(“American Eagle”, watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 200o)
“What if God were one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on a bus
Trying to make His way home
Back to Heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except maybe the Pope in Rome…”
—-Joan Osbourne, “What if God was one of us?” lyric on album, “Relish”, 1995
There are some things that bond us to another. This song is one of them. Years ago, when my son Christopher was about 18, he sideswiped a car (my car…) and had to go to ‘learn to drive right, idiot school’. It was way down in Macon, Ga., about an hour or more from Atlanta. I drove this time, and on the way back we played Osbourne’s album on the then-working cd deck. No kidding, I was really pissed at my son for the damage and having to take my time to do this. But this song turned a lot around that day. We were moved to hold hands and sing along and frankly, it is one of the most memorable moments in our lives together.
Last night Christopher called and we talked about this memory and it had impacted him as much as it had me. He’s 29 now, and a fine young man and a much better driver.
Childhood wasn’t easy for him. We adopted him at 3 years, the month we came back from an extended stay in Europe. I was supposed to be going to school at the University of Edinburgh, but the countryside was so beautiful, I couldn’t sit still. So we travelled all over the UK and painted in the pouring rain. When we got back, Christopher was ours in a month. My mother visited about 2 months later. I heard this cry from the upstairs bathroom, and racing upstairs, found my son on the floor, crying his eyes out. Her handprint was blazing across his cheek. “He spit at me.” That was her excuse for hitting him. She was non apologetic, very casual about it. A 73 year old woman and a three year old child who had come from a ‘failure to thrive’ foster home. I should have frog marched her out of my house, and sent her back to the airport. Actually, I should have dropped her out a window to land amongst the daisies. I don’t know why I didn’t react, but I didn’t. I guess I was afraid of her anger and excuses then. I’m not anymore. I got her ticket.
With a mother like that, who had shown her emotional abuse to others her whole life, I was having my own issues ‘being a mother’ at 43. But I learned to be a better mother than what I had and he grew up amongst us, my husband and myself with love and devotion. My father’s side of the family were very supportive of our precious son.
But life always brings guilt and regret. Last night talking on the phone, he said ‘he had no complaints about his childhood.” It made me cry because I did. To say that I ‘didn’t know better’ is a lie: You don’t carry the abuse from your own childhood into your parenting, but it’s something you have to work on. And the demons from the past are hard to defeat. They keep rising up and you have to beat them down.
There are so many regrets in my memories, but mostly not protecting him from abusive teachers, strangers, and the above family member who actually is emotionally sadistic. But he claims he is fine and has rolled with the punches. I just haven’t.
Last night we sang the above song again, and his memory for the lyrics is better than mine. This morning I have been playing that song at top volume as I do housework.
I don’t know that I will ever be a Believer in God. I’ve seen the misogyny and the abuse of family fundamentalists (who rather call themselves ‘early Christians’… a nicer name than fundamentalist…or maybe it’s an attempt at a class status change) but this song has made an impact on both of us on a foundational level.
I am glad my darling boy has survived the abuse of life and the abuse of ignorant parents here. His start was rocky as he was only 24 lbs at three years, but he has blossomed into a wonderful person. With or without God, this is a blessing.
Copyrighted, 2017, with gratitude to Toni Spencer for her friendship and sensibilities. With love.