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Brick by Brick... One Step at a Time...

A single mother finds God in a pudgy little hand.

By Cheryl Paley

pirituality. I think I first became acquainted with the term in the late 70s as past lives, auras, soul mates and astrology readings were finding their way into magazines, bookstores and water cooler office chatter. Spirituality – an inner relationship with the unexplained, the cosmos, the universe, even… God. Many felt the need to take a side – “atheist,” “agnostic,” “non-believer,” “believer,” or even “just not sure… check back with me later.” Those of my generation, baby boomers, were breaking new ground, bumping into the consequences of the sexual freedom we found in the 60s and 70s, questioning the religion and values of our parents and their parents and searching. Searching for something else. Searching for “it.”

We had no really good, scientifically proven methods for finding this “it” but it was discussed at great length. Pondered. For my parents and their generation there was little of this. God was something one went to a place of worship to find, to a congregation. One was born into it – a group, an affiliation, and outside of some very artistic and intellectual circles, it was rarely discussed. It was just “the way it is.” Coming from strict religious homes, both of my parents struggled with the organized religion of their youth, and wanted something different for my brother and I, something better. At the same time, there was never any question as to what or who we “were.” We belonged, albeit loosely, to a group. A religious group with a name, a recognizable place of worship and holidays. We got our presents at holiday time and we knew all the ceremonial songs and customs. Even in the midst of all the mixed signals, that affiliation was clear. What was never very clear for me was a sense of what I have come to regard as spirituality. God.

The ambivalence of my parents was both a challenge and a gift. They left me to find “it” for myself, and having been afforded the option to “not believe” left me with my own desire to. To believe, to understand, to find something authentically spiritual for myself, beyond the dogma, beyond the traditions. I was left to my own devices here, mostly because the God concept was so fraught for my parents, caught between engrained and rejected and I’m not sure they knew where to go with it. While they might have wanted very much to lead me to “it” they couldn’t. Because they didn’t have “it” themselves.

Then came the 80s. I drifted. For a very long time. I found my way into a 12-Step program for a stretch where it was suggested to me that there was actually such a thing as a “God of my understanding.” Step One of Twelve. It kind of fit. I had been left to figure it out, and here I was told I could actually do that. Feel my way to “it,” find an “it” I could understand. So I searched. Went to seminars and meetings, did past life regression sessions, read the spiritual literature, even did a couple of Native American sweat lodges. I looked and looked and looked. It was exhausting.

Then came the new millennium. I adopted a child and something quite unexpected happened. Suddenly there was a “something” that seemed to pull me along through a newfound state of exhaustion wrought by sleep deprivation, midnight feedings and single motherhood. Lots of weird “stuff” happened. I was steered away, at the very last minute, from an adoption agency that ended up being shut down. I left my job to find something more “baby friendly” and the program I left lost it’s funding. It was gone. And then a moment later, I was safely employed.

It was crazy. Unpredictable. Terrifying and dizzying because I never knew where I was going or what came next. I just kept walking. Somehow, every step of the way, something appeared at my feet, guiding me on the bumpy road. Magic? Coincidence? Good luck? God? The best I could have said at the time was, “well, it certainly is something!”

The adoption journey took me halfway around the world to pick up a tiny, raven-haired creature, a little person only previously know to me through a small, grainy picture sent over the Internet. Another human being I had no reference point for. We didn’t look alike and we shared no religious or cultural identity. We were anything but from the same “group.” It was disconcerting, I must admit. And it left a gap to fill for both of us, I imagine, although she has little recollection of that now. But there we were, 2 total strangers, inextricably bound by… something. Led down a shaky path to each other, brick by brick, by… something.

I did what I had to, put that one shaky foot forward once again and took care of business. I fed her, bathed her, cuddled her, there was even a 3am trip to the emergency room, complete with my daughter projectile vomiting in the middle of a thunderstorm in the back of a cab. And somehow, something got us through it. We took the journey, filling the gap that separated us by weathering the process of day to day living. And we began to love each other.

Today we are 5 years into it and the gap is barely discernable. We have become a “we.” Our own “group”. And every day we create reference points for this newfound “us.” The “us” of our understanding, my daughter and I. We don’t look alike, except when she gestures and gets this little crinkle at the top of her nose that I have. She is naturally artsy and impatient, just like me. She hates restriction and needs security, just like me. We are exactly alike in a million of these bizarre, uncanny ways that only something greater than myself could have orchestrated. And at the same time we are total opposites in all the ways we both need to grow. It’s remarkable. Awe-inspiring. And spiritual.

Today, as we walked hand in hand to school, I looked down at the pudgy little fingers holding mine, brick by brick down the street, one step at a time, and that was enough for me. That was “it.”



Cheryl Paley
is a theatre director and writer. Her article, “Mommy, I’m Brown and Beautiful” was published in IF Magazine’s May issue. She is currently working on a book, “She’s Not Yours, Is She?”: Voices from the Frontlines of the New American Family. She is Artistic Director for The NiteStar Program, creating theatre for social change for a range of audiences from 5th and 6th grade to adults. Cheryl lives in Washington Heights with her daughter Zoe.





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