On my way out the door today, my mother gave me a wooden crucifix. Wood. Like the mahogany one Mama had wrapped around her hands and has until this day dangling off of her wall above her matrimonial bed. Mami gave me this miniature version of it believing it will guard me in foreign lands, if I only if I hold it, squeeze it- let it feel that I want it near.
My mother thinks I need God for a number of reasons, but one she thinks of when she gives me the crucifix to hang around my neck is : que yo ando buscando el peligro. That I am seeking danger. I hold that my mother knows me, and I hold that I know myself more. It’s the only way to stay above water. The only way to laugh to myself when I imagine the string of wood beads chocking me or making me break out in hives. How can I explain that I’m only looking and confirming the Highest Beings in other places and other people and that I have never found the Gods I seek in symbols of crosses? Like bars they remind me of prisons. So I say, “Mami, I can’t. Look, I’m breaking out already.” And she insists, “It’s natural wood. It won’t hurt you. ¡Hang it around your neck, muchacha! That’s the only person who can save you should anything go wrong.” I feel wrong, satanical, even though I don’t believe in the devil- I think the symbol is just the reality of humans when they’re missing love. My sister looks at me with her eyes pleading to just take the damn crucifix so she can avoid traffic on the way to the airport. My sister has found ways to live with things in silence like my mother, and my her mother before her. Silence to uphold traditions has traveled through the double X chromosomes in my family like an inheritance. One the church celebrates mostly from women unless they are screaming in the name of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. The move towards denying the inheritance has not been easy. I take the pebbles on a string that almost meet but are interrupted by a cross from my mother’s hanging hand. Instead of putting it over my Afro and having it rest on my chest, I wrap it around my wrist three times. “Muchacha, hold that tight.” I embrace my mother long enough to make her feel I want her near. After extensive seconds my mind reminds me I’ll miss my flight if I don’t go now. She puts a hand on my shoulder as I turn for the door. My mom’s issue with me has always been that she can’t hold me through everything.
Breaking traditions don’t scare me. They don’t scare me like they scared her.
And still it’s heavy on some level to not use the cloak of the church the same way so many women before me have done. The expectation of religion manages to weigh me down through guilt. Guilt is something I have even in freedom. And every time my mind or soul reminds me for whatever reason that I am doing something outside of the customs of the church, I rationally think that guilt was given to me through the stories like Adam and Eve. I believe and respect Higher Beings including God and Jesus, I pray, I carry a holy place with me in every experience, and I know I chose not to be a faithful Catholic long ago when the teachings started making me feel like a sin. Despite all of this, sometimes I still feel the chains of discipline from the Vatican.
I thought by now my mother would know that it’s ok to not follow the rules of the church (but look at how long it’s taking me.) She’s lived out of wedlock, she doesn’t attend church every Sunday. And when she does attend, the priest won’t give her the holy bread. Because she’s sinned, according to Christianity. She had my sister and I out of lust they’d say. But I know, like she knows, that love can grow despite a sanction. That love can pour without a cross, a witness, and religion.
I was 10 when my older cousin explained what a love child was; a baby created by parents that were never married. “So I’m a love child?” I asked. She nodded. I remember celebrating, feeling real because a love child sounded better than a forced child or a child made within an unhappy marriage. My parents weren’t married or happy, but it was nice to think that I had been made of love, sweat, and roses during their better days. Every Sunday my mother would wake me up for church, and I reluctantly attended- the more I did the more love child started feeling like a child made of only bad things, and I resisted.
Mami stopped forcing me to church once I got into college. She didn’t know that I had prayed in my bedroom before I let my body love on itself. I prayed to God, to anyone up there really, to please, just please, coerce the admissions officers into letting me in. Let them think I needed saving or that they needed the colors of me.
It’s almost the end of my 5 week trip across a vast parts of Central America, and I think I’ve lost the wooden crucifix. Or maybe it’s at the bottom of a book bag waiting for my hand. One thing is for sure though, I’ve seen the symbols of the religion that was once shoved down my throat throughout these lands. The only religion I hold on tight to is the Great Mother’s love and the mysterious ways she has of telling me she’s there- through my mother, through the books I have read that all mention her, through the eyes I have met, through the clenches of my hands when the boundaries call for patience, through the lands that I’ve passed.
I believe in everything, but I can’t believe in the norms set by the church...the norms that tried us, that came for us at our weakest. The norms that gave power to those who have pillaged, killed, and deceived. The norms that twisted reality to turn us savage so they could have something to salvage from the wreck of whiteness, capitalism, and patriarchy. I believe in what upheld us, what still upholds us. Love and the Great Mother. And I know one day when I meet my makers...that will be enough.