The Daily Prompt: In Good Faith
Describe a memory or encounter in which you considered your faith, religion, spirituality — or lack of — for the first time.
A Journey Begins
The woman rose from her bed in the darkened room. The man who had slept by her side for 37 years tossed fitfully in the stale air, his apnea-like snoring punctuated by long moments of silence. Her bare feet shuffled noiselessly across the faded tan carpet. She folded her arms on the open window ledge and breathed in the cool evening air…air that had not enough gust to push its way inside.
There was no moon tonight that she could see, but in the dim glow of her neighbor’s porch light she could just make out the glider in her backyard. It might be nice, she thought, to sit outside. But the hour was late, nearing midnight, and surely the cool air would wake her, not help her sleep.
And so she stood quietly watching the stars, listening to the fits and starts from the bed behind her and the barking and hissing of neighborhood critters. And she began to talk. Oh, not out loud, and not to herself…exactly. No. At least she hoped it wasn’t to herself. But then again, sometimes these days she wondered. Wondered if it were all a myth as some claimed, a figment of her imagination. Sometimes she even wondered if she might be emotionally unstable! And yet she had seemed to know instinctively at a young age that someone was out there listening. Someone. She had thought of that someone as He then, but as she had grown she’d realized you couldn’t put a gender on whoever or whatever it was. It just was. Or so she believed. At least she thought she believed.
She thought back to her first awareness of Him there in the woods at church camp in central-Ohio, and that first encounter that was anything but inspiring. Forty eight years later she could still remember that camp, the rusticity of it settled there in the middle of the forest. It was an old Bible camp even then. There was no lake like in the movie Parent Trap, or she probably wouldn’t have wanted to go as terrified as she was of water. No, this camp would be free, at least, of THAT worry.
She loved the woods. Spring, summer, and fall, her dad would drive her family to Mohican forest for picking wild flowers, picnicking, or gathering autumn leaves. There was hiking up to Old Man’s Cave, and in late autumn and early winter there were hayrides and wiener roasts with other kids from church. Wrapped up in blankets, they’d all pile on bales of hay in farmer Harry Koch’s big, wooden hay wagon, and the tractor would pull it into the woods.
Standing at the window in the April chill, the woman could still remember the Dogwood blossoms in the spring, the reddish-pink smears on the outside edge of their white petals supposedly symbolizing the blood Jesus shed on the cross at Easter. She could still see the woods carpeted in deep purple violas and orange-red poppies. To this very day, the smell of wood smoke and burning marshmallows took her back to that familiar forest as the fire popped and crackled and dry autumn leaves crunched beneath her feet. And apples! Wild, tart Jonathan apples snatched ripe from Harry’s orchard!
Spring and fall were her favorite times; summer, not so much. Whenever she spent too much time in the sun, her fair skin turned a deep Valentine red and hurt like crazy. Unlike her friends, who grew dark brown over the summer, her skin would peel and look an ugly patchwork pink and white. But getting sunburned hadn’t worried her much, either. She had suntan lotion for that.
That particular summer she was 9 years old. (Or was it 10 . . . ah, the woman’s memory was not as sharp as it used to be. . .) She was a pudgy little girl with long, curly, reddish-blonde hair that looked like a rat’s nest most of the time. Or so her mother always said. There was a constant battle when it had to be combed in the mornings, and more than once her mother had begged her father to let her get it cut. Yet, despite the daily struggle, he always had said no.
And so it was the mass of unruly red hair that had caused her the greatest worry about going to camp. Her mother could barely get a brush through it, let alone a comb. How ever was she going to take care of it herself? She doubted much there would even be mirrors in cabins with bunk beds. Bunk beds! Oh yes! She’d been worried about THAT, too! Having a great fear of heights, she just knew it would be her luck to be stuck in a top bunk! Thankfully her parents had taken care of that by requesting a bottom bed on her application. But the hair! Now THAT was a whole other story!
Then, to her great surprise and delight, as they were packing her suitcase the night before, her mother had given her a gift. It was a beautiful pink plastic dresser set, with a brush, a comb, and a hand mirror. It was very fine for a young girl of 10 (or was it 9). She was so proud of them when she brought them out of her suitcase as she sat on her bottom bunk. None of the other girls’ mothers would have given them such a gift! (Except, maybe, for the girl who slept in the bed above her and was terribly homesick already. That girl’s mother always tucked her in at night and rubbed her feet before kissing her on the forehead. Her own mother wasn’t like that. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time her mother had even hugged her.)
A breeze was finally stirring as the woman, lost in remembering, rested her cheek on her folded arms.
It had taken but one morning for her to realize that, as fine as they were, the brush and comb wouldn’t be much help. She couldn’t begin to drag the comb through her hair. She stared around the room as the other girls poked about, talking and getting dressed. Quietly she had slipped out with her treasures and hurried up to the clubhouse where the showers and the toilets were. In front of the big mirror that ran along the row of sinks, she tried and tried to pull the comb through the thick long hair. Then she tried the brush. THAT was a mistake, for the hair wrapped itself around the brush and stuck good and tight! No matter how hard she pulled, it would not come out! What was she to do? She couldn’t go back to the cabin like that. She knew she’d die of embarrassment.
Just then the door opened, and one of the camp counselors came in.
Despite the cool night air, the woman could still feel the humiliation as it crept slowly up her cheeks! Turning from the window, she slipped softly out of the room, pulling the bedroom door closed behind her. In the bathroom, she blew her runny nose, a sure sign that spring was on its way. Dropping the tissue in the white wicker trash can, she looked at her reflection in the mirror. At nearly 58, no coppery red rat’s nest graced her head these days! What there was left of her hair was thin and fine, and dishwater blonde that barely hid the streaks of gray. She had no problem getting a comb through it now. There was barely enough to tangle in a brush!
She switched off the light and wandered into the living room. It was cooler there. Settling herself on the couch, she reached over and turned on the lamp, then took her book from the table where she’d left it when she’d gone to bed. But several minutes later, it still lay unopened in her lap, her thoughts once again back in the lush green Ohio woods. Yes, the woman remembered that first morning at camp, those hot cheeks, and feeling ugly and stupid and fat. But then SHE walked in.
She seemed so grown up (though thinking about it now, the woman realized the counselors couldn’t have been more than 19 or 20 themselves). She was slim and bubbly with long brown hair worn in a ponytail then wrapped and pinned into a neat little bun like Audrey Hepburn’s. They called her Cha-Cha, and all the girls were mesmerized by her. She could sing, she could dance, she was everything every one of them wanted to be. And now here she stood in the door staring at the wild child with the brush stuck in her hair!