Saturday, December 25, 2010
"In God's Hands"
I remember the moment so clearly -- like it was yesterday:
I was 7-years-old. I was playing punch-ball with a small group of boys on the sidewalks of New York City.
From the corner of my eye, a car came speeding down the block. A pigeon in the middle of the street tried suddenly to fly out of the way of the oncoming car, but he was not fast enough.
The headlight of the car struck the pigeon and sent the injured bird fluttering towards the gutter.
Immediately, I ran to pick up the trembling bird and cradle him in my hands. His frightened eyes glazed up at me.
My playmates gathered in a circle around the crippled pigeon and me.
I could feel a tiny heart racing so fast in my hands.
But, then, I could not feel it anymore. The pigeon lay still in my hands.
"He's dead!" my friend, Paulie suddenly pronounced to me.
"NOoooo, NOOOOOO, NOOOOOO!!" I shrieked!
Suddenly, my hands went limp and the dead pigeon fell out of them and tumbled to the ground.
I turned from my friends and went running up the block to my apartment building, screaming and crying uncontrollably.
Once home, my Grandmother tried to comfort me. "Its not your fault," she said softly. "You tried to help the pigeon, but it was not to be. He's in God's hands now. One day, there will be another that you can save."
But, as much as my Grandmother tried to console and heal, I could not escape the memory of that tiny heart pounding so fast in my hands and then suddenly ceasing to be. The pigeon's eyes looking up at me as if begging me to save him. WHY......why could I not save him? There MUST have been something I could have done!
And yet, I could never think of what would have made a difference.
I only knew that somehow my tiny hands brought death to the innocent and needy bird, instead of life. I had failed him.
A few weeks after this painful incident, I asked my second grade nun one day, if animals went to heaven?
"No, Patricia, animals cannot go to heaven because they do not have souls like we do," Sister Cecillia answered as gently as she could. "Only people go to heaven."
While the nun might have thought she was reassuring me in some way, her answer instead stunned and left me with a sense of confusion, coldness, loss and isolation.
My Grandmother had told me that the pigeon was "in God's hands." But, the nun said animals "cannot go to heaven." So, what really happened to the pigeon and who was right? Why would God create animals and then not allow them into the Kingdom of Heaven? There was so much I did not understand.
I did not share my thoughts or questions with anyone.
But, for the first time, I felt a kind of separation occurring between myself and my church.
And though I continued to pray each night to the Blessed Virgin for some years to come, there was a kind of tear or small hole where stalwart belief in my religion used to be. Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure about Catholicism. It did not completely mesh with what I believed and felt in my heart to be true. Indeed, it didn't even mesh with what my Grandmother told me.
That tear or hole would become much bigger over the years to come. So much so, that it has been years since I have been inside a church and many decades since going to "Confession" or receiving Communion. (Wow, the sins one could tell after decades!)
Though I have not meshed with the church on a number of other social issues and policies, by far the greatest rift between myself and Catholicism has been its (and virtually all organized religions') attitudes towards and teachings regarding animals.
That question that haunted me at the age of 7 still haunts today: Why would God create animals if not allowing them into the Kingdom of Heaven?
Surely, God did not create animals for people to hunt, torture, "harass," use, manipulate, control, gas and destroy!
What is the greatness in having a "soul" if that soul be used to create harm, death or evil to God's other creations?
Would God not allow a "souless" being into his Kingdom before one with a soul that offended, harmed and even killed?
Last night, I watched -- as I do every Christmas Eve -- the midnight mass from Saint Patrick's Cathedral on TV.
I do respect the pageantry and rituals of the Catholic Church and I so love the carols of Christmas and the magnificence of the choir.
I also listen with interest to the homilies every year.
While I did not think the Christmas homily of Archbishop Timothy Dolan last night was the most moving or impressive I had ever heard, it caused me to perhaps ponder and realize something:
That in my self-chosen separation and isolation from the church, had I not also, in a sense kept God out of my life? Could I have abandoned and blamed God for my problems and "issues" with organized religion of virtually all sects, not just Catholicism?
Or, perhaps the simple truth is that so many years ago, I ultimately believed the words of my beloved Grandmother over those of any church or religious leader:
"He's in God's hands."
My Grandmother was right about something else, too:
A couple of years following the death of the pigeon in my hands, I was able to rescue another pigeon, this time, one with a broken wing. ("There will one day be another you can save.")
My Grandmother made a splint out of popsicle sticks for "Chipper's" wing and he slowly healed, mostly living on our fire escape for about two months. When at last his wing healed, Chipper practiced flying through our apartment hall, causing my Mother to scream, "Jesus, its like having a bat!"
Once the spring arrived, Chipper found a mate and flew off with her. But, he never stayed away for long. He and is new love regularly visited our fire escape to just say "Hi" or beg for a treat or two.
That was true for many years -- until perhaps Chipper too, flew
"to God's hands." -- PCA