I found out yesterday that my aunt died.
Years had gone by since I’d seen my father’s youngest sister.
When I was nine, she and her family moved from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Montana.
But I remember her well.
Aunt Ruth Ann babysat me when I was three and four while my mother worked. So many little things I can remember. I can still remember the scent of her house (like the best smelling hardwood)… what her Christmas tree looked like (a real tree with the big kind of lights that my father never let us have because he was afraid they’d cause a fire)… a couple of the toys that she kept in a wooden box for me to play with (specifically, a plastic eagle that had an eleven-inch wingspan and was missing one of its claws)… and the unique sound of her voice (a slight chalkiness that made all of her words sound more interesting. I could have listened to her read the encyclopedia)….
And too, my sister, Elisabeth, and I believed with all of our hearts that Aunt Ruth Ann looked just like the actress Jacklyn Smith. Most people thought we were crazy. But that never changed our minds. To us, Aunt Ruth Ann was one of the most beautiful people we’d ever met in real life. Still, to this day, whenever the topic of Aunt Ruth Ann comes up, we imagine her playing the role of “Kelly” on Charlie’s Angels.
Our families lost touch after she and my Uncle Jim moved their family out west.
In 1988, when I was in the ninth grade, my family took a trip to Montana and Wyoming. We visited with Aunt Ruth Ann & Uncle Jim. She was Catholic and took Elisabeth and me to experience our first Catholic worship service.
To us, red-blooded American Baptists, it like visiting a mosque.
But even among the oddities we felt, Aunt Ruth Ann’s passion was umistakeable. Oh, at the time, we still thought she was going to hell (just because she was Catholic). Still, I recognized her faith, a dedication and sincerity that I didn’t fully understand.
I only saw Aunt Ruth Ann one more time after that. While I was home visiting my family, she was visiting Maryland. She still had that voice. She still looked like Jacklyn Smith, though a much older version. And she was still so full of passion. She had a smile that lit up dark places, a positive attitude that, despite some health problems, never dimmed.
Earlier this summer, out of the blue, my Uncle Jim emailed me. He ran across my blog accidentally and then he ended up read 30 pages in one sitting (which might be enough to cause side effects).
You’re getting on my nerbis.
That’s what you would tell me when I gave you a hard time while Ruth Ann was baby sitting you…
…I read 30 or so of your blog pages and was impressed with your humor and candor. I found special interest in your article in response to someone asking if you were angry. This brought back vivid memories of a time of family strife over different family views of religion.
Your extended family was a hotbed of different views, with Methodists, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists and the like, but we all made it through OK, I guess, buoyed by the fact that we all thought we were right.
My faith has been tested lately with Ruth’s battle with Alzheimer’s. I can’t conceive of a God that would let one of his strongest supporters go through this, and let a wretch like me stay perfectly healthy…
I still tear up when I read that last paragraph. Because I get it. My Uncle Jim’s wonderings are my own wonderings. While people often have answers to these types of questions, most of the time their answers are even less comfortable and more hopeless than existing within the questions.
And you know, I once thought that age would bring more certainty. But then I read the worries of my seventy-year-old uncle and realize that this faith, in all of its spiritual and human forms, might just become less defined and vivid as we get older.
Because life is shitty sometimes. Life is hard. And we can believe in God’s healing and prosperity and ability to deliver us. But our belief can’t wield it. Our faith isn’t magic. Yes, our faith sustains us sometimes. Yes, when we’re able to package our circumstances into heart-sized “God nuggets,” our faith can sometimes help us understand things. Or help us process. But rarely do the answers to the big questions come, rarely do we experience God in such a extraordinary manner that our doubt tanks become completely full.
But I’ve become quite content not ever feeling completely full. Because I’ve become convinced that we need doubt. Doubt keeps us human, capable of relating to the ugliness that others experience and giving us the freedom to scream aloud when we walk through our own ugly experiences. I’m not sure I ever want to be “completely full”; I’m much to prideful and manipulative to handle “completely full”.
As a Christian, I believe in something after death. I don’t know what that something looks like exactly. But I believe God is there. And this something isn’t so much a prize for how we lived life on earth, but a something that makes our souls become completely filled. That whatever our souls are missing, searching for, ignoring, screwing up, needing, or longing for, that will be what we are filled up with when we encounter the something on the other side.
And maybe there’s angels, food, and golden streets there, too.
But all of that, I believe, will pale to the filling.
Aunt Ruth Ann was Catholic. Here on earth, she engaged God with holy water, rosaries, and confessionals.
Today I believe she is filled.