Updated: Dec 20, 2021
I do not believe in miracles.
I have seen hell, been to heaven, and lost my religion.
Something is brewing. This is a something I do not understand.
Today I go to Whole Foods because apparently, my principles are fatuous when something I need is in close proximity to someplace I am.
I buy my little things - grapes and apples and chicken salad and some rugelach for the person who will give me a smile that will sustain me a lifetime when she sees it. I do not purchase something called a pour-over coffee set because the store - despite it’s impressive selection of artisanal coffee ephemera, does not seem to carry it, but if any of you know what a pour over coffee set is, please DM me.
As I am checking out, the clerk, who’s name I know to be Trudy* but only because of her name tag, looks at me with a smile and says, “Gina!”
What follows in my mind is the grouping survey game we all play when someone seems to know us and we don’t recognize them. Is Trudy a neighbor? Don’t think so. Local Mom? Not of any kids I know. Theatre person? Possible, but it’s not ringing any bells. While executing this quick act of mental categorization, I stand looking at Trudy, searchingly, yet silently. And she holds my gaze in return with a lack of discomfort that I seldom see.
Is my name written on my shirt? No. Am I wearing my name somewhere on my body? Did I attend a conference today wherein I was asked to use a name tag and have suddenly forgotten? No. Am I being face-scanned by a Jeff Bezos- brand cabal, correctly identified as an Amazon truther, right here at the register? Quite possibly, yes.
As I entertain these various fantasies, Trudy, looking not at all perturbed, presses on. “Are you on your way home?”, she asks me.
Hmmmm. I now find myself squarely in the middle of a play. This is not a play I have read, nor written, nor auditioned for. This is not a play I bought tickets to, not one I’ve been waiting to see, and it is certainly not a play I expected to be in while running errands.
The sensation is akin to being in my first year acting class during a complicated improvisation. Trudy, my scene partner, has given me a lot of interesting fodder for what could be a juicy vignette, but I feel ill-equipped to steer the scene. I contemplate the possible next steps. I could pretend to recognize her. I could smile, say Hi, good to see you!, and make small talk. But, what if she is really a stranger? What if she realizes, mid-conversation, that I am not who she thought I was and now I seem crazy for inventing a back story that we don’t have? Then again, how could she be a stranger if she knows my name? I am vexed. On the one hand, there is a chance that Trudy is not actually a stranger. Could I be experiencing early-onset dementia? Is there a very plausible reason she knows who I am and will I be mortified to be reminded of it? On the other hand, it’s none of her business! What is she going to do with this information? WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE, TRUDY?
Not willing to be (purposely) impolite, I begin to answer her. My words, a soliloquy somewhere between a sound bite and a TED talk, flow forth in the kind of self-centered, self-conscious way that I have decided to embrace. I tell her why I am here, where I’ve just come from, that it’s starting to rain outside, why I am not an Amazon Prime member, where my daughter is, what the pandemic’s been like for me, and that I’ll need to leave soon to get gas.
Trudy gives me a look exactly like the one Stephanie Peacock did when I went up on my lines at our high school’s senior production of Rumors. The look is beatific, reassuring, and not a little infused with pity. Blessedly, she stops me mid-babble. “Did you work today?”
Does Trudy - know something about me? That I do not know about myself? Am I - ? Is this - ? Is she - ? My breath stops.
Is Trudy - God?
The fact that I am wondering in this moment whether the quirky clerk at this pretentious grocery store is, in fact, my own personal deity, is really catching me by surprise. This is not the line of inner monologue I am typically giving. This thought about God is so random, so antithetical to the cynical atheist I have always felt so cathected to. In one of those long-in-your-head-but-short-in-reality moments, I realize that I am, in fact, wanting this middle-aged woman with a messy bun to be my very own Alpha and Omega. I find myself wanting her to say something like, Finally. I’ve been waiting for you.
“Oh!”, I think, talking myself out of a mystical experience. “She’s a psychic! She must be a psychic!” (I may be a cynic, but I totally believe in the paranormal.) It does actually make some sense that a psychic would work here. I mean, just because someone can see the unseeable doesn’t mean they don’t need to pay their rent, right? The fact that a person possesses the ability to intuit my name without our ever having met doesn’t mean they don’t, say, need that 30% discount (this week only), right?
Walk with me to the lobby of this theater for a moment. I know it’s not intermission yet, but I need to stretch my legs a bit.
Something about the children’s book Are You My Mother has always disturbed me. Whenever one of my kids has asked me to read it, I’ve slyly suggested something like The Best Nest instead. Whereas AYMM makes me worried and angry on the little chick’s behalf, TBN has a really endearing All In the Family- style of humor that I find quite comforting. AYMM is just embarrassing - the way that sad little bird asks a tractor if it’s his mother. It strikes me as, somehow, demeaning. Like, why would this baby bird ever think that any of those things - which bear no resemblance to him and do not share anything like the scent he surely recognizes as his mother’s - why would he ever assume one of them is his one-and-only mother? [And also? Not for nothing, but the mother bird does not seem sufficiently enthused that, upon returning to the nest with the worm, HER BABY WAS BORN!! Hello? She’s completely casual, just being like, “Oh, hey babe.” (Not a direct quote, but you get me.)] Undoubtedly, this little bird would know, unequivocally, to whom he belongs. Surely, a creature’s mother is unmistakable, indisputable, undeniable, isn’t she?
Let’s walk back inside the theater now. I’m ready to continue the show.
By now, enough time has passed that I really should get to the bottom of my little Tuesday existential crisis. Trudy has clocked my confusion. “Your are Gina, right?” “Yes”, I answer, feeling now like a seeker on the mountaintop. “You - work here, right?” I hesitate to answer her, because even as I am saying “No”, I want to say - Yes! In fact, I want so much to say yes that a sliver of me actually considers for a split second, do I work here?
Trudy is delighted with this bit of slapstick. “Oh! I thought you were Gina!”
I wonder what happens in the next scene?, I am thinking. How is our play going to resolve? When I tell Trudy that my name is, in fact, Gina, I see that she is now going through her own little card catalogue of contexts. As she puzzles, her mouth slightly open, taking me in, another character enters the scene! This is exciting. A tall young man is passing by when Trudy, breaking the reverie, stops him. “Ahmad! Come here! Doesn’t she look like Gina?!” He appraises her for a beat. “Who’s Gina?”, he asks.
Now we are all - Trudy, Ahmad, and I - firmly in a world best portrayed by the likes of Samuel Beckett. Trudy’s line is next. “You know! Gina? From Prepared Foods?!” A look of recognition on Ahmad’s face. “Oh, yeah, Gina!” Trudy is joyful. “Doesn’t she look just like her?!” Ahmad sizes me up and surprises Trudy and me in equal measure. “No, she doesn’t look anything like Gina”, he says.
I guess what bothers me about Are You My Mother? is the notion that it’s the baby’s job to look for his mother. It somehow angers me that it’s not she who is looking for him. And I suppose I feel the same way about God. God should be indisputable. Why the need for faith at all? Why the mystery? Why should we have to wonder if God is talking to us through a butterfly, or a rainbow, or a sweet lady named Trudy?
Suddenly, as though the house lights are coming up and the curtain starts to fall, I snap out of my fugue state. “I do not work here! My name is Gina but I do not work here!” Trudy, having only started to recover from Ahmad’s exit, offers me a reasonable alternative. “Did you - use to - work here?” I am somehow chagrined to disappoint her. “No,” I say, “I have never worked at Whole Foods.”
Surprisingly, Trudy’s look is amused, not disappointed. “How about that?”, she says. “I take a leap of faith to call you Gina and you ARE Gina but not the Gina I thought you were. Isn’t life something?”
Maybe I’m lazy for wanting God to announce Herself to me in a way that cannot be misinterpreted. Maybe God really was trying to talk to me at Whole Foods and maybe my cynicism renders me undeserving of actual grace. Maybe God is more like Ahmad, taking me in, intuiting my doubt, returning me back to the material world and encouraging me to develop some faith.
I made it to gymnastics in time to watch my daughter show off what she had learned that day. I felt a current of gratitude run through me that she could even be in a class with other kids after our year of dreadful isolation. When she saw me through the glass, she immediately brightened as she raced to show me her new tricks. The truth of her run-of-the-mill joy brought a smile to my face, then a lump in my throat. I’m her mother. This I know for sure.