Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 20: Saint Margaret

I used to have a recurring nightmare when I was younger. Because there were nine kids in our family, my mom and dad always had a full-size van to chauffeur us around. This was before the days of minivans. My parents' vehicles were large enough to fit our entire family, plus my grandma, comfortably. When I rode anywhere in the van, if there were fewer than two or three passengers, I felt like I was cruising in a movable cave, a place on wheels in which a child my age and size could get lost. And never be seen again.

Perhaps that impression was the seed for my nightmare. In the dream, I woke up in the back of my parents' van. I could hear the wheels humming on the road, the high-pitched tone of highway travel. When I sat up, I was alone. No brothers, sisters, or grandma. No mother or father. The van was simply navigating itself down an endless road, driverless. It wasn't swerving or out-of-control. It was purposefully moving down a two-lane freeway, through a landscape of fields and power lines. The thing terrified me about this dream was not that I was in a van being driven by some unseen presence or force. The thing that terrified me was that I was alone and had no idea where I was going.

As an adult, I've learned that one of my biggest fears is being lost. I can't stand the panic that invades my body if I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings, unsure how to find my way home. It's that loss of control, that helplessness, that makes my heart race. I like being grounded, knowing exactly my place and role in the world. It's all about control. If you haven't figured out I have control issues yet, you need to go back and review a few of my older posts. Doesn't matter which ones. You'll get the idea. Go ahead. I'll wait...

Okay, now that you know I'm a total neurotic, I'll continue.

There a very few times in my life when I don't know where I'm going, what I'm doing, how I'm doing it, and why I'm doing it. One of the only times I've travelled by air alone, I got stuck in Detroit Metro for two hours, not knowing if I was going to make my connecting flight. How did I get through that? Two Ativan and about three glasses of cheap red wine. I don't endorse alcohol or prescription drugs as coping mechanisms, but I made it through the rest of my trip with little to no anxiety. (I also don't remember too much about that final leg of my journey.)

In some ways, though, that childhood nightmare is a pretty good metaphor for life. We may choose husbands or wives or significant others to be partners on the journey, but, when push comes to shove, we're all travelling in that ghost van alone, hoping whatever's driving is taking us somewhere good.

As a Christian, I'm supposed to believe that my van will wind up pulling into the Mickey Mouse Lot of God's Magic Kingdom. That's what's supposed to get me through the rough times.

When I was driving to work this morning, I thought about that nightmare. You see, I leave my house at around 4:50 a.m. It's dark. Really dark, even in the summer. A stretch of my 25-minute trip takes me down U. S 41 where the road is bounded by forest on both sides. My headlights provide me with a little ability to see what's ahead of me. For the most part, though, I'm travelling along at 60-plus mph, hands on the steering wheel, aiming my car into a darkness that may contain any number of dangers and calamities. I can flip on my high beams, but it still won't let me see the deer standing in the middle of the road a mile away. Only God has that kind of GPS. I may think I'm in control, but I'm not.

Margaret, the saint for today, had her share of deer in the road. A convert to Christianity, Maggie was kicked out of her house as a girl by her father, who was a pagan priest. She was eventually imprisoned for her beliefs. In prison, she had a vision/encounter with Satan taking on the form of a dragon and swallowing her. Thank goodness for Margaret, the cross she carried got stuck in the dragon's throat. Quicker that you can say "purge," Satan vomited up Margaret. Eventually, after several failed execution attempts by her Roman captors, she was beheaded.

Now, if I were Margaret and saw the whole dragon puke/decapitation thing in the headlights of my car, I'm not so sure I would have signed up for saint duty. That's why I'm not a saint and probably never will be. I spend most of my life with my hands on the steering wheel, trying to avoid all the dragons coming my way. It's my futile attempt to control the trajectory of my life. Once in a while, I know, I just have to sit in the backseat, buckle up, hold on, and trust.

Deer happens.

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