Lost and Found

By M. Mikulencak

"Helloooo?" calls my tiny, insignificant voice to the universe. But only blackness and void echo back.

This starry evening I am in search of some cosmic lost-and-found department. I approach the window.

"Excuse me. I seem to have lost childhood innocence and awe and wonder. And, oh yes, I've misplaced God," I tell the elderly clerk behind the glass.

Her oily fuschia lipstick seeps past the edges of her lips into the deep folds of her skin. Precarious ashes hang from her cigarette, a life-long appendage to her worn face.

"Ha!" her raspy smoker's throat barks at me. "Haven't we all." And her window slams shut.

I am alone again. I drift back to sleep wondering where God is hiding.

I am convinced that anyone who survived Catholic school as a child has issues with God. You see, my early education is blur of black-cloaked nuns of all shapes and sizes who attended the Holy Order of the Nazis way back when.

In my dreams, I stand in the cavernous pea-green corridors. I peer nervously inside the classrooms of my youth.

There's Sister Mary Claudia in first grade with a clean glass of water raised high ("pure souls at birth"). She walks over to a friendly red geranium and digs out a handful of soil. She stirs it in the water, and then thrusts it in their unsuspecting faces. "And this is your soul, now, blackened with sin!" They gasp. What horrible sins have they managed to commit in the brief six-year span since birth?

Sister Mary Fatima in third grade is more subtle, yet just as dramatic. She leads her class, single file, soldiers in God's army, across the asphalt parking lot linking the school and the church. Reverently, the children fill tiny plastic brown pill bottles with Holy Water from the font. She instructs them to sprinkle their beds with the water each night--insurance against visits from the devil.

Sister Mary Eleanor in fourth grade is more physical in her approach to piety. A solid smack across the back of the head with a hefty book surely means that child will become a more confident reader as well as a more devoted Catholic.

Upstairs, in the cafeteria, it is lunch time, one of the more frightening periods of the day. I watch in silent horror as poor Eddie Mathews attempts to hide his lima beans in an empty chocolate milk carton. His efforts are thwarted by one nun (Sister Mary Something) who pinches his nose shut and stuffs the chocolately vegetables down his throat. She sternly reminds him of all the starving children in Ethiopia.

Seven and a half years of this variety of catechism convinced me that God equals fear, not love. I vowed I didn't need religion or God. That is, until now.

My adult eyes witness a world in chaos. War and death and murder and famine--all the biggies. But also fear and uncertainty and longing and isolation--the things that we harbor in our hearts and minds as we go about our simple, daily business.

I secretly despise and envy the faithful. I vacillate--are they mindless sheep following an illusive pipe dream or are they part of a beautiful, spiritual collective that somehow assimilates earthly pain?

I awaken with renewed purpose. My search for God begins. As I drink my morning coffee, the radio blares something about Super Mega-Lo Mart having everything you could possibly need, want or covet. It's a start.

The young man at the customer service desk gapes at me. His eyes are vacant as he struggles to process my request. His face, pocked and hilly from an unlucky adolescence, grows more pale as I plead. He finally succumbs.

"Attention shoppers. Attention shoppers," his voice falters over the scratchy PA system. "God, if you are lost in the store, please approach the nearest salesperson. There is someone waiting for you at the customer service desk."

I realize this may not have been the best of ideas as the store manager politely asks me to leave. Undaunted, I head to an upscale bookstore and coffee house on 54th. Surely God is an intellectual.

I scan the theology and philosophy sections first. Everyone looks thoughtful, high-browed and unapproachable. I turn and leave. I suspect that when I meet God, he or she will be approachable.

A store clerk notices that I am wandering aimlessly. "Is there a certain book I can help you find?"

I decide it is worth one more try.

"If you were God, what would you be reading?" I ask.

More vacant stares. A few stammers. An embarrassed grin.

My beeper goes off and saves us both from further humiliation. It is the signal. My dearest friend is in the throes of labor. I am her coach, her sole support in this endeavor.

I burst into the delivery room to find Maddy maniacally clutching at the sheets, the rails of the bed, a passing nurse. Her face is a shiny eggplant. I am afraid, exhilarated, sick to my stomach. I gush with admiration for her courage and her capacity for pain. My ears are assaulted by her screams, but I hold her hand gently and I speak soothingly. I have a front row seat for the most exciting and yet most mundane of events.

As a tiny gelatinous blob bursts bravely into this world, there are tears and laughter and clapping and slapping. I take a deep gulp and realize I've been holding my breath. The search is over.


Jan 1999