I see an enormous bubble. It’s tall as a house with the girth of a whale. First a mere dot in the distance, it grows ever larger in sight, spinning and hurtling toward me at a great speed. Where it came from I haven’t a clue, but I’m certain of its single-minded aim: to destroy me. Up against this beast of a bubble, I am powerless and little, a mere scrap of humanity. I shut my eyes to prepare for the impending impact, mouthing a quick prayer for God to take me if He will. But some time passes and nothing happens—at least I’ve felt no pain. Opening my eyes, I realize why. Rather than having put me out of my misery, the gigantic globule has stopped within inches of my face, its filmy façade heaving and denting against the rhythm of my breathing. Ever tried recalling every single unkind thing someone’s said to or about you at one point or another? And ever wondered what that might look like?
Astonishingly, this is it. Upclose, I see it all—over 30 years’ worth of tactless remarks, derisive digs, and merciless condemnations bounding and swirling dizzily within a spherical vortex. The bubble remains stationary, waiting for my next move. Dare I strike out to burst it, I set upon myself a litany of verbal bile. So I stand frozen, glaring at it unflinchingly, hoping that by not wavering I can somehow stymie its efforts at overpowering me. At this point, there is little option but to read the bubble’s enclosed messages, so I do. They are a sorry sight, these little daggers of words. Made for one sole purpose, they are eager to do the only job they know: reopening old wounds. Studying them closely, I can make out images and sounds—recognizable faces, familiar voices, various times and places. They rise from deeply buried layers of my subconscious like souls from the grave, each beckoning like a long-lost friend. A word, a tone, a facial expression, a shrug, a glance—now prisoners and begging to be set free. The longer I stand gazing into the monster, the closer I get to its core, where the worst of the worst reside—words so vile they make you shudder. Things you’d never dream of uttering even to your bitterest enemy. Yet I’ve heard them all and know every last letter. They are variations on a theme: that I was born for nothing and I mean nothing. That the world would hardly notice if I were gone. To give up trying to be anything more. To stop fighting against the truth: that I don’t deserve to be loved. And I identify the voice behind them.
A weekday evening. The rain’s stopped and it’s humid inside Blessed Sacrament Church. There’s no air-conditioning during non mass times but the church doors remain open to the faithful who wish to come and pray. A handful of people are scattered in various pews—mostly older folk—and as I notice them, I try to imagine what their petitions may be.
I’m reminded of Novena sessions I used to attend in another church that held them weekly. My favorite part was when the priest would read aloud petition letters to the community. I considered how the hands that wrote and dropped petitions into a little wooden box by the altar belonged to different individuals seeking recourse from the Virgin Mary. Be it for troubled marriages, addiction, critical illness, or other general anxieties, everyone essentially longed for the same thing: deliverance. Even if these entreaties never reached the ears of the Blessed Mother, to whom they were addressed, they had my full attention. I went to these Novenas for the sole purpose of hearing petitions. To have sat among strangers and yet be privy to a world of their problems was a fascinating way to experience fellowship. I never did consider how I would be penning my own petition letter in due course.
But I’m not there yet.
For now, my hands are folded in prayer, my knees pressed down into the pew’s kneeling cushion. I’m still wearing the Nike trainers I changed into after work, and my feet, sore and achy, are thankful this little reprieve. I hadn’t intended on making this pitstop, but if ever there was a day to do it, today seemed like it. My whole body feels exhausted, but it’s been that way for a long time and I’ve come to treat it as the norm. Feeling perpetually strained and sporting a hangdog expression on my face are tradeoffs for my “discipline.”
Don’t I wish to simply eat a bucket of KFC and go to sleep? Of course. But could I? Why dwell on the hypothetical? Very often the phrase “running on empty” comes to mind when I’m circling the 20th round of the running track, but my body is fueled by something else if not energy. Everyday I’m pursued by the giant bubble and its harsh rebukes, and today is no different. It is angry with me right now for having done something out of routine. Instead of running, I’ve chosen to walk 4.8 kilometers from my office to Blessed Sacrament. Walking is a luxury, an indulgence people like me do not get to enjoy. How dare I? I don’t deserve dinner later.
Part of me is tempted to leave. It isn’t Sunday morning and I technically have no obligation to be in church. Very soon, my husband and baby son will be home and I don’t have much time to linger. Yet it feels imperative that I remain in this space, to do what I came here for. I glance up at the large crucifix mounted above the central altar and examine the face of Jesus. He looks pained, but more in the sense of being sorrowful than writhing in the throes of physical agony. I would be sad too if left to die like this, and for what and whom? Out of love for someone like me? The notion of salvation has always been more theological than personal, but today, at this moment, I feel strangely invested in the idea of it.
In my mind I compose a simple Venn diagram to figure out the kind of believer I am: it features two circles labelled “steadfast” and “lapsed,” respectively. I mentally shade the overlapping portion and call it “tepid.” That’s where I belong. And from that vantage point, my prayer begins.
Hello. Sorry for the radio silence. I’m in a bit of trouble. I’ve tried to go at this alone but it hasn’t worked out. I know it sounds trite, but can you save me—from myself?
As I stay kneeling, my mind wanders. I imagine that I’ve become an empty stone water jar in a crowded banquet hall. My bodily functions are gone, and my flesh and bone have fused into the solid curves of an earthen vessel. A wedding feast is going on around me and the noise from the the boisterous crowd is overwhelming. Parked at a nondescript corner, no one so much as gives me a second look. But they don’t know what I know about me. That I’m a site for a miracle, and all I require is the gentle nudge of a mother to her son. “They have no more wine.”
Help me, Blessed Mother. Soon, it is hard to tell where person begins and stone water jar ends. Both of us feel hollow and parched, both ready to be filled and renewed.
The giant bubble has gone deathly quiet, and I’m content to wait it out.
[to be continued]