Monday, October 29, 2007


Lately I've been reading a book, by one of my favorite authors, called Nineteen Minutes. Jodi Picoult is, in my opinion, a brilliant author, a master of character development, an artist of phrasing and storytelling. My favorite thing about her books is that she always takes a topic that we think of as black and white and she opens the curtains to shed a different light on the subject, a light that reveals the many shades of gray that we seldom stop to ponder. (Disclaimer: Any readers who have a weak stomach for harsh language will want to look elsewhere for your next read.) In this particular book, Picoult takes a school shooting, much like Columbine, and tells the story from all the possible angles, turns it around in her hand as one might examine an old toy for the first time, looking at it with new eyes.

The author, without excusing the actions of the shooter, lays out for the reader the tapestry of Peter's life, and we find that humiliation and degredation have been woven throughout. From his first day on the school bus in Kindergarten to his atrocious acts his Junior year of high school, we see the tearing down of his pride, the slow erosion of his self-worth brought on by the constant barrage of bullying Peter endures as he goes through his everyday routines, trying to become invisible.

Particularly striking to me is the relationship that is depicted between Peter (the shooter) and his mother. Thinking about becoming a mother myself somewhere down the road, the story has softened my heart in an almost uncomfortable way. My sensitivity is heightened, my eyes opened to the smallest actions and interactions that shape the course of our lives, that slowly but surely form us into the people we become.

This weekend while babysitting I took one of the girls to her volleyball game. It was her turn to serve and, after the ball sailed over the net and landed safely on the other side, she looked to me and caught my eye for approval. I smiled and nodded - a silent message, "I see you. I am proud of you." Something about that interchange sent a bittersweet pang through my heart. This particular girl has been through a lot for her young age and I was struck in that moment by her thirst for affirmation, humbled that I had the opportunity to offer it to her in that one small instance. I thought of the children who look to the stands for a nod of approval and don't catch the eye of a loved one, who see instead an empty seat where a busy parent should be sitting, who see a parent who is physically present but distracted by other things, too busy to see, to acknowledge. Thanks to Picoult, I was swept away in that moment as I realized how all of the small, seemingly insignificant things are the essence of the bigger things, the slight winds that alter our course and lead us in a very different direction, the small streams that steadily work to form a canyon where there once was none.

I thought of Peter and his mother, of all of the people in the world and all of the mothers who love them. I thought of how fragile we all are, of how vulnerable we are to the people around us, the way we are treated, the events that shape our lives. I prayed for my future children, for all of the things I will be helpless to protect them against, for all of the things I can do to be the wind that steers them in the right direction, the whisper of hope in a world of setbacks and disappointments. We are so fragile. All we can do is strive to tip the balance, to be fully present in each moment and offer our truest selves to each other, to listen and give a voice to those who speak, to be the ones who heal instead of hurt, who bless instead of curse. The rest is trust.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Wonders of Soap

Have you ever thought about soap? I mean, really stopped and thought about it? For some reason, it's one of those strange things I think about a lot.

First of all, what is it? Sure, now we can get it at Bath and Body Works and pump it out in liquid form from a dispenser that assures us of its antibacterial properties (which I feel confused about because I think I've read that if you use antibacterial soap too often, your body won't build up an immunity to germs and bacteria. Anybody medical know the real story behind this?) But what did it used to be made of? Animal fat or something? Honestly, I can't understand how rubbing a block of animal fat on your hands is supposed to make them clean. Maybe it wasn't animal fat - I may just be revealing my ignorance about all things "soap." I know glycerin is or was at one time a component in soap. But then again, I don't have a clue what glycerin is (apart from a Bush song that I've never really liked). No matter what it's made of, it leads me to my second big point about soap:

Why do we trust soap more than anything else in the world? Think about it. A mom changes a poopie diaper and only minutes later is cutting up the veggies for dinner. How can that be? Soap. A surgeon pumps gas in his car and then drives to work and holds someone's heart in his hands. Soap. (Yes, and latex gloves, but still...) A Papa John's employee takes a bathroom break and then returns to the kitchen to toss our dough in the air. Soap. (We can only hope.) We will do the most disgusting things and then touch things that we (or other people) will be putting into their mouths, and we never give it a second thought because of soap.

The level of trust we put in this stuff simply amazes me! We never go around worrying that the soap didn't get the job done (except for those of us that are OCD). We just scrub-a-dub-dub and go along our merry way. I can't think of anything we trust as much. And yet I don't know how it works. I don't know how God works, either, and yet I find that I often trust him less than a bar of soap. A brick of something with glycerin (perhaps) and who knows what else? How embarrassing, really. I guess one big difference is that soap is pretty predictable. It's always supposed to do the same thing (and if it's not doing it's job, none of us will really know the difference since bacteria are microscopic). So maybe that's why it's easier to trust soap than the Creator of the Universe.

I'll get off my soap box now...