Your beliefs will be the light by which you see,
but they will not be what you see
and they will not be a substitute for seeing.
For reasons I never knew, Mother did not leave the hospital in the family Chevrolet following my birth. No, instead, she and I were driven home in the Horne's Funeral Home hearse which doubled as the local ambulance. We drove through Eastman at the rear end of a parade. Had Flannery O'Conner submitted this scenario to her publisher, he would have looked up, shaken his head, and said, "Miss O'Connor, this time I'm afraid you've gone too far." But the circumstances go a long way toward explaining what has followed. Welcome to my circus.
"Ms. Brady, I'd like you to write a single sentence that encapsulates your persona."
"Certainly. No problem. I like to color outside the lines."
"Ma'am, you can color later. Right now, I need that sentence."
"Sir, that was the sentence."
"The thing about coloring outside the lines? That's not what I had in mind."
"Well, don't feel bad because, with all due respect, you don't know me from Adam."
He looked at me with a glazed expression that indicated I should have scribbled, "Makes therapists cry."
Decades passed before I got the courage to say, "Hello, my name is Celeste and I am a recovering art major." You see, before I went to college, I LOVED coloring outside the lines. Four years and a B.F.A. later, I graduated, certain that my work was trite, my talent minimal, and my future prospects dim. This largely from a professor whose entry in the faculty art show consisted of nine blank canvases. Well, almost blank. Titled "I" through "IX", Roman numerals lending a touch of elegance, the twelve-inch squares hung in a row. Each bore three single slashes: one each of red, blue, and yellow. Shot from a water pistol. "I" sprayed from one foot. "II" from two feet. You get the picture. I didn't. Not back then. Ended up working on an agile software development team as a technical communicator, graphic interface designer, and usability engineer. Don't ask. Simply know that this preceded the therapy.
I did benefit from the sessions. Just not the one with the wonk in the white short-sleeve dress shirt and pocket protector. His apparel should have been a dead give-away. He obviously had taken a wrong turn himself, seeing as how he was dressed like a Georgia Tech engineering student trudging up The Hill back in the sixties. The only thing missing from his ensemble was a slide rule hanging off his belt.
One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons depicts a doctor's examing room. A worried, middle-aged man in skivvies sits on the edge of an exam table. The physician stands in front of a light box, perusing an x-ray. Ribs and internal organs are discernible. In the man's stomach, letters of the alphabet float. Hundreds of them.
The doctor is pointing, his mouth open. Beneath, the caption reads, "Bob, that novel in you has to come out."
Like Bob, I've discovered that whatever is hiding inside - real and neglected - needs to be voiced. Or painted. Or climbed, swum, or sung. For the sheer joy of the doing. To become the integrated, genuine creature that God made.
The historical Jesus embodied Eastern qualities that stand in stark contrast to our western culture. One in particular. He operated outside the box. Just ask the Pharisees. He broke rules. Hired all the wrong people to be disciples. The only one with a decent resume - this line borrowed from a minister whose name I can't recall - was Judas. Christ ate and drank with sinners. Talked to the prostitute at the well. Drew in the sand. And I'd bet dollar to doughnuts that He drew outside the lines.
For the past five years, I've awakened to the sight of a graceful, tall, ivory-colored Buddha by the window. A rosary hangs from the elongated raised hand and, in the adjacent small chest, my Bible from the First Baptist Sunday School department rests. To the woman who said that I should remove Buddha, citing idol-worship, may I submit that many idols have permeated my life. At one time, I would have been intent on pleasing you, ma'am, sacrificing my authenticity on the altar of fear. Gave that false god up for Lent not too long ago. My idols are rarely carved in stone or wood but woven of my own cowardice and inconsistencies. Buddha reminds me of who I am, an aging southern belle, Christian with a bit of Zen thrown in for good measure.
So, my dear Buddhist friends, accept my gratitude for gifts shared.
And know that I mean no disrespect.
This past week, in the midst of my move, Buddha departed the condo.
In a pink camo sleeping bag in the back of a pick-up truck.
A certain symmetry exists between the beginning of this saga and now.
The irony is not lost on one who began her journey behind a bunch of Shriners on little motorcycles.