I am painting a new series of large canvases—huge for me—deconstructing the failure of fundamentalist religion. I was raised as a missionary pastor’s kid. I tell the story of why I left the evangelical movement I was raised in in my memoir Crazy for God.
One of the paintings I’m working on has an ironic title. On the morning of Tuesday March 15, 2017 I completed it. Rather—my eight year old granddaughter Lucy did.
Lucy doodled on the piece of “paper” in the painting where a rubber stamp has been used… as if the sheet had been stamped on for fun by a child and drawn on…
I call this painting “The Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Reveal Themselves to be Three Old Teddy Bears and Bring a Rubber Stamp with Them to Replace the Bible about Which They Now Have Doubts. They Also Bring Champagne, Rubber Ducks, and a Shower of Cyclamens.”
On the rubber stamp these words are legible:
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
By now my wife Genie’s and my distinction between what seriously matters most and everything else has been rendered in sharply focused detail. After our son John joined the Marines and went to war, the preciousness of time with our family became painfully clear. Following three wartime deployments and an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps in 2004, John went to the University of Chicago, married Becky halfway through school, graduated with a degree in modern European history, and moved back in with Genie and me until they got on their feet. Fortunately, we could accommodate them. Then Lucy was born.
Lucy lived in our house until she was two years old. Then she moved across the street. To say that Lucy and I bonded is an understatement.
By the time Lucy arrived I had dispensed with enough of the striving-for-success clutter in my life to really see the child in my arms. I was no longer distracted, like people at a Hollywood party who are always looking past whomever they’re talking to, for someone more important in the room that they should connect with. I gave this person my wholehearted attention. When Lucy’s little brother Jack was born the happy pattern of daily involvement with our youngest grandchildren was set. A year or two later Nora joined our tribe and turned it into the joyous exhausting riotous throng I live in the midst of today.
Instead of the overwhelming fear we’d suffered from contemplating the possible loss of our son John while he was embroiled in a misbegotten war, Genie and I were offered another chance at life. Since we are both self-employed (rather “self-unemployed” as we call it when our finances get shaky between projects) we were able to rearrange our lives to accommodate being our youngest grandchildren’s daytime caregivers while John and Becky work.
Certain things became non-negotiable, like watching Lucy’s newborn face as she slept in my arms. I walked in circles around the kitchen table while holding her. I’d miss “important” meetings and leave “crucial” calls unreturned and instead play music as she slept. This lulled Lucy into a trancelike state where her breathing would slow and her body relax. My arms ached from holding her in one position for so long. As she grew, I discovered you can get tennis elbow by holding a sleeping toddler in one position across your chest, her head cupped in one hand, for an hour at a time, day after day. But I was exultant when my daughter-in-law Becky called me her hero, simply because Lucy slept in my arms after she refused naps in her crib.
Besides this ego-boosting appreciation from a young mother (always a good thing), my reward for enduring these stress-position torture naps was beyond price. Lucy’s translucent, delicately mauve-tinted eyelids would flutter in her sleep, and I was there to see this gorgeousness! I knew she could hear my heartbeat! I’ve never cried for joy over a good review of a novel of mine, or when I’ve been invited to be interviewed by Oprah or by Terri Gross and sales of some of my books have (blessedly!) spiked, let alone over a royalty check. But the sheer beauty of my undistracted closeness to this lovely child, side-by-side with me in our very own gene pool, made me tear up out of sheer gratitude.
Now 8 years later this child, this best friend, this helper stands in my studio. I give her a little section of a painting I’ve worked on for a month-plus. Watching her carefully draw in the canvas fills me with more joy that anything I can describe.