In Your FacePosted: March 6, 2013
Call me Latke. As my name suggests, I was raised Jewish. Actually, my family called itself “culturally” Jewish, which meant we celebrated major Jewish holidays, ate Jewish food, and peppered our speech with Yiddish (oy!), but we prayed to no God. To be honest, this approach to religion never really appealed to me…sorry Mom and Dad. Even as a kid, I often wondered (in my childish way) why we observed these “cultural” traditions with none of the spiritual content that was supposed to give them meaning. Ultimately, my solution was not to go out and find that religious substance, but simply to write off the whole religion as “lame,” or something. Reasonable, right…?? Not really.
That’s not to say I’m unfamiliar with the basic principles of the world’s great religions. I’d like to think I cover the fundamentals with Mouse and Chipmunk on a pretty regular basis (Golden Rule, etc.). I even have some back-pocket biblical quotes I like to trot out whenever I want to sound deep. My favorite is a great conversation starter because it makes absolutely no sense the first time you hear it (at least it didn’t to me):
“Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.”
(For all you cite-checkers, that’s Acts 10:34.)
Enter Kimchi, my delicious, spicy, fermented life partner. When I first met Kimchi as a young Latke, something strange and unfamiliar happened to me, something that was oddly exciting but for which, at the time, I had no words. Perhaps all you lovebirds will know what I mean: I was drawn to her. Not just that I was attracted to that cocktail of carbon and water known as her body. Nor was it just the appeal of those neurons firing inside her head, which one might call intellect, or cognition. There was something else. Something on top of, but interwoven with, these more tangible things. It was like, even before we met, we were connected, touching each other outside the realm of thought, emotion, and the senses.
Borrowing from the language of Western religion, I think some might refer to this scenario as “finding your soulmate.” Romantics might call it “love at first sight.” I tend to think of it as “clarity,” or “home.”
Needless to say, Kimchi has had some important effects on my life, and not just the obvious ones like marriage, children, happy times, sad times, and the rest. Kimchi tapped me into something I was unaware of before we met: a penetrating source of intelligence that binds people together, and I think might be the foundation of “existence” itself. I suspect this is what Jews call God.
As far as my relationship with Kimchi goes, this was a revelation. I mean, once you realize there’s a “person” inside a person, there’s no turning back. And in quiet, peaceful moments when Mouse stops jabbering (albeit adorably) about her sparkly dress, and Chipmunk stops hollering at us to wipe her poopy “bubble butt,” I can look into Kimchi’s eyes and see her—the “real” her. It’s lovely.
Happily, it doesn’t appear that this “God,” or whatever it is I’m jammering about, exists only inside my wife. Although I spend the majority of my time too busy, tired, or drunk to give much thought to the things I’m writing about today, I try to spend some time searching for that peaceful, quiet state. And a small fraction of the time, I succeed. This enables me, on occasion, to actually look at the people around me, and see more than just the quick, snap judgments I usually rely on to create a false sense of order in the world.
The way this usually works is simple: I look very carefully at the faces around me. So, for example, instead of glancing self-consciously at the good looking guy next to me, with his neatly parted hair and perfectly tailored Prince of Wales suit, and thinking to myself, “What a douche, I could definitely kick his a**,” I’ll take a deep breath, relax my brain, and look closely at his face–the color of his eyes, the creases in his skin, and those tiny fine hairs that only show up in backlight–and see that there’s a human being inside that body, just like the one inside me, and just like the one inside Kimchi. In fact, all of three of us, and probably everyone else on Earth, are really just passengers cruising around the world in these temporary vessels we call bodies.
And that, I believe, is why they say God is no “respecter” of persons: because there simply are no principled differences between us. You might even say we’re all just smaller parts of a whole, brothers and sisters in the truest sense.
Finally, I arrive at my point. I have a son named Little Pirate. He’s got an awesome faux-hawk. He loves nursing, sleeping, and–incidentally (or not)–staring intently at the faces around him. They say that’s how babies learn about the world. Funny thing.
LP also happens to have an “extra” chromosome, which makes his body function a little differently than some. One effect of this chromosome is that it gives LP a distinctive face, a face that announces the possibility of “difference” to the world. Many people will see LP’s face and immediately write him off, perhaps like I wrote off the religion of my family.
Therein lies the rub. You see, looked at the right way, LP’s face doesn’t highlight difference, it underscores similarity. And if you ever have the privilege of spending a quiet moment with my son, I encourage you to take a deep look into his face; I assure you he’ll return the favor. And if you do this, I hope you’ll see a little piece of yourself looking right back, eager to share a moment in this journey called life.
Is there a grand moral to this story? Probably. In any event, the next time we get together and raise a glass, try not to get too uncomfortable if you catch me or LP staring piercingly at your face. We’re just trying to search your soul.