At the dinner table the other night, my older daughter had some questions about the ten commandments. Although she attends a secular public high school, apparently the commandments surfaced in a health class discussion. Transported back to my few elementary school years in Sunday School, I remembered crayoning two suspiciously tombstone-like tablets and a mighty Moses figure. I assured my girls honoring their mother was a key commandment.
But the commandment that stumped her was the second: Thou shalt have no other god. What the heck could that mean?
We were eating bacon-traded-for-our-syrup from a friend’s pig, an enormous porcine wonder once named Douglass. I had fried the thick fat golden crunchy on the outside, creamy and savory-smoked on the inside. The frost hadn’t yet gotten to my peppers, and with the bacon fat I had sautéed poblanos with my garden onions and garlic and nearly the last of the tomatoes. My younger daughter tore pieces of crusty bread and laid these on our plates.
I suggested: think about what fills your life. What if your life was consumed with the desire to win an Olympic figure skating medal, or insatiably to earn money? Or what if your life was filled with cultivating thousands of acres of commercial corn? Overseeing a small town library? Teaching kindergarten? Or suffused with a quest for something else: gambling, anorexia, heroin? What about Vermeer and his eleven children, the unpaid bakery bill at his death, and the two paintings his wife hocked in exchange for that debt? For better or for worse, isn’t what you fill your life with, and what you pursue, precisely what you kneel before?
There’s an upper window in our kitchen, and at this time of year, sunlight falls down in the late afternoons on our table. Years ago, my parents gave us this table from my girlhood home. The butcher block has held up all these years.
Oh, little girl,
how do you grow?
You grow this way.
— Anne Sexton