At this point in life, I’d have to call myself a Gestural Christian. I celebrate only the major holy days, and do this in the most non-religious of ways. Church is not involved. Jesus Christ is a generalized figure of respect, much like Gandhi and, yes, Oprah Winfrey. (I’m willing to bet that Oprah will be widely venerated a hundred years from now—the first postmodern American icon.)
Each holiday at my house is built on a thin armature of Christian narrative, lovingly coated with a robust amalgam of special food, dishware and libation. The earliest preparation takes place approximately a month before Easter, as soon as Peeps, those sugar-crusted marshmallow critters, appear on the shelves. Packages must be bought, their cellophane repeatedly pierced, then hidden (from myself) for proper aging. A well-aged Peep is a thing of chewy beauty.
This is something I’ve been doing—like watching 60 Minutes every Sunday night-- since childhood, when it occurred to me that Peeps were both sweet and bitter. The combination, probably an unintended result of the food coloring to make the candy neon yellow (back then, Peeps were only yellow, only chicks) was one of my first epiphanies about the complicated nature of pleasure. The bitter tinge made the sweet seem sweeter, just as salt enhances the flavor of most food, including sweet things.
I have a terrible memory, say my daughters, who’ve more than once tearfully screamed at me that their infancies and childhoods weren’t important enough for me to keep in my mind’s memory box. There are reasons both genetic and experiential for my memory’s weakness, and I hope as they become mothers, they’ll understand that I didn’t choose to lose those things precious to them.
What I do remember I also have no choice over. Hence my very clear memory, the Easter before I turned thirteen, of biting into a stale Peep and realizing that the complicated taste I enjoyed so much was present in other forms and in other aspects of life: dinner before dessert, the school week before the weekend, on and on. I’d begun to extrapolate, which gave form to my experience, which included a home life ruled by a violent alcoholic stepfather. From this, metaphor and an interior life richly capillaried with fantasy. I could do nothing about the yelling, namecalling and hitting at home, but once I developed the ability to generate and regenerate from within, I could live with the disparity—the sweet and the bitter.
This morning I stood at the window in my home office, looking out at the robins running over the field and eating my Peeps. I thought about the thousands and thousands of ways we find meaning in our lives, and how a little marshmallow candy became so important to me. This may not be religion, it may not be worship, but it’s my gesture toward the hardiness of the spirit and its capacity for pleasure in small things.