I remember stepping off the city bus with my grandmother. I was, maybe, three or four years old at the time. From the bus stop, she and I would trek up and down the Seattle hills, passing by white gladiolas and apple trees and blackberry bushes, to a house that had been transformed into a Buddhist temple. My parents might have visited temple on a special holy day such as New Year’s Day in April, but my grandmother and I frequented it throughout the week. I was often the only kid on its grounds and, therefore, was easily cherished by the elders and monks. I remember receiving a quarter for each time I danced apsara for them.
My grandmother and I sometimes slept at temple with other parishioners, each of us lying on a makeshift bed of a hand-sewn thin mattress and a pillow large enough for only a doll. We would lie side-by-side across the open space that was intended for service during the day and evening. Service was constituted of us sitting on the floor with our legs folded, our palms pressed flat against each other at our chest, and us chanting together. I didn’t understand the chants because they were in Sanskrit. I don’t think many of the parishioners understood them, either. The monks, garbed in their varied shades of orange robes, sat facing us. Sometimes they led the chants, and sometimes we just listened to them. Hell was occasionally brought up. Don’t do bad — you’ll go to hell. Don’t do bad — next lifetime, you’ll be born into a monkey. Or, on the flip-side: do good so that you’ll be born into a princess after you die. I liked temple and the old folks and the monks — but it was hard for me to understand reincarnation.
Later, when I was a young girl living in Florida, a 15-passenger van (and sometimes a school bus) packed with kids like me came to my house to scoop me up for church. I don’t think the other kids and I were as excited about sitting through a sermon or Sunday School as we were about hanging out. On special occasions, the van drove us to the skating rink or the fishing pond. At church I learned that God is Jesus and that Jesus is God. (When I graduated from college and taught at a Catholic school, I was introduced to the Holy Ghost and finally understood the Holy Trinity. I also learned to do the sign of the cross correctly.) I heard people say they could see God around them. I could not, but it didn’t faze me. It was enough for me that God existed.
The van stopped coming by my house, and a few months afterward, I learned about the Baha’i Faith. A Baha’i does not attend temple or church. Instead, worshipers gather at each other’s homes or an assembly hall and speak about, among other topics, acceptance. I remember owning a black sweatshirt with the words “prejudice is a handicap” written across the front. I was taught that Buddha was a disciple of God, which relieved me because I didn’t want to turn my back on my days with my grandmother at temple. I was told that God had many disciples, Bahá’u’lláh being one of them. A Baha’i woman explained her view of heaven to me: the closer you are to God now, the closer you will be to heaven after you die. If I remember correctly, she did not believe in hell. She was a kind and intelligent woman, so I easily signed onto her belief.
In high school, I beseeched a friend to impart his knowledge of Judaism. The picture of him and his twin sister having a b’nai mitzvah fascinated me. He and his sister have names that start with “M,” so their mother spread chocolate M&Ms on the reception tables for decoration. As an adult, I’ve attended four bar mitzvahs. I am enthralled by the rituals: a child having to attend Hebrew school, to learn the Torah, to recite it, and then to be recognized as an adult for it. I’ve also participated in a few Seders at a good friend’s home. I enjoy sitting at the dinner table with the Haggadah book in front of us. It can be solemn to take turns reading from it about the Exodus of the Jews. But singing and drinking from the cups of wine are fun. And I’m fascinated that Jews are the chosen people. I’m not jealous, but I do wonder what made G-d choose them over other peoples.
The last time I attended a church service was 16 years ago, and the closest temple to me is a three-hour drive away. I’m considering visiting a church in my neighborhood. From what I read online, the church I am pondering is welcoming of everyone. This is what I’m searching for.
Before I was pregnant with Daffy, I was arrogant with my belief of the afterlife. When pressed for his opinion, Danith, who is a man of science, said that religion existed mostly to give people hope. He told me that our bodies would decompose and that that would be the end of us, physically and spiritually. I did not argue with him although I did not share the view that the Big Bang led to the universe — and possibly to us, physical entities of flesh and DNA, not to mention conscience and emotions. I did not believe in hell, either. I shared with some friends my belief in God: He does not punish His children. (If God turned out to be a woman, I wouldn’t be surprised.) Most of us agree that God is kind and loving, so why would He intentionally inflict pain upon His children? What parent would? (I do know that Jesus died a terrible death for us.) And I did not believe in reincarnation. A cow is sacred? What about a horse, then? I wasn’t purposely being contrary, and I certainly did not mean any disrespect with my skepticism. But it simply did not make sense to me. I didn’t give value to the stories I had heard about children, who were just learning to speak, recalling memories that only an adult, who had died recently, would know. It was all too provincial for me.
Daffy’s death humbled me. Danith and I had been taken to our hospital room at 7:00 AM on a Thursday in August, and 12 hours later, my body expelled our stillborn daughter, who had died in my womb about one day earlier. He and I held her in between us, and although my body hurt from losing her, it was also frozen. I did not want to let her go. How would I be able to let her go?
“We will get her back,” Danith said. I asked if he meant what he said. “We will try again as soon as possible, and we will get her back. She is gone now, but it will only be temporary. I promise you, we will get her back.”
For the first couple of weeks after we came home from the hospital, I did not speak to God. Once I started dialoguing with Him again, I asked for Daffy back. When friends inquired about what they could do for us, I requested that they pray for Daffy to return. I remember saying to a kindred spirit that I wasn’t asking for another baby. I was asking for Daffy.
Danith and I discovered a new belief: our daughter. We were earnest believers. We painted visions of our baby’s reincarnation, and we practiced words that we would say upon her arrival. When either one of us found the other one in that dark hole of grief, we reminded each other that Daffy was coming back. The weeks and months following her departure, I prayed to God and wrote to Daffy.
September 6, 2015
Since August 25, 2015, when I learned that your heart was failing, I’ve been looking into the past. Every day, I say, “This day, one week ago…this day, two weeks ago…” I didn’t understand it then. And I don’t understand it now. Life was so perfect, Daffy. Life was the sweetest that it had ever been. One week earlier, before I learned that your heart was failing, I bargained with you to give me 30 minutes to shop at Giant Eagle. Lately, you had been pushing into my diaphragm, so I would often feel tight and exhausted from walking; thus, I had to make a deal with you. I said that if you would let me shop for dinner, then I would feed us chocolate ice cream later. You agreed to the deal, and when we came home, I opened the ice cream and fed it to us. This day two weeks ago, you and I were working on the yard. Then, that night, you and I watched a movie with Papa. Everyone was so happy. The word “happy” is often overused, its meaning losing meaning. Let me give it a proper meaning. With you in our lives physically, I reached a state of bliss that allowed me to float through air. That was how freeing loving you was. It freed me, Daffy.
Daffy, tonight my heart is numb. I’ve cried so many tears, and I will cry some more. Many more. Too many thoughts are swirling around in my head that I don’t know where to start or how to start penning any of them. Mainly they consist of the following: fear and trying to understand. I am afraid of many things, Daffy. I am afraid of the future. I am afraid of God. I am afraid that you will not come back to me. I am trying to understand what it is that I am supposed to learn through losing you, my sweet baby girl. I am trying to understand why you were sacrificed just so I could learn a lesson.
Always loving you, Your mom