me," that would get me off the hook, but she just replied, with that maddening sweet smile of hers, "Start thinking." Is that compassionate? I think not! But there's something so good and holy about her, you can't say no to her, and the next thing I know I'm in the lobby of the museum furiously writing poetry. Oh. It was awful. It rhymed, and I never rhyme. I thought it would kill me to read bad poetry, but I did it.

When I was done, everyone cheered, and people yelled, "Beautiful." I so didn't deserve that, but I love that everyone was so kind. My kids had a great time. My husband and my mother-in-law had a great time. I had to run back in to ask Dr. Carla a question, and when I was done, I chatted with Father Moses. He was putting artifacts away. Out of nowhere I heard him say, "This is for you, Claudia." I looked at him, because he was folding up a beautiful quilt and it ain't no way he's about to give me an heirloom from his museum. But he did, he put that quilt in my hand, and when I said, "Oh no, I can't take this, it's too beautiful." He said, "I have to keep it in the family." Remember how last year I wrote how I'd found a father in him?

So I went home, with an antique quilt top of intricately designed butterflies. Isn't that apropos? The Lord topping off a perfect day of peace and forgiveness with butterlies. It's time to fly free with love and friends and family.

If we'd only believe, brothers and sisters, what would happen if we'd only believe?



Mary said...

I've just recently discovered your blog...found out about you at ACFW. I've linked you to my blog now, and check up on you daily! My first visit was a LONG one as I read many many of your entries and was blessed by each one!
Thanks for sharing Him like you do.

Bek said...

i love the story in this post. the feel of it. the monkey and the forgiveness and thew quilt. this post carries good feelings and love in it. thx

Heather Diane Tipton said...

oh great post Mair!! just gotta smack me upside the head doncha?

too cool on the quilt!

shanna said...

Man. I just finished a butterfly-d quilt top last night. It's a belated wedding gift and an offering of love to a young woman I served with in a ministry called Chrysalis.

Maybe I need to make me one, too. Just as a reminder.

peace to you.

Nancy said...

An amazing and timely post Mair. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability . You have blessed me once again . I have to say the dead monkey baby story was powerful and right on target .....again!

bobbie said...

dang woman, you made me cry!

that post title just drew me in - it needs to be a chapter title in your memoir, k?

you wrote "I always have this feeling that no one will remember me, but they did." - i too have this gut reaction and am literally surprised when i am remembered (how could you forget someone so RED, but i just expect to be forgotten...)

i'm so glad you had those strong arms of your husband to hold you after/during your process. letting go of those dead monkey babies can be really freeing, but deeply emotional.

please take a picture of your butterfly quilt - i can't wait to see it! what an honor to have something 'kept in the family' - beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! thank you for sharing your joy and pain with us again mair!

Photini said...

This was powerful and true and beautiful and holy. Thanks for showing me I've got some dead monkey babies of my own to bury. And congrats on the quilt-- that is so rad.

kevin beck said...

What a vivid image. Thanks for sharing.

Kristine said...

You amaze me. This is such a great story. Your words have a way of staying with me for periods of time. Thanks for your vulnerability and encouragement.

Hope said...

The word metanoia is often symbolized by a butterfly.

And your writing is always about metanoia. You inspire me.

Paula said...

I'm crying over that beautiful quilt. Isn't that just like the Lord and just like this man who is your spiritual father?

I'm tearing up that you got to read your own poetry and that everyone told you it was beautiful.

I love it that they love you so well.

I could just feel the love in your heart as you rushed home to hug your man.

Love you, Sistie. This just filled me up--for myself, but also for you. I love it when you are well-loved.

Michelle said...

This is my first time reading your blog, and I JUST finished writing a post about forgiveness.

I loved your presentation of forgiveness. What a blessed word.

Sally said...

only justfound you- this is beautiful

Candy said...

I have a buttefly quilt my grandmother made me that is one of my most precious possessions. She's been gone a long time. "I have to keep it in the family." Most precious words for you, Mair. I love this post all the way from dead monkeys to butterflies. I can't help but wonder what your poem was. Could you post it?

Candy said...

My order has shipped! I just got confirmation from Amazon!! Woohoo!! I can't wait to hold it in my hands and read it.

Elizabeth J. Mills said...

Mair, what a wonderful, blessed gift you are to find. God brought me to you through a mutual friend, Paula, whose currently allowing God to open her "boxes." I can relate so well to what you say. I have a backyard full of dead prize-banty roosters that I keep digging up. Very much like the dead monkey babies you carry along. ;-)
Blessings to you from a fellow writer.