Did you ever have one of those label-making machines? The ones that punched raised letters into some sort of hard plastic that was sticky on one side? I am dating myself to the 1960’s with this story, I’m sure. I remember turning the dial to the right letter and trying to press down hard enough to get a good imprint. We made labels for my foot locker and my flashlight and other important gear I took to summer camp.
But I also remember using it just for fun, to punch out words just because I felt like seeing them.
This morning I saw the seminarian who is my "mentee," as I now hear some people say. I sometimes say she is "my student," as if I owned her, but I suppose I really mean I am "her advisor" and that she owns me, has a claim on my loyalty and care and time and effort. This summer she has been working at a retreat center operated by the Unitarian Universalists, and as a UCC staff member she has been shocked at the verbal bashing of "Christians" by presenters and participants at the summer’s programs. In that particular milieu, "Christian" is not a label you would want on your luggage. A co-worker said about the two weeks of UCC programs coming up, with some dread, "The Christians are coming!" My student pointed out that she was one of them. "Oh, but you’re different!"
Yes, and some of my best friends are Jewish/gay/persons of color/atheists. Type those into the label machine.
While I was at church this morning, my husband was hiking. When he returned home many hours later, he wrote about his day, describing his experience in words beautiful and evocative. I’ve been to the pool in which he swam, although I got there on a short hike, not on the long circle trail he took today. And I must admit that when I was there I saw slippery rocks and a long drop to really, really cold water and was glad it was a chilly day.
If you labeled him, you might punch out these words:
If you labeled me, you might want to include some of these:
These labels would all be true, but they would not begin to describe the totality of either one of us, nor would the contrast between them describe the whole of our relationship.
Sometimes he wonders, my Atheist husband, whether I wouldn’t be happier married to someone who would go to church and worship God as I do, whether I wouldn’t like a husband with whom I could pray. I tell him that I appreciate the way we can speak freely about matters of belief and unbelief together. I suspect I would feel constrained by a partner who shared my label but not my particulars.
I tell him I’ve hardly ever known a more dedicated seeker.
That is a label we could share.
Sometimes I wonder if he wouldn’t be happier with someone who could don her own pair of seven league boots and leap to the mountaintops with him instead of making a slow and unsteady climb on the rare occasion, complete with mildly neurotic meltdowns about being a bad hiker.
But I know that when I do, it is beautiful to see the view. And it is beautiful to watch him seeing it. And although we would differently label our understandings of how the mountain may have been created long ago, being there together can feel like praying.
(Once I catch my breath.)