Departure & Return

The journey of faith is a conscious, perpetual departure from cynicism and return to wonder.


Casualties of Perception

Playing with modeling clay was one of my favorite childhood pastimes. I could spend hours at a little table in my room, creating, deconstructing, and reinventing story-worlds. My friend, Bill Sass, was usually across the table from me. We had various riffs we’d cycle through. More than one involved tiny human figures at war, either with one another or aliens or mythical monsters.

I came home from school one day to find that all of our little men had been squashed; carefully pressed flat by a large thumb. Needless to say, I was furious: it was okay for us to mutilate our creations, but not someone else!

I registered a high-pitched complaint with my mother, seeking some sort of justice from her. But she had no idea what could have happened to the little warriors. The only person who had been in my room that day was Mary.

Mary was my grandparents’ Haitian maid, or “cleaning lady” in my grandmother’s parlance. My grandparents had arranged for her to clean our house while they were away on vacation. This was supposed to be a special luxury for my mother, but I think it just stressed her out. She felt she had to have everything perfect before Mary arrived.

My room must’ve been fantastically clean that afternoon, having gotten double coverage, but it was wasted on me. All I could see were the smudged remains of my people. I couldn’t fathom what would possess a person - especially a grownup - to do such a thing!

When we told my grandmother about it, she was also puzzled at first. But then an idea occurred to her. “Mary is very superstitious” she said, “in fact, sometimes she talks about Voodoo...” My eyes got very wide because everything I knew about Voodoo came from cartoons and movies: Nobody really believed in it, did they?

It made sense, though, the more we thought about it. Here was a tableful of miniature human figures, along with our clayworking tools - including a bent-open safety pin. The sight of it must’ve given Mary quite a shiver!

The experience taught me something at the soul level that didn’t coalesce into cognition for a long time. Perception molds the meaning of things.

What was for me an intersection of artwork, role-play, and rainy-day recreation was for Mary evidence of malevolent spiritual practices. I wish I could say I’ve never jumped to similar conclusions.