Yesterday a child who I will call Amy (but whose name is not Amy, for such names seem to be out of fashion) taught Selam how to give someone the finger. She showed her how, and when Selam did it, she replied “that’s so mean! you just called me the F word! I’m not going to play with you!” and flounced off. Well, I don’t know that she actually flounced. I was not there. But I know this child, with her dresses from Tea and her shiny hair. She’s a flouncer if I ever saw one. Someday I’d like to buy Selam a dress like that, but I’d only let her wear it on condition of her not flouncing.
She told me the story when she got home.
“What’s the F Word?” she asked.
“It’s a bad word. A swear.”
“But WHAT is it? It starts with F, right?”
“Selam, it’s not a word I want you to know or say. I don’t even want you to say F word.”
“Will you tell me when I am bigger?”
“When you’re 32.”
“Okay” she says and settles into her paints and her paper. She is drawing a picture of her imaginary sister walking her imaginary dog in front of her imaginary house.
“When” is the operative question in our home these days.
“When can I get my ears pierced?”
“When can I drive a car?”
“When can I sit in the front seat?”
“When can I go see Gramma?”
“When can we go see Mickey and the princesses?”
“When you’re 8”
I once preached an advent sermon based, in large part, on the song “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin”
by Colin Hay. It was the song for me. It was the sermon for me, to be honest, as the best sermons are. I’m always waiting for something. If I can just pay off the credit cards, or move to a new place, or figure out kindergarten, or find my way into another grad program, or find a pulpit to call my own….then, then everything will work out. But of course it’s not that way….whatever happens is just a gateway to something else. When I am at my best, I am simultaneously longing and content. When I am at my worst, I am just longing.
Not Selam, though. She’s pretty much content most of the time. Since she’s learned that she has 23 years to go before she can pierce her ears, she’s mostly dropped the subject. All she wants, for now, is to know that it will happen. She hasn’t yet learned to negotiate.
In that drowsy window between waking and sleeping, she re-opened the question of the F word.”Mommy, when I’m thirty two, it will be really great, because I’ll know what the F word means–but I won’t ever say it, and I’ll have pierced ears.”
I doubt it will happen that way. I doubt she’ll be 32 and just then hearing the mystery of this particularly vulgar word. I hope so, though. I hope at 32, she’s just suddenly exposed to the base and ugly, that she’s never shouted it over and over again into her pillow after someone broke her heart, some silly boy or girl. I don’t care who she loves, just so long as whoever it is doesn’t hurt her like that. I hope at 32, she’s never seen the empty barrel of a checkbook or a pink slip or a premature funeral. I hope so. I hope so. I hope at 32 she’s never found herself sitting in the front seat of the car that she can drive, with stinging pierced ears and a mouth like a sailor.
“When am I going to be six?” she mumbles. We count it out. 125 sleeps, I say.
“That’s a long time. I want to be six sooner.”
There’s no hurry, sweet one. Six and thirty two are far, far away. Six and thirty-two come with their perils and their joys. For now, just snuggle into the cool sheets, and dream of what you dream of. “Be still my love, open up your heart, let the light shine in…”
Six and thirty-two are many, many sleeps away.