My daughter Alice was not the first, but quite possibly only the second female ever permitted to carry the processional cross at the Anglo-Catholic Grace & Saint Peter's Church in Baltimore. What I mean by Anglo-Catholic is extremely "high church" within the Episcopal Church. And by high church I mean extremely formal, ornate ritual, clouds of incense. Don't say it if it can be chanted or sung. And by Anglo Catholic I also mean male-dominated.
In the fifth grade, surrounded by Grandfather as a deacon, mother and stepmother in the choir, father as organist, grandmother in the congregation, she took up the cross as Crucifer. I stood in the Vestry hallway before the service and looked at her, beautifully vested, ready to break down a wall of prejudice that had held girl-children and women back in this church for generations. My heart was full. I sidled over to her and whispered,
"For this was I born--for this I have come into the world...". She smiled a quiet, subdued smile, more at my excitement than any enjoyment on her part. She had her own reasons; she didn't need mine.
I thought of that moment this morning as I reread her blog post of last night. Alice is not the first writer to open up publicly about having bipolar disorder. She may be one of the first to do so in our HoCoBlogging community, however. The brave eleven year old that took up her cross so long ago is still breaking down walls today. She has her own reasons.
Returning to my rather glib Biblical reference, I went back to double-check exactly where it fell in the narrative of Jesus' life. It's from John, of course: the most poetic, my favorite of the Gospels.
"Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice." (Douay-Rheims Bible)
All these years I had kept that quote in my heart as a call to fulfilling destiny. But I had completely forgotten the point: giving testimony to the truth. Breaking down walls isn't enough without the truth to motivate you, a truth you must share, no matter what the consequences.
As Alice moved on into her Middle School years, she became fixated on finding and fulfilling her destiny. Interestingly, it was during this time that symptoms of her illness first appeared, though we didn't recognize the truth of them for many years. The word "destiny" was so important to her that I had it engraved onto a bookmark I gave her when she completed Middle School.
"Alice: Destiny" it read. Well, actually, that is what it was supposed to read, but the shop-girl clearly thought that Destiny was Alice's middle name and left out the colon. So I suppose you could say that Destiny became her middle name during those years.
As a mother, I wanted Alice to carry that cross in church. But when it came to facing the truth of her diagnosis, I struggled. Did it have to be something so serious, so all-encompassing? Couldn't I fix it for her? And worse--was it somehow my fault?
Of course it wasn't--and isn't--about me. Reading her post reminded me of that. Alice has her own reasons for breaking down walls. She brings truths to share with us, no matter what the consequences.
And, like that Sunday so long ago, I am proud to be her mother.