by Cathy Krizik
Keandra placed her napkin in her lap. “Can we pray?”
Oh shit. Lunch was supposed to be soup and salad. Not this. I clenched my teeth and dropped my knife, the clang reverberating like a spade hitting rock. Here? Now? Really? “Pray—right. Yes, of course.”
Keandra and I were at Terra Fresca, an all-glass potted plant restaurant at the UCSC University Center. Faculty and administrators in rubber-soled Rockports and rumpled blazers surrounded us, everyone eating seared tuna (sustainably caught, of course) and asparagus paninis. We were knee-deep in the liberal elite—Fox News lingo, not mine—ringed by people discussing rising CO2 levels, Che Guevara, and Jon Stewart’s latest evisceration of George W.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course Keandra would want to pray. We were classmates at Inner Light, a new thought church in hippie Santa Cruz, training to be metaphysicians, learning to use prayer as a way to move consciousness in service to the world. Keandra prayed for everything. But here? Out loud? Surrounded by PhDs? Didn’t she know these people hated us? I imagined jumping to my feet, grabbing a megaphone, and announcing, “This isn’t what you think. I’m not a born-again Christian.”
I peered up from my plate and froze. Keandra’s hands were creeping their way across the table, palms up. Pray and hold hands? This was a nightmare. Not only would people hear us, now everyone in the restaurant would see us. The exit couldn’t be close enough.
I was no intellectual giant, but these were my people. My mother had graduated from Wellesley College; my father, from MIT. My partner of nearly twenty years had received her PhD from Berkeley in mathematics education. There may not have been a doctoral hood hanging in my closet, but I could sip chardonnay with the best of them. Lunching among the intellectual elite felt as comfortable as a Sunday in fleece—that is, until Keandra threatened to out me. I knew all about being closeted, but coming out as a lesbian was nothing compared to admitting I was a person of faith.
I uncrossed my legs and scooted my chair forward so I could reach Keandra’s hands. “It’ll only hurt a little,” she said, smiling at the red flush spreading across my face. She found my hands and gave them a gentle, reassuring squeeze. In the safety of Inner Light, I welcomed the physical connection of holding hands; it grounded me, calmed me. But here?
The jangle of cutlery and buzz of conversation that had animated the room a moment before quieted. Or so it seemed to me. The tables that had felt a respectful distance apart when we’d sat down now felt as tight as the front pews on Easter Sunday. I took a long, deep breath and, on the exhale, saw the truth—I was spineless, a poser.
I didn’t want to care what a roomful of strangers thought of me. I wanted to be the kind of unashamed, loving woman who’d grab her friend’s hands, look her in the eyes, and say, “Pray? Absolutely. Let me begin.” If I were the me I wanted to be, I would close my eyes, lift my chin to the sky, and pray in a clear, unapologetic voice as if no one were watching. I’d thank Planet Earth and the farmworkers who broke their backs in the field to provide us such bounty. I’d thank the truck drivers and the cooks and the person who folded my napkin. I’d thank Inner Light and God and my dear friend Keandra, whom I adored. I’d tell everyone within earshot how much I respected her for her faith, her willingness to put spiritual principles at the center of her life. If I were brave, I’d use those moments of prayer to let her know she was one of my favorite people on earth and how much I loved her. I’d be the person I am in my head—only warmer and in the flesh.
But people were watching. The sun was pouring in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, illuminating our table. Prayer was for, well, other people.
Keandra bowed her head and closed her eyes. “Dear, sweet Spirit, thank you…”
No one could conjure a more beautiful prayer than Keandra. Words fell off her tongue as smooth and sweet as ripe mango. I kept my eyes focused on my plate. If the men at the table next to us (astrophysicists would be my guess) happened to glance over, maybe they’d notice I wasn’t participating wholeheartedly. Maybe I could catch their eye and throw Keandra under the bus with an eye roll. But then I heard my name woven into her prayer, “…thank you, Spirit, for Cathy, she is a blessing…” I dropped my chin to my chest and allowed my eyes to fully close. I was a shrew.
* * *
Straddling worlds can be exhausting. We like our tribes. We know their stripes, the cable news they watch, the bumper stickers they affix to their cars, how they are likely to occupy themselves at, say, eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning. At least, we think we know. We like our own kind. But what if, on the great savannah of our life, we like two different worlds—the mountains and the sea, the professor’s garret and the chapel pew? If we love them both, to which do we pledge our loyalty? Which garden do we feed, water, and weed?
Maybe we don’t have to choose. Maybe one half can inform the other. Maybe we can build a trail between the mountains and the sea, a place where professors and priests—astrophysicists and astrologers—can meet at night, look up into the darkness, and wonder together what spicy soup the stars sprang from. Maybe, if we’re brave, we can open our hearts, share all of ourselves, and be at home in both worlds.
Category: Memoir, Nonfiction