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This year is the fifth anniversary of my first book, Stumbling Toward the Buddha: Stories about Tripping over My Principles on the Road to Transformation. In celebration, here's an essay from that book.Precious Moments“Don’t laugh; I want to stop at Precious Moments on the way home.” My husband accelerated the Chevy to pass an SUV. Cruising north on Highway 71, we crossed the Arkansas border into Missouri.The odds that Ben was serious about the Precious Moments stop were equal...
This year is the fifth anniversary of my first book, Stumbling Toward the Buddha: Stories about Tripping over My Principles on the Road to Transformation. In celebration, here's an essay from that book.
“Don’t laugh; I want to stop at Precious Moments on the way home.” My husband accelerated the Chevy to pass an SUV. Cruising north on Highway 71, we crossed the Arkansas border into Missouri.
The odds that Ben was serious about the Precious Moments stop were equal to the odds I would sprout wings and fly out the car window. Which I would definitely attempt if it turned out he was in earnest. On previous trips along this route, he’d tormented me with an offer to visit the Precious Moments Park and Chapel, Mecca for those who collected the porcelain figurines.
Our running joke would usually begin about ten miles from the exit. “Sweetheart.” His voice would drip with the saccharine that made the collectibles famous. “I’ve been trying to find a way to express my love for you.” Five miles out, he’d deliver the punch line. “Let’s renew our vows in the Precious Moments Chapel.” I would allude to hell freezing over. “You sure?” he’d say. “Last chance.”
This time, his tone sounded genuine. If I held my breath, maybe he’d forget the impulse.
He didn’t. “I’m curious about how that whole development’s changed in the last twenty years.”
Doomed. He’d said the magic word: curious. I loved his curiosity. Because of it we’d ended up parked in a field of sunflowers or surrounded by locomotives in a train yard at midnight, or best of all, questioned by an armed guard when we ventured too close to an isolated power plant. My husband’s inquisitive brain transformed daily errands into exploits worthy of Bilbo Baggins.
I accepted my Precious Moments fate. It might be fun. We would share sarcastic jokes and exchange sidelong glances. I sharpened my razor wit in preparation.
“But no teasing,” he added. “Let me look around without any flak.”
What? How was I supposed to get through it without flak?
He pulled into a parking space. It was 102 degrees with 112 percent humidity. The weather alone brought out my sarcasm, yet he’d asked me to be good. I steeled myself to the challenge.
An imposing fountain blocked our entrance to the Visitors Center. Four concrete Precious Moments figures (PMs) and an equal number of frolicking geese encircled a trout as tall as me, which was dancing upright on its tail. Streams of water arced from the smiling beaks of the geese over to the trout, which spat a jet straight into the air. The PMs wore halos, or possibly dinner plates.
I hurried past, fearful a closer study of the tableau would force me to ignore Ben’s request for harmony.
Having cleared the first hurdle, I followed hubby into the Visitors’ Center. I gasped. Floor-to-ceiling display shelves lined the walls. Ten thousand tear-shaped black eyes stared at me from otherwise featureless beige faces, framed by wavy taupe hair. In this Aryan utopia, even the non-white children looked white. Those I took to be Asian bore identical faces, spray painted yellow with straight black hair. African Americans sprayed tan, with caps of black curls. They watered tulips, kissed cardinals, rode scooters, danced under umbrellas, splashed in puddles—Stepford children frozen into blissed-out poses.
A saleswoman approached us. “Hi. Welcome to Precious Moments. Been here before?”
My husband, who would say howdy to a fence post, shook her outstretched hand. “Well, I was here about twenty years ago. Came by today to see what’s changed.”
“You’re in luck. Let me show you Hallelujah Square. It’s a Chapel exclusive.”
Hallelujah Square. Probably where they’ll sacrifice me and pluck out my––.”
“Great. Thanks.” Ben took my clammy hand in his and followed the clerk to a display table piled high with gift boxes.
She pointed to a figurine in front of the boxes. A PM, holding a paintbrush, perched atop a stepladder. The little guy was painting a mural, which depicted other PMs.
Using the edges of her outstretched hands, the clerk turned the figurine so that we could see the back of it. “This shipment is all signed and numbered. But what’s interesting is that these on the table were mislabeled. You see it’s titled Disney Suite, when clearly it’s Hallelujah Square. These will be worth a lot of money to collectors.”
“Wow,” Ben said. “What’s Hallelujah Square?”
“Oh. The real one is out in the chapel. You’ve got to see that.”
Off we went. I knew one thing about the Precious Moments Chapel. The ceiling was modeled after the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Except, well, PMs instead of people.
Concrete angels lined the walkway that led to the chapel. Their bulbous heads balanced precariously on narrow sloping shoulders––no necks. Each cherub held a horn to his face. The effort indicated by their puffed cheeks produced only silence, since these little Gabriels had no mouths with which to blow their horns.
We passed through ornately carved oak doors and into the chapel. Long and narrow like a Renaissance cathedral, the shape of the room drew me in past the Bible scenes painted on the walls, toward the main attraction at the far end.
The “real” Hallelujah Square was a mural depicting a place by the same name: the entryway to Heaven. Bewinged and haloed pastel PM children milled around on a pathway that led to glowing mountain peaks in the distance. Other tots floated above them or knelt on clouds, strumming harps. A group in the foreground welcomed a new arrival, a little boy. He’d just ascended from his bedroom, where his PM family was still gathered around his deathbed.
If Heaven looks like this, please let me sin my way into the other place.
A plaque on the wall informed me that the boy entering Heaven was the artist’s deceased son, Philip. The bedroom was his. The mural a memorial to his memory.
A pang of guilt shot through my chest. Poor man … to have his baby die …
More details. Philip had died at the age of thirty.
For a second I thought it odd, but only for a second. Our children remain our babies, no matter how old they are.
Fortunately, Ben’s bladder shortened our visit to PM Heaven.
Preserved in a locked glass case like the Constitution, a framed document hung on the wall in the hallway. The biography of Sam Butcher, PM’s founder/creator/artist. “Poor boy born during the depression … loved to draw … couldn’t afford supplies.” I adjusted my glasses.
“… used rolls of paper retrieved from a factory dump near his house.”
Oh dear, how sad. A lad in tatters scrounging through a trash heap for art supplies.
The artist summed up his PM vision with one phrase: called by God to paint Bible scenes in which all the characters had childlike faces.
Sarcastic Dawn would have pounced all over this. This guy has no idea what God sounds like. Every wacko says he’s called by God.
But, actually, Sam was telling the truth. His Truth. Who am I to question it? After all, I have no idea how God sounds, either.
I wanted Sarcastic Dawn back. I liked her. She made me feel smart. The reflection in the glass revealed my color had drained, along with my skepticism. I was as pale as a PM.
Ben found me wilted against a wall. “What’s wrong?”
“Let’s just go home.”
“You look like you lost your best friend.”
“If God is responsible for everything, you know what that means?”
He shook his head.
“Everything—this horrifies me—Everything includes Precious Moments.”
“Hmmm. Good point. Hey, let’s stop in the gift shop.”
Clearly, he did not understand. I had just announced the apocalypse. We walked through the oak doors out into the sunlight. “No, Ben. I’m serious. Listen.” I pointed frantically at the sky with both hands and then spread my arms outward in a gesture of inclusion. “If Oneness is all there is, that includes Precious Moments. If there is nothing other than All That Is, then that includes Precious Moments. If nothing–– do you hear me, nothing––is excluded, then that includes Precious Moments.”
He regarded me with a faint smile and glanced at his watch.
I had to remember his disinterest was also included.
He squeezed my hand. “Okay, no gift shop. I’m ready to go, too.”
When he opened my car door for me, I stopped. Were his eyes twinkling? What was that sound? Was he humming?
I pointed my finger at his nose. “I’m warning you, buddy. Do not surprise me with a Precious Moment to commemorate this day.”
Winter’s coming, the off-season for a friend I met online, off-season because his skin pales in the winter, until he looks white, he says, and the police won’t pull him over for a few months. Learning this, first makes me throw up, then makes me pick a fight with a girlfriend, since I can’t pick a fight with the police, so in order to get myself calm, I meditate, to no avail, no peace there. Fair, actually, because when I meditate with an agenda, I’m missing the point...
Winter’s coming, the off-season for a friend I met online, off-season because his skin pales in the winter, until he looks white, he says, and the police won’t pull him over for a few months. Learning this, first makes me throw up, then makes me pick a fight with a girlfriend, since I can’t pick a fight with the police, so in order to get myself calm, I meditate, to no avail, no peace there. Fair, actually, because when I meditate with an agenda, I’m missing the point anyway, afterward thinking maybe it’s time to call my therapist again, the thought happening right before my husband plays me a video. A spiritual teacher saying when difficult emotions come up, I should simply notice being hooked again, that I’m attached to these difficult emotions, that instead of talking to a therapist for the purpose of finding clarity (how did this teacher know I was about to call the therapist?), by talking (and writing?) maybe I’m indulging these feelings. And hoo boy, yes, I am indulging these feelings, oh how I want to stay pissed off, pamper that rage, shower it with everything it needs to grow big and strong. And just like that, I’m eased into the Truth, giving me for a few minutes, a float-y feeling where the world makes perfect sense, but next time I sit down to meditate as usual—without an agenda, I’m pretty sure—an image of of my friend comes up, because the sun is shining through the window onto my face, like it does in the spring, the season my friend’s skin darkens, and the police will pull him over more times than he knows they did the previous winter, every winter. So I’m scared one of those driving while black—well, now it’s expanded to driving while any color other than white—whether one of those stops will end with body cam footage god-forbid, while I’m sitting all safe in meditation with the sun warming my face. And I wonder if maybe, just maybe, meditation is the indulgence.
A REPORT FROM THE DIVERSITY COMMITTEE OF THE DAWN DOWNEY FRIENDSHIP CIRCLEThe Diversity Committee concludes that women of color are woefully underrepresented in the Dawn Downey Friendship Circle.The EvidenceAt her book readings, DD is the only non-white person in the room.In her suburban neighborhood, ditto.In sworn testimony, DD claims, "No, really, my best friend is black." The Diversity Committee has yet to meet this mysterious black best friend.DD's Facebook Friends list. 97% white. 3%...
A REPORT FROM THE DIVERSITY COMMITTEE OF THE DAWN DOWNEY FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE
The Diversity Committee concludes that women of color are woefully underrepresented in the Dawn Downey Friendship Circle.
- At her book readings, DD is the only non-white person in the room.
- In her suburban neighborhood, ditto.
- In sworn testimony, DD claims, "No, really, my best friend is black." The Diversity Committee has yet to meet this mysterious black best friend.
- DD's Facebook Friends list. 97% white. 3% Downey.
Systemic Barriers to Access
- Women of color cannot connect with DD through her workplace. Her workplace is her computer screen. In her bedroom.
- They are equally unable to reach her through her professional peer group: Writers. Although women of color are a significant population among Writers, they are hunkered down alone at their own computers, in their own bedrooms. (DD once stalked a black author online, followed her into a restroom at a writers’ conference, and begged Ms. Black Author, “Will you please be my friend?” The Diversity Committee does not view this as a successful strategy.)
- No church affiliation. Although DD’s attended religious ceremonies across the ethnic spectrum, the Diversity Committee finds that her repeated tirades against "some supernatural overlord calling the shots" (her words, not ours) make her an unlikely candidate for church-related friendships.
- No beauty shop affiliation. The Diversity Committee was particularly appalled to learn DD purchases ethnic-hued cosmetics at a national white chain drugstore, and she has her hair cut by a white beautician.
- DD doesn’t live near her black family, and even if she did, hell, most of their friends are white, too.
Recommended Affirmative Action Plan
- Recruitment. Set up a booth at Powwows and Day of the Dead Festivals, under the banner: "Imagine the Possibilities—Reclusive Writer as Your BFF!"
- Ethnic Girlfriend Month. Every April, write essays celebrating the little-known friendships of famous women of color, such as Frida Kahlo and Shuri.
- Me, Neither dot Com. Establish a social media site where women of color can share their personal stories about not being friends with DD.
- Busing. DD’s husband will chauffeur women of color to and from all future book readings.
- Free Lunch Program. Buy lunch every week for a year for women of color who accept membership in the Dawn Downey Friendship Circle.
- Quotas. 25% of all new friendship positions will be set aside for women of color.
- Nepotism. Any woman of color related to DD through blood or marriage will be awarded friendship status immediately.
The Diversity Committee urges prompt implementation of the Affirmative Action Plan in order to remediate the shameful history of segregation within the Dawn Downey Friendship Circle.