Monday, May 17, 2010

the sign of the cross

Last year I when i walked into the bathroom of my bedroom in the castle in which I live for 3 months of the year,something on the glass shower door caught my eye, and I gasped. A small, bright cross had appeared there, hanging in midair.

For a moment, I just stared. This had to be a sign. But of what? Should I return to the arms of holy mother church? Should I sell the shower door on eBay?

Then I realized. This was not a miraculous visit from god. It was a reflection from the new night light I had put on the opposite wall. The light itself looked normal, but its reflection looked…well, divine.

In truth, I hadn’t wanted it to be a miracle. I abandoned Catholicism 45 years ago, and for a long time after that I couldn’t bring myself to walk into a church. Twelve years of Catholic school can make a pagan of anyone. Eventually, I could return to churches to admire the architecture, even to pay a visit to the saint who had helped me get through the horror of adolescence. Saint Therese was like a childhood friend, outgrown but still beloved. It seemed nice to drop in and say hello when I was in the neighborhood. Later, teaching literature courses brought me into intense contact with the beliefs I had long since discarded, but an appreciation for Dante, however deep, didn’t reconvert me. My own thinking over the years has led me into various spiritualities, and I have come to appreciate the more mystical and humane aspects of Christianity. But I am certainly no believer. The cross had startled me for a moment, but so would a heart or an animal face or a flower shape.

Nonetheless, when I came back to the castle this year, I put the nightlight up with certain anticipation, even a slight misgiving: suppose the cross didn’t come back this term? It did. And, may the god of all doubters forgive me, I was relieved. No, I was happy.

It has continued to make me happy throughout the term, and I keep the shower door positioned to catch the reflection. Like the old plush cat I keep on my bed long after the age anyone has any business with cuddle toys, my cross gives me a sense of peace and well being. It doesn’t seem like what it represents, a torture implement for a scary nonconformist. Nor does it seem like the paradoxical symbol of conformity, fear, and inhibition I grew up with.

What it does seem like, I can’t figure out. My cat, my knuffeldier, in that gorgeous Dutch word--that’s no trouble figuring out. But the cross, bane of my child-existence? I don’t get it.

But I love it, I look for and at it whenever I pass the bathroom, I feel reassured by it . I have no impulse to bring the nightlight home with me, even if it would work with American electricity systems, even if I could recreate the position of its reflection. My knuffeldier, he belongs with me everywhere, and follows me loyally. The cross, however, belongs here, in my room in my castle. Maybe it’s the spirit of some knight who once lived here, or of some dragonsouled girl who dreamed of crusades she would fight, boy-disguised and triumphant. Or of all the students who have lived at the castle over the years, whom I have forgotten but never ceased to love.

Or maybe it’s only the reflection of a banal nightlight that keeps away dark dreams. But they are castle dreams, and it is a castle cross. Holy, then, after all.

No comments: