2/24/14

St. Joan

A few weeks before I left for my quick trip to Paris, I found the pair of slippers I bought last May at the Beehive Bazaar. I remembered buying the white slippers with purple flowers, long silky ribbons to tie up her leg. I was so excited to have another baby, another girl. I kept the slippers on my bedstand for months, waiting for her arrival. I would smile every time I looked at them.
When she was born, I put them away. Threw them into the closet. Out of mind. The joy and anticipation of having a quiet three days with my newborn in the hospital were shattered, and all my plans for the coming months. It all turned into a nightmare.
When I rediscovered those slippers as I was packing, it dawned on me that she would never wear them. She has outgrown them. She never could have worn them in the hospital with all the tubes and wires and paraphernalia. It broke my heart.

I thought about what to do with them, maybe give them to someone, maybe donate them, maybe, you know, burn them. But then the perfect idea came to me.

When my dearest friend Alison came to visit Eloise for the first time at Primary's, she was touched by the experience and told me she could "feel the spirit of Joan of Arc here!" So Joan has become Eloise's patron saint, bien sur. That started me on a quest to learn everything, read everything, devour everything Joan of Arc.

The first day in France, I wanted to go to Rouen, where Joan was martyred. I wanted to see the townsquare where she was burned, walk down the rues of Joan of Arc, and pray in the chapels dedicated to her there. See the paintings, statues, stained glass, dedicatory plaques.

The chapel in the side aisle of Rouen cathedral was everything I hoped it would be - there was a statue of Joan, and two crypts along the sides of cardinals' graves. There was also a small World War II memorial, and a cardboard stand written in French about the saint. In front of the statue of Joan was a large altar, a monumental, cold slab with a long sword under it, with "Jesus" and "Maria" inscribed above and below.

I climbed over the small railing, and approached the altar. I said a prayer, admired the art, and finally left Eloise's slippers on the altar. The curling purple ribbons looked so soft, ephemeral and alone in such a monumental setting. I felt the immensity of time, in those centuries-old walls, and the short time my child had been on this earth. It was a moment filled with meaning for me.





But what might be my favorite part of that story is what happened afterward. I climbed back over the railing, wiped away my tears, and turned around to see Eloise's slippers on the altar. An inquisitive Japanese tourist was evidently puzzled at what I had done, and was craning his neck, his camera dangling over the railing, trying to see what on earth I had left on that altar. Scrunching up his eyes to figure out what I had just done. He just looked so, well, dopey, with his huge glasses, windbreaker, and confusion. I pointed it out to my dad, and we both cracked up, our stifled giggles echoing off the stone walls.

Everything about that encapsulates so much of my experience - the anguish of watching my child suffer every single day of life, the continuity of human suffering, and how laughter and humor are the only perfect (if short-lived) remedy. Laughing with family. Discovering humor in the most unlikely and unexpected places is the best coping mechanism I have ever known.

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