After 22 traumatic months of an unresolved layoff arbitration, I have finally recovered enough to wonder where the intensity of my response came from. Did my early childhood set me up for outrage?
I stood on the tips of my white patent leather shoes to peek over the pew in front of me in the little sanctuary in downtown Camden, Arkansas. I held a heavy hymnbook and harmonized with the congregation in verses I heard my way: Christian soldiers marched onward like wooden nutcrackers, and the “life savior” to be praised “all-the-day long” sparkled like a roll of hard candy in assorted colors.
A trio of tall jeweled windows hovered above each of my shoulders. The morning sun infused the deep hues of the east glass with iridescence–a monarch with wings transposed into crimson and purple.
I followed along through the first half of the service easily: we opened and closed hymn books, stood up, recited the Lord’s Prayer, and sat down. Little cups of grape juice and plates of tiny crackers passed in front of me.
During daddy’s sermon, mommy gave me a pen and a service bulletin. If I shuffled the papers loudly, Mommy would look at me with her index finger over her mouth, and then return her gaze upwards to daddy behind the wide pulpit.
Daddy usually preached about love, compassion, hope, community, grace, and justice—values that as an adult I would lose and recover repeatedly. Every week in Sunday school and church I heard we must “Follow Jesus.” Jesus chose torture and execution over silence. I could not fathom such intense and prolonged suffering, but would do my best to follow him.
Daddy kept preaching.
I slid to the end of the pew, took the outer aisle to the piano, and fluttered my fingers into random keys.
With my father’s sermon now interrupted, a flash of judgment and fear struck his eyes. At once, my mother dashed towards me, and daddy recovered his smile.
“Well, then, it must be time for the closing hymn,” he said, re-connecting with the congregation. They laughed easily.
Later, the silent sanctuary was mine. Pews smelled like dry forest. Running and skipping down the center aisle, I felt the high iridescent windows tingle along my spine and lift me up.
I was flying.
“Holly honey,” daddy called from the top of the sanctuary.
Light as a butterfly, I fell onto the dark red carpet and my giggle box turned over.
The Feminist Movement was growing fast: even in the Arkansas Bible Belt, women were organizing the first state chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Katharine Graham became a Fortune 500 CEO and women now ran in the Boston Marathon! The Supreme Court ruled that states can’t force women to be mothers, and Title IX established an equal playing ground for girls and women in education– theoretically anyway.
I would reap the benefits that the feminist movement was sewing. I was entitled to equality in marriage and work. How could I know that sexism and misogyny would seep into my bones just as it did to my feminist foremothers? How could I know the feminist struggle would last forever? We would constantly need to re-envision a world that values our common humanity– and work for it.
The work is rigorous. I get tired. I need sanctuary.