Free and Easy

One of Amalia’s faults, or maybe it was merely a weakness, was her inability to make up her mind. Her ex-husband had often accused her of being unable to decide on anything. Some of the decisions she could not make were regarding very important things, too.

What was wrong with her?

Amalia currently blamed her indecisiveness on the failure of her marriage. When they were still married, he would be disgusted when she couldn’t make up her mind on what color to paint a room. (There were so many colors, so hard to choose one over all the rest.) He hated when she didn’t know how to choose a place to go when they went out for a drive. (There were always so many interesting things to see.) He made snide remarks when she’d struggle to select a wine as well as a main dish in a restaurant. (Everything sounded good.)

Maybe the worst problem had been trying to decide where to live, where she and her husband should settle. When he was offered jobs, she would hesitate to follow him. When she too had had employment opportunities, she’d turned most of them down.

“What’s wrong with you?” Ben had insisted, mostly with a sharp tone. “Don’t you have any preferences? Any opinions? Don’t you care about anything? Are you oblivious to what’s around you or to the future? Don’t you want to do something with yourself” He meant something else, wanted to use other words, Amalia knew. She already had a career and was good at it.

Oddly enough, she had been determined to do one thing: to have children. It was the only thing she had really insisted on, and yet it was one of the things Ben hadn’t wanted. She should have known then, but chose not to notice how much at odds they were. Later, after Lavinia was born, no pregnancy would last more than a few weeks, and there was no one to console Amalia when yet another life drained from her. Unfortunately, that made her terrified of losing her one child but she was afraid of showing her terror because she might look vulnerable. Or foolish.

One of Ben’s last remarks before informing her that he’d met someone else was “I hope someday you’ll learn to make up your mind about something. About anything.”

“About what?” Amalia wondered. She always known her feelings for him. She’d never felt it was her duty to accept his suggestions regarding travel or work. She’d never thought he really cared how long it took her to select a color for a room or in which direction to drive, that he just wanted her to obey him.

Well, the marriage was over, and now Amalia was left trying to figure out why she’d been unable to make up her mind about anything except Ben and Lavinia. She’d wanted both of them. She did still have her daughter.

Her daughter’s old bedroom had been converted to a guest room for nonexistent guests, but a few of Lavinia’s old things were tucked on a high shelf in the large walk-in closet. Amalia hadn’t been able - not surprising - to throw away any of Lavinia’s toys or clothes because she thought her daughter should make that decision. Most of the things had been stored away long ago, but there was a small flat shape on the shelf that caught her attention. It turned out to be a Raffi tape. Mother and daughter had known all the songs by heart and sung them over and over.

There was no device in the house to play the tape. ‘When technology dies, it is rather sad’, thought Amalia. Still, the songs would be online somewhere, and she couldn’t resist doing a Youtube search. The first song she found and sang along to as she sat with her laptop on the bed in the guest room, was “Baby Beluga.” Just a happy song about a happy little white whale swimming in a happy ocean with its mother nearby. No story, just a scene with a cute little animal.

‘Not that beluga whales are all that cute, come to think of it’, Amalia told herself. Nevertheless, she listened to it at least five times, singing along as if she were a three year old herself, sitting on her mother’s lap. How childish.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked herself. but had no answer. She’d never known the answer to the question. Not when her ex-husband had asked her, and not now, when she was questioning her own sanity. Living alone still had a newness, a scariness, about it.

The other Raffi song that she was drawn to was “You Gotta Sing When the Spirit Says Sing.” The verses varied by just one word, so sing would become dance, or shout, or wiggle, or shake, in successive verses. A very repetitive song, even for little children, but the repetition was also an affirmation, or perhaps a declaration of the right to do things, to be active. Children love that freedom.

“But it’s not just the declaration of things that a person has to - gotta - do. It’s who or what makes the person do them and feel them. It’s the spirit.” Amalia wanted to analyze the lyrics, but didn’t get very far. She was left with one word: Impulse. A child’s impulse. 

The researcher in her led led to further searching on the internet. Apparently the original version was “I goin’ a sing when the spirit says sing,” in first person. Some of the verbs in this version were more adult and echoed an African-American origin: pray, moan, shout, along with sing. Adapted to a Protestant hymn, it pointed to a different sort of Spirit altogether, a Spirit of suffering yet also survival.

One site Amalia found linked the hymn to Bible verses. That included 1 Corinthians 14: “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy: For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.”

Amalia did not consider herself to be at all religious, yet she reread the whole passage, trying to understand why it was one of several verses associated with the hymn. It was actually the hymn’s melody that she couldn’t get out of her mind, thanks to Raffi.

“… for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.”

What was this Spirit that made people do things, whether they were fun things children do spontaneously or the other things that adults insist on doing? Religious discourse often sounded like a riddle to her. At the same time she hadn’t decided it was total nonsense because there were so many who managed to find it comforting.

It was useless trying to sort through all the theological threads, Amalia thought, although she simultaneously sensed that she had never been able to listen to her own Spirit. If she had one, that was. Not as a little girl and not as a grown woman. Something had hidden it from her, or it spoke a foreign language, but she couldn’t figure out what that thing or person had been, nor had she ever felt the need to question it.

The link indicated that Romans 8: 26 was also connected to the hymn: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

And Amalia simply couldn’t locate her Spirit.

Her mother, she thought, had been one of the most puritanical women who’d ever lived. Georgia had pretended the flesh didn’t exist at all, certainly not in the sense of sexuality, but also not as a body going through the stages from infancy to childhood to puberty and beyond. Pregnancy was a four-letter word, as bad as swearing and much more shameful, even if the woman was married. Amalia had had embarrassingly naïve ideas about how it occurred when she was a girl and her mother had refused to talk about it. Human flesh might hug or kiss, even on a television screen, but not too much, and never anything more. Yet Amalia had felt her own flesh grow, mature, desire, all the while knowing that Georgia would not acknowledge what she was experiencing. It was only her mind that had been encouraged to develop. 

Obviously, privileging the mind didn’t give permission to the child’s spirit to wiggle or shake much. The crayons and books were the way she was given into the world, a quiet way. Amalia would overlap them gradually with facts, theories, catalogues, types of knowledge that left her oblivious to daily things. When asked where she wanted to go, or live, or eat, she never could make up her mind, maybe because it really didn’t matter. It was up to others to decide, or she could do it after she was worn out from trying to avoid it and would just pick any green for the bedroom or a warm amber for the kitchen. Maybe nothing ever made her feel the urge to make up her mind because choosing was merely a game with rules she didn’t need. She was never confined by rules except the ones her mother had taught her through silence.

“Why was it so bad?” Amalia said aloud, suddenly and to nobody.

“What was wrong with not choosing, not deciding?” She asked again, more loudly and insisting now that her invisible listener provide an answer.

“I didn’t need to make up my mind because I DIDN’T CARE! I was happy with lots of things, and colors, and meals!” Her voice increased slightly in volume, but the tone was not one of anger. It was simply very firm. 

Something had shaken loose.

“I didn’t choose because the Spirit didn’t need me to choose. Most of the time, at least.” Now Amalia was smiling, although she might not have realized it. 

What she did next made little sense, but she was far from concerned. She went back to Youtube and listened to two more of Raffi’s songs. One of them was “De colores.” The other was “Down by the Bay .” Something told her to do it. To go down by the bay where the watermelons grow, where the singer’s mother asks if the child has ever seen a fly wearing a tie, a bear combing its hair, a llama eating its pajamas, and so on…

Meanwhile the baby beluga kept swimming through the ocean of her mind, now a sparkling azure. She realized she was swaying, or semi-dancing, like a three year old There was something bright, like sun, all around her.

The sun brought an awareness of the approaching spring and Amalia now realized that Easter was only two weeks away. One can only surmise that it was her Spirit who dragged her, laughing, to a song that she recalled hearing her mother sing. (Maybe Georgia hadn’t been quite as puritanical as her daughter had believed her to be?) Suddenly the movie scene was right there and Amalia was in it, she was Judy Garland singing “In Your Easter Bonnet” to a suave, dashing, almost sexy Fred Astaire. The film Easter Parade was before her time, but it was a classic and was often replayed on television. She knew all the words. Amalia then remembered how Judy had led her down the endless Yellow Brick Road. Yellow? It was in black and white, then but crayon training had resolved the lack of color…

What was wrong with her?

Nothing. Not any more.

Amalia had found her Spirit, the one that was happy letting others decide when a decision mattered to them and when for her any path, color, food, or direction was fine. 

Amalia’s Spirit was free. So was she, now.

March 21, 2020 02:01

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