The Gift of My Life

A story about Shintoism

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Photo by Beau Swierstra on Unsplash

When I was a little girl, I was afraid of the stick monster. Every night, I heard him, clomping with the blunt end of his stick down the darkened sidewalk across the street from our house. I’d peer out the window, focusing hard, trying to discern through the thick, black night the image I knew was there. A stick, a bundle of sticks, a ghostly grey being hunched over a stick, somehow threatening me.

I called for my father, when he was home from sea. He’d sit at the foot of my bed and keep me company for a while. After dutifully looking out the windows for me and assuring me there was no imminent danger he could ascertain, he’d stay and talk with me.

One night, he taught me about infinity. We were talking about the stars, and how many there were. About space, and how far it went. My father sat in the dark with me, his gigantic hands folded in his lap, and told me there was no end, and that that was “infinity.”

My mind stuttered. I said, “But, there must be an end! There must be a wall! or something!”

After a moment, my father said, gently, “Okay. What’s behind the wall?”

I said, with conviction and not a little stubbornness, “Another wall.”

“And what’s behind that wall?” my father said.

When he asked that, some kind of edifice inside me crumbled. Some kind of assurance or confidence in the world. I felt my footing lost. I felt myself tremble as though on a ledge. Nothing made sense anymore.

Then, my father soothed me. He taught me about God. But this was a different God than the one my mother subjected us to every Sunday. This God, my father said, was everywhere.

I was incredulous.

I said, “Not everywhere! (surely not! surely you can’t mean that!)”

He repeated, firmly, “Everywhere.”

I said, “Even in the walls? Even in the plants? and flowers?”

He said, “Yes. Especially in those.”

Then, I thought of something I just knew he couldn’t refute. “Even in the curtains?” I said, looking confidently at the white curtains, the orange-and-yellow-yarn-embroidered daisies washed of their color by the night.

“Even the curtains,” he answered.

Once again, I felt my world sway. And I felt my father, the ballast at the foot of my bed, hold me down.

He was perfectly comfortable in a world in which God occupied the curtains. My curtains. All the curtains in the world.

And so, I was becalmed.

He said, “The curtains are made of cotton, which grows in the sun, which is watered by the rain clouds, which is harvested, spun, and sewn into curtains. The curtains are sunlight, and life. Life that is God. So, you see, God is everywhere.”

What he was teaching me was Shintoism, the belief system he’d learned during his years in Japan. The gift of my life.

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