When I was a little girl, my father would put me to bed, if he was home from sea. He was a merchant marine and gone for months at a time. But when he was home, it was he who put me to bed. In fact, it was always only he who put me to bed. My mother never put any of us to bed, at least not that we can recollect.
My dad would tuck me in and sit on the edge of my bed, and we’d talk. I don’t recall him reading stories. And we might not have even talked that much. But, certainly we did more than once. I remember expressing my fears about the Stick Monster that I heard nightly. He’d listen hard and confess he didn’t hear the tapping sound that terrified me. He took my complaint seriously, looking out the window, cocking his head.
I remember one conversation particularly well. I was asking about outer space. What’s out there? How far does it go? He explained to me the concept of infinity. I remember how it just didn’t work with my brain, how it messed with me. I said, “What do you mean forever and ever? Space goes on forever?” I thought he was putting me on. Finally, I said, with satisfaction, “Well, there has to be a wall!” He paused, then said, “What’s behind the wall?”
And then I felt the ground sway under us. The concept startled me to my core. Then, we got on the topic of God. He said, “God is everywhere.” I knew God to be the man on the Chinese lamp in the living room downstairs. He had a big, bulbous head that was bald on top with long hair flowing down the sides. He looked powerful and angry, and I thought he was God. No one had told me this; I just assumed.
But, my father said, “God is everywhere.” I said, “You mean, like in the air?” He said yes. I said, In the street? In the cars? In people? In the ground? He said, “Yes. In the trees, in the rocks, in the water, in the food, in the dirt.” I could feel my eyes growing rounder. My heart beat quickening. Then, I knew I had him. God couldn’t possibly be in the curtains. Now he would have to admit God was not everywhere. I said, smugly, “Even in the curtains?”
“Even in the curtains,” he said. I was thunderstruck. I looked at my curtains with new respect. My white cotton curtains with orange and green daisies embroidered in yarn. I reached behind me, to the window behind my bed and touched the curtain, and considered. It was incredibly calming to know that God was everywhere, even in the curtains. If he was in the curtains, he really was everywhere. And if he was everywhere, then all was fine, all was good. Nothing could go wrong.
That was the gift my father gave me when I was a small child. I don’t know how old I was. Maybe 3? He was passing on Shintoism, which he had learned in Japan, where he lived for two years with his beloved Keiko, the girlfriend he met while stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. When he says it, it sounds like “Yokuska” because he says it with a Japanese accent. According to Wikipedia, in Shintoism, kami is “the divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms. Rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the nature of kami.”
Keiko was the girl my father wanted to marry, the girl my father’s parents forbid him to marry. My father complied with their wishes, came home, and married my mother, a talented Irish-Catholic journalist with a little drinking problem. When the wedding took place, my father’s parents were absent. Because my mother was Catholic. Turns out, that was almost as bad as being Japanese.
After the wedding, my father dutifully brought my mother to meet his parents in San Diego. They served her a boiled beef tongue. It must have been quite a sight. She was a sophisticated eater. It would have taken a lot to do her in. But, she took one look and got sick. An inauspicious beginning to the in-law relationship.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a story about my father, about what moved him, and the gift he passed on to me. I have done the same for my own children. It’s obvious to me that God is everywhere, and the knowledge and delight we feel from this enhances our lives tremendously. When I see a breeze moving the trees, I think God. When I observe the leaves on the Chinese Elm darkening day by day finally to a wine-rich red, I think God. When I hear the leaves rustling… you know who’s voice I hear.
My kids are used to it. How wherever we go, wherever we walk, I will point out nature, the beauty, the precision of nature, and say, “If you ever don’t believe in God, just look at this.” Then, I show them the back of a leaf, with its intricately laced veins. They groan their assent or push back, but I know they feel it too. That feeling that floods in when one is truly present for the life force that surrounds us every day. How can one not be utterly moved and enchanted? And its with us always. You need only take a breath and feel the life force move inside you, to know.
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