I used to wear a cross around my neck.
Nothing fancy. Just a simple, silver creation that I really liked. To my recollection, I wore it everyday. Actually, if I am being truthful, I don’t remember ever taking it off.
Until of course I took it off.
The cross went the way of my faith; I don’t remember it being a conscious decision, just a slow winding down into permanent separation until one day I put it down to never pick it up again.
I was raised in the church. Despite being barely out of toddler years, I remember the small white church my family went to in a small town outside of Atlanta. It was my grandmother’s church; it became our church because it was hers. It was where our family gathered every Sunday under her watchful eye.
I don’t remember the services. I remember the feeling. The antsy impatience of a child. The singing and shouting circling the low ceilings of the old church. The instruments, loud and raucous, seemingly pushing the walls back a bit further from the lone crimson aisle dividing the pews. Shying away from the hoots and hollers and screams from the pulpit. Being more than mildly curious as to the origin of the strange language and dance of speaking in tongues. I remember picking up heavy hymns and navy bibles, pretending to read them because that’s what I saw everyone else doing around me.
And isn’t that what you are supposed to do?
I learned the language of assimilation early. In the uproarious services of my grandmother’s old school Southern Baptist church; in the quiet dignity off mass in the dark caverns of the cathedral where I went to school. I learned to sit and stand on command, to speak and sing as a chorus, to be quiet in reverence or in fear.
Whichever was most appropriate.
Even as a child who didn’t really get to be a child, I recall feeling like an Other. I remember my discomfort at some of the rituals and rote ramblings. I can sharply recall sitting through countless ceremonies and sermons with questions freight train-ing through my head that I’d been conditioned not to ask.
I remember the guilt for even having questions at all.
It was a long and twisty road, from childhood to adulthood, many vital milestones marked with some sort of entanglement in religious rite or ritual.
I learned them. I remember them to this day. But I never quite felt a part of them.
But that doesn’t really matter, right?
As an adult, I find that my belief in God is no less potent than the last time I remember standing before an altar. But as an adult who is a member of more minority groups than I care to mention, I find that I often can’t stand on the steps of a church without the very visceral instinct to run.
Fast and hard.
Like my faith, I keep thinking that one day that cross from my childhood will turn up in a box somewhere. Long stored but still flawless, unwarped by time or offense. I keep expecting that one day I will open the lid to something that even I had forgotten I had packed, and it will be there.
Just like I left it.
And I will be able to out it on, settling nicely onto the skin it once occupied, complimenting the things that have grown and matured on my epidermal landscape, but still present.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
As with most things though, I presume nothing is ever where you left it. And in order to find your way back, you have to wind your way backwards through your own personal forest, taking note of the markers on the trees and considering other paths you could have taken…