Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Needles and the Damage Done

If there is one thing true of the Theotokos Threads Society, it is that we cannot be scripted.

It must be a safe, unhurried place to gather. It suffered a bit during Great Lent, so I wondered if the ladies would be up for a gathering the Sunday after Pascha. I kept it low key. We've worked on a couple of projects at the church this winter, but numbers were ebbing. It's a wonderful place, church, but not neutral. We go there to worship, to pray, to be together, but it's different. Maybe we need the other cathedrals of our lives to express our whole selves. And, sometimes those selves are tired, lamenting, needing a laugh, a glass of wine, a huge chunk of chocolate, or a breath of God scented air.

So thank God, it was nice enough on my back porch, and there were six bottles of sweet wine, six bars of clearance Chiau and Hershey's chocolate, asparagus from Janna's patch and strawberries. It started with a few and grew. It began to rain so we dodged inside and where the needles had been hidden, I don't know. They came out. New projects. Summer stuff. Baby blankets and sweaters to match. Peace shaws for Africa. Next years gifts.  They just lingered in groups that clumped, broke and reformed. It's amazing to watch a group of women with all sorts of backgrounds find ways to be knit together. A grandmother caring for her celiac mother, chats with our youngest mom, whose newly diagnosed Autistic son cannot eat wheat. Royal wedding gossip between our English ya-ya and those who like a little fairy tale and fancy dress. Seminary talk between me and a mother with a son at St. Tikhons. Church talk, craft talk, food talk. At the end, I'm in the kitchen, apologizing for not taking a desperation tea with the momma of the autistic toddler.

I need her friendship right now. I wonder if it's evident to her. I needed to learn from her what sacrifice looks like. We start talking about living without the litany of foods that seem to set off her son and my digestive track. She's a cooking, writing, parenting resource. She's a graduate of my alma mater, TUFW, and she's another convert. We've hardly had time to carve out together.  This appears to be a tiny magic moment.

She says something I will not forget. When I talk about crying on the way to my first gluten-free Thanksgiving, she says, a friend sympathized with her recently, saying, "I don't know how you do it."

"You do it because you have to," she answers. I hope I get this quote close to right. She and her husband don't have to eat soy free, gluten free, dairy free, but her boy does.

I realized the depth of a kind of selfishness just then. I've been mourning all this lost food, reveling in new food and making the best of this adventure. Still this was about taking care of myself. All this mourning and changing is necessary to my health, but the real suffering is in her and her family. They are doing this out of love for their little boy.

I took tea with her a few nights later. She read every label on every box to be sure she didn't accidently serve me something laced with barley. Lots of decaf teas are based upon roasted barley, if you weren't aware. I wasn't for a while as I blissfully sipped Plum Spice Celestial Seasonings, then read the label out of boredom one night.  At tea, she described two years of cleaning up her son's uncontrollable diarrhea. She'd mentioned the trails of loose poo to her pediatrician, who said the baby just ate something off. She said it was a clue, but it wasn't noticed at first. As he learned to toddle she cleaned trails of it up all around the house. She cleaned entire cribs and walls and bodies after his nap. She spent hours at this on some days.  Ah! Light bulb. I know this pattern. Interesting.

So, when he was diagnosed with Autism, the doc offered to let her expose him to wheat for a week for the other tests, for Celiacs. Not a thought she could bear. Life for him and the family is taxing enough. Her son is in therapy five days a week, and she is landing freelance jobs which she does from the library the next county over, while waiting for his therapy to complete. She trusts friends to pick up her daughter from preschool and her husband has sacrificed his PhD dreams for the time-being. Her son, meanwhile, is singing songs in Liturgy with us. He doesn't stand in front of the lovely candles reacting mechanically to their flickering. I don't worry he'll want to reach in and explore what makes them work. He was perusing a book on the pew during the Cherubic Hymn this morning. He speaks words.

Glory to God.

With a dozen wine glasses in stages of drainage, and our conversation lingering in the air, I realized I have a lot to learn. We needed that night. I couldn't have predicted that I'd learn a simple spiritual lesson. I didn't expect to connect at that moment with so many women there. I didn't think that many would show up. We had no project this time. No set purpose. It was just a sacred space because nothing was prescribed but to be.  That is good enough.