Slow down, Think big


“It is a mystery,” Mother said, referring to the belief that there were three persons in one God. “There are many mysteries in life, Sheila. We have to take them on faith because we are not supposed to understand them.”

The Holy Trinity was only one such puzzle. Each week when Mother dragged me with her to visit the Copley Square Library in Boston, I gazed up at the painting on the ceiling from the wide marble stairway that led to the second floor. Spread across the wall was a giant size mural of three godlike men dressed like kings, each one of whom sat on a separate throne. A single cloak was wrapped around their shoulders to symbolize their three-in-oneness. As I felt them staring down at me with solemn faces, I felt they could swoop down and snatch away any child who asked too many questions.

Though I was only five, Mother loved taking me to museums. She hoped these trips might imprint on me in my earliest years her own love for culture and beauty. For Mother, the trips were her escape from the humdrum duties of domestic life at our rented flat back in Brighton. Although I let her know these excursions bored me, Mother answered that one day when I was older, I would thank her.

One of the things I did not ask questions about was childbirth. In our Irish Catholic family, it was easier to discuss the Holy Trinity than it was to find out where babies came from. As far as I could tell, Jesus had come from Mary the way light flows through a stained-glass window. It was called a Virgin Birth. What about me? I wondered how I came to exist in the first place?

“God has known you from eternity,” Sister said. “You were always in God’s mind. Once you are born, you go on being a person forever. If you fulfill God’s plan, you will live with Him in heaven. If not, you will spend an eternity in hell.” I liked the logic of it all. But what if I were not part of any plan? What if I had only been a speck of cosmic dust floating in the atmosphere? I shuddered to think of it.

My faith in God was tested early in my life. My parents noticed that my vision seemed poor. They decided to take me to see an optometrist. The doctor sat my five-year old body high up in the leather chair that was usually reserved for grown ups. He looked carefully into my eyes, using various optical instruments to complete the examination. Then he turned to my parents “Sheila has an astigmatism . Her right eye is slightly higher than her left one. I think Sheila will need to wear corrective lenses for the rest of her life.” For the rest of my life!

I felt as if someone had sentenced me to jail for a lifetime. The following week, as the doctor fitted my new glasses with pink plastic frames on my face, he looked at me kindly and said “What a shame to cover such beautiful blue eyes with glasses.”

This was the first time any one had ever noticed my beautiful blue eyes. And now they were going to be hidden behind these big ugly frames. I was angry. Whose fault was this? Was it God’s? Later on when I was alone in my room, I thought more deeply about God and my glasses. Had God made me wear glasses so I would not be proud of my the beautiful blue eyes; or, had God given me beautiful blue eyes because he knew I would always need glasses.