Whenever I hear sirens, I think of Sister Liska, the older-than-dirt nun from my childhood parish (may she rest in peace). She’d tell us, “Whenever you hear sirens, say a prayer for whoever is in trouble.” And for a long time, that’s exactly what I did. But then I moved to the city and the sirens were too frequent. So many emergencies, fires, heart attacks, homicides—too difficult to pray for them all. Besides, praying didn’t seem to accomplish anything. Sirens kept wailing day in and day out; people kept hurting, kept dying. My prayers were ineffective. So I stopped praying. Then I stopped believing.
We won’t baptize our child, a fact that hurts my mother’s heart, something I’m sure she’ll never forgive us for. But we can’t bring up a child teaching them to love God when we not only don’t love God but don’t believe there is a God to love.
Our child will know religion. As a graduate of literature, I recognize the important role religion plays in our culture, in our history, in our texts. Our child will know the stories. “But will they just be stories?” my mother asks. Yes. That is what they are. That is all that they are.
And yet I mourn. I have deep affection for my Catholic upbringing. I was shaped by my church experience. My child will not know the pride of first communion, the stress of the first (and every) confession, the enjoyment of Friday Lenten fish fries, the camaraderie of teen Bible study, the comfort of the guitar choir on Sunday mornings. But that is my past. My child will have a different past. Different isn’t always bad.
I mourn that I will no longer be a part of that community. Already it’s fading. The responses have changed; they say “and with your spirit” instead of “and also with you.” The songs are different; I don’t know the lyrics by heart. What was wrong with the way it was? What is the Catholic Church if it doesn’t have its tradition? It’s that tradition I was always most in love with, the comfort of coming home, a place where the door was always unlocked, where everything was just as you left it, where you could feel like a small child again whenever you visited.
But like a child who grows up, moves out, and find a place of her own, she can never truly go home, as Thomas Wolfe would say, “back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time.” Nothing can stay the same, not even the Catholic Church.
But sirens still sound.
Jennifer Furner has essays in the anthologies of Art in the Time of Covid-19 and A Teenager’s Guide to Feminism. She has been published in HuffPost Personal, Folks. Motherwell, among others. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband and daughter. For more of her writing, visit her website jenniferfurner.com.