by February Grace
You may choose to walk by. You may choose to pretend that I have ceased to exist.
I am still here.
You may be a family man that I looked up to, one who took the lead and taught our congregation. A man who once entrusted me with the duty of babysitting his own children. You may reach over me, making a show of shaking the hand of the person seated next to me at a family funeral.
I will smile at you gently, just the same, and know that out of the corner of your eye, you saw it.
You may be the best friend I had growing up, through teen years and into my tumultuous twenties. A time when I needed you most; when everything changed for me as a marriage ended and another life began. A life in which I discovered that I no longer understood or accepted the things that I was taught from birth, by the three generations that came before me.
They all believed, until the day that they died.
I believe, no more; you abandon the friendship we shared.
You may look away as if to pretend that I don’t exist if our paths cross on the street.
You had long since stopped returning my letters.
You may raise your eyes high up into the sky, head elevated as if above acknowledging the lowliness that is me.
You may pretend that I’m not there, but I assure you: I exist.
You could be my own sister, older by years and yet far more sheltered than I have been from the rougher of life’s waves. You could choose to go around me to try to gain access to my child, while still refusing to see or speak to me, and I would do my best to thwart your influence upon my fledgling daughter as best I could. All the while my heart and home would remain open to you, if you just walked through the door. You choose to disown me, still, instead.
You may choose to pretend that I am not my daughter’s mother; but I assure you, that is all I am.
For though I have chosen to take a path off of the beaten trail you call ‘righteousness’ I am not a person without heart. I am not a person without conviction, without values.
I am not a person without conscience.
Still you would sit in judgment, just as all those years ago now three men sat in that small room (in which I was not even present) and held their holy books in their hands, said a prayer to the god of their choosing, and decided I was no longer worthy to be a member of my own family.
If you were my family and you were among the faithful, you believed them, too.
So I lost you; I lost you all, to greater or lesser degrees. The ones who still chose to believe I existed are those who have needed me most; in years when I was better suited to care for others without thought of what it would do to myself.
That is a luxury I no longer have.
My health has failed with time and age; vision dimmed and diminished, operation upon operation taking flesh and bone and changing the landscape of my face. Of my life.
That damage is nothing compared to the damage that shunning has done to the landscape of my soul.
Shunning is considered, in some belief systems, to be the ultimate show of love. Correct the errant from their wicked ways; return them to the path of holiness by shaming them back in line.
Who is the person without sin fit to call me ‘wicked’ because I do not believe as they do?
I knew when I chose a new and different life path for myself and my only child that I was going to have to give up everything and everyone I had known until that point in order to do it.
I did not fully grasp that, unlike a life term in prison, there is no chance of parole for me from this sentence.
I stand condemned because I will not grovel for forgiveness when I cannot accept that I have done anything wrong by asking questions they cannot, will not answer.
I am called unkind names, if referred to at all, by the closest of my family and every friend I had until the age of twenty-five.
Mostly, I am dismissed as if already physically dead; just as I am spiritually dead to them. They truly believe that in good time, when the day of judgment comes, that I will be found wanting and the great hand of the Almighty will condemn me to death with the murderers and thieves and all their wretched company.
If it were still legal in this country (United States) to commit such acts of religious judgment, I would have been publicly stoned.
And if that barbaric act were still a sentence for those considered unrepentant sinners, then my family would have stood and proudly cast the first stones.
They would rather that I had died than leave their faith; because at least then I would have a chance at a resurrection into the paradise, when the Kingdom comes, on earth as it is in heaven.
I chose a different path for my life at the age of twenty-five with one main purpose in mind beyond my own escape from the narrow view of the world I had been raised with. I wanted better for one other person. The person for whom I would gladly, without hesitation and to this day, give my life.
That person is my only child.
Instead of embracing the values of tolerance and love that I taught that child, she has turned away from me, and taken up the narrow path that I once walked.
It is a path that I know too well, and one that will diminish who she is, making her smaller and smaller a day at a time until perhaps, one day, she will look into the eyes of her own child and realize that she wants more for them then the life she has for herself.
A few days from now, my daughter will graduate.
I will not be in attendance.
This is because she, like all the others now, have chosen to shun me. Tried to erase me from their lives, their consciousness, from existence.
There are days when I can barely stand the pain of this separation.
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my daughter to make things right between us, save the one thing that she knows I cannot do; the one thing I always told her that I could not do, and that is to go back to a path I feel teaches intolerance and leads only to darkness.
If she could hear my voice, I would say this:
You might choose to pretend that I am invisible, my dear daughter, but I assure you as I have assured others in the past; I am here. I am waiting for you to return one day to my arms. I can never give up hope that you will.
I am visible to so many others in this world.
Someday, I hope I might again be visible to you.