Call me the devil, if you’d like.
I have just completed the three-hour retreat at the church to prepare my son for his first communion. It was a long morning, to be sure, but during that time I decide I want to try to bring the family all together. I host such occasions often, at significant cost and personal effort, but I think it builds up love and community so I do it anyhow. I go home and begin sending out invitations for the gathering.
At precisely the moment of my welcoming, I learn that I have, once again, been directly charged by so-and-so, because I have worked in a professional capacity and (I am not kidding, dear readers) because I have not had my children in T-ball and Rec Center sports. I am accused of self-aggrandizement because I go to professional conferences (to which I also take my children almost without exception). I am charged with doing things for my own glory because I teach overloads and offer paid lecture series.
There is no acknowledgement that I work to eat and to earn income to support my children or that I have never had the option not to work outside the home. I am furious, of course, because I have heard this in varying degrees over the length of my professional life and time as a parent, including once on Mother’s Day. I’m tired of the insult, but when I respond after years of such claims in outrage, I am accused of being too angry.
But, life goes on, and so does the gathering. It’s a nice time, but after the gathering, I wake up to the boldly voiced disgruntlement of a friend who has been inadvertently insulted by a conversation that occurred at the table. The insult is derived from the charge that I did not say the right words when I should have. There is a very strong critique and withering suggestion about my core values at stake, since the issue is racial. I listen and apologize but am left wondering, “don’t you know me by now?” Have you not dined with me, celebrated with me, felt my love and friendship, outreach and appreciation? I am stymied. Am I here to be judged?
But, I can’t think about this now. You see, I have a painful growth on my ovary, and I am going again for a transvaginal ultrasound to see if it’s changing. It feels like someone is pouring ice water into my abdomen. But, apparently, there’s nothing to do for it except watch it get bigger. From the same should-have-been-banal annual ob/gyn screening, I had a bad mammogram that necessitated a ductogram, a procedure where they enter your breast duct with a needle and no anesthetic. My only comfort, while I sat ramrod straight with my arm over my head in some inelegant version of a twenty-minute long, one-handed, yoga reach, was a cold wet wash cloth dripping water down my belly and soaking the crotch of my pants.
I pass the time during the exam, considering how much this is going to cost and how many additional adjunct sections I am going to need to pay for it. It is an irony, I know, these breasts and ovaries of mine. I am paying dearly for them in every possible sense. I nursed my children until they were toddlers. Oh, Lord, it was a torture to leave them as babies. I hated being away from them. I was so tired as I ran back and forth from my house to feed them in between classes.
I had a stretchy nursing wardrobe of coordinating tops and skirts. I didn’t love the way my body looked then, especially when I stayed up all night writing to submit for conferences and publications in order to get tenure so that I could take care of the boys in other ways. I spent so much time nursing, felt so many breast discomforts over the years, that it didn’t occur to me to consider it a big deal when my breast started leaking, which is why I needed that ductogram (that I will be working extra to pay for). But, I can’t just ignore this stuff. I have to be healthy to keep it all going, so I will schedule the next appointment, I guess. “This is my body, that will be given up for you…” I decide, this may not be his first communion after all.
While waiting for results, I sit half-dressed on a bench with a host of terrified women, talking one woman through her panic as she battles fainting. She’s been there for forty minutes, begging for a valium or water. She survived breast cancer over a decade ago, but I get her to start talking about her life beyond the disease. She’s down. Her kids moved away and she rarely sees them, but she smiles when she talks about her dogs. As I ask her about them, she calms down. I hold her hands, and we discuss Cleveland’s Metropark system and the long walks she takes. I notice that she is beautiful, and I decide I need to start my own religious order – The Little Sisters of the Cup – my ministry will be to pass out lemon drops, cosmos, straight liquor, and fuzzy bathrobes to the quivering souls waiting to learn whether being a woman is finally going to be their undoing.
When I return to school after Easter, my class and I check in. The students ask me if I am ok, and I try to answer honestly. Yes, I am ok. I believe that I am really ok. But, I recognize that in order to be well, I have to let go of so, so much as do we all. We have to let go of our expectations for ourselves, our families, and even our children. We have to let go our concern over how others perceive us and whether they chose to sit beside us now or again, even if once they did. We have to let go of seeking whether it is fair or not, as well as our anger over the fact that it wasn’t fair, then or ever. We have to let go of our worries over whether we can pay or not, whether and how much we can work, how our work is perceived in its value, and what’s going to happen if and when we can’t do it any longer. And, all of this, we have to let go of, not as a mode of resignation but as a mode of liberation, as a method of joyful-not-giving-a-s**t.
Yeah, I’m fine, I decide. I like my body, I decide. I like it even if some things hurt a little. I had a nice party for my boy, I think, and he looked really happy, even if someone thought it wasn’t perfect. I’ll call the office tomorrow and schedule the next appointment, I guess. I suppose I should also find out whether they have a finance office to schedule a payment plan for the staggering costs of all these procedures. Call me the devil, if you’d like, I think. I have to get ready for my next class. Tell me to go there too, if you want. It’s all good. I’m doing my best.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.