no, not the punishment kind. just a breather. a break. some time to clear one’s head. that’s usually all ruth needs when she gets all pent up and like a little person bomb.
i found myself taking a lot of these with ruth at a recent family christmas party. i missed the gifts, as usual. i missed a lot of the conversation, the family dynamics unfolding and playing out in the room we reserved to hold our swelling family and all of its food. although we struggle at times to connect from our different situations and circumstances, one thing most of us have in common is a great love and adoration of carbs and fats. there was a smattering of veggies and salads that remained largely untouched on the room-length table loaded with entrees, sides, and, of course, desserts.
the only places to escape to were the restrooms, which aren’t the most contemplative place you can think of, and the chapel. oddly, we found ourselves spending a lot of time in the latter, relaxing on the padded pews, staring up at the stained glass windows. i love my family, but silence, to me, is like a familiar friend who understands me better than most people. i say “oddly” simply because i am not a religious person and am usually not to be found in a church of any kind. they usually make me uncomfortable and self-conscious but this one was nice. and an odd thing happened as i sat there, feet propped up on the pew i sat sideways on as ruth wandered nearby. i started to feel like my dad.
not just because he was a religious, to some extent, person and liked being in church, but also because i realized that this was just the sort of thing he would do at a party like that. step away for a breather, and, not uncommonly, if i happened to see him sneak away, i would follow. my dad has been dead nearly thirteen years but i’m still learning things about him. (isn’t that the nature of parenthood? you are finally able to understand your parents, to see things from their perspective. the fear, the anger, and all of the confusion. from the perspective of the child, a parent knows all, or should. when you become one, you understand how clueless and lost you are and how clueless and lost they were (and probably still are) too.) i finally realized right then that, like me, my dad was an introvert (an introvert that likes to air all of their dirty personal laundry on the internet for all to see), and needed time alone to think and recharge and just be. i wished then that he was there with me, which i seldom do, so it felt good, but i also felt happy to find his characteristics in me, resting in my chest, settling on that pew, all splayed out and just being in the moment with ruth.
“hey, ruth,” i said. “this is a church. this is a place where people come to think. some people, who believe in god, come here to pray, which is like thinking, but talking directly to someone. god. some people think there is a being that created everything and that you can talk to this person or being by sitting still and thinking,” i said. “what do people think about?” she asked. “well…” i started, “anything you like. but mostly, people come here to ask for peace. and hope and strength for things in their lives that are hard.” she was silent for a moment. “like our friend who died recently,” i said, “some people believe that when you die, you go someplace else and live there forever. so, if we lost someone we loved and we believed that, we might pray for peace about their death and that we will see them again some day.” still she sat silent. “but no one knows for sure what happens to a person when they die. some people think that you get reborn as a different person. some people think nothing happens.” she seemed lost in thought, caught on something, not really paying attention to my ramblings. “i wish our friend could come here,” she said with a sort of happy smile on her face. “why?” i asked, “because her baby died?” “yes,” she said. “that’s a nice thought,” i said and started to explain that there are churches everywhere but her interest was already elsewhere and she was running up and down the aisles of pews. a moment later, she was beside me again and said, “i’m going to think about gymnastics,” which i think was the happiest thing she could think to think of. “that’s nice, too,” i said and relaxed even further into my pew.
family parties are great places for exuberant conversation, eating ’till you’re stuffed and laughing until your belly muscles cramp up. but they are also nice to step away from from time to time. and take a time out.