Stella's Middle Finger
At the Romig-Leavitt house many of our best conversations happen at the dinning table. I can easily think of the different deep conversations we’ve had there recently. Christa and I have had some of our most painful, intimate and happiest conversations there at the table we bought with a gift we received from the church where I had my first “real” ministry job. You can see a lot of history on that little table.
Other than eating on it, there are a few other rituals we keep at our table. After all the food is on plates, one of us asks two questions condensed in the statement, “Hi-Lo.” The implied question is “what was one of the high-points of your day and what was one of the low-points?” ( I think Christa and I picked this up from the Rob Reiner movie “The Story of Us” ). The other ritual that we are giving a second chance (because we had terrible discipline with it in 2014) is our “thankful notes.” The thankful notes are blank sticky-notes in a bowl with a few pens. We take a square, write something we’re thankful for and put in back in the bowl.
We do these rituals not because we’re bored and we don’t want sit and just to talk to each other, rather, we do this because we DO want to talk and sometimes we need help.
On the other hand, when Stella is at the table, she doesn’t need any help stimulating the communication.
I remember sitting at the table one night and Stella asking what the middle-finger meant? She heard kids talking about it at school and she gathered that it was definitely bad but she didn’t know why. We talked about it as much as we could in front of Dayli in order to communicate the intent of the gesture without being totally vulgar and we told her that she probably would never need to use it because it was such a mean gesture… and that was it.
She asked. We explained. End of story.
After the girls had finished eating and were excused from the table Christa and I were left talking for a while (like all parents do, I’m sure) about all the things you want to say without the kids present when Stella comes back into the room and approaches the table sheepishly, eyes red and full of tears. My first thought was that she was shamefully coming to confess that she broke something, but I soon began to understand through the sobs that she was terrified of using her middle finger to flip someone off?
“I don’t want to,” she said, “but I feel like I can’t stop it! I can’t stop thinking about it!”
“You don’t have to do it!” I assured her.
“I know! I don’t want to… but I’m afraid that I will!” she replied.
I began to recognize exactly what she was experiencing. It was the same madness that had afflicted me for so many years. She felt out of control of the negative, taboo/sinful impulses that I think reside in everyone’s brain. In her words, “My mind is telling me not to do it but my fingers want to do!” I could actually hear the apostle Paul’s words echoing to me from my daughter’s mouth. As her father, I could see the agony she was in. I wanted to explain to her that she didn’t need to worry about, that it wasn’t that big of a thing but I knew that words were useless here. It was only through some cool Jesus-magic that the remedy suddenly occurred to me.
“Stella,” I said, “It’s not a big deal. Let’s just do it!”
“What?” she looked at me in shock.
“Yeah, let’s all just to it together! You, me and mom!”
And that’s what we did for the next couple of minutes. Christa, Stella and I flipping each other off and laughing.
The relief on her face after that time was one of my fondest table memories. The curse was broken when her fear was actualized and she discovered how small it really was. It was a real-life “truth-will-set-you-free” kind of moment. I think the table is a holy place. Maybe Jesus made it holy when he brought our fears out in the open, he broke his body and served his death and we all sat around laughing at how small our fears were.
-Paul Romig -Leavitt
(Paul regularly blogs at https://www.torncurtainarts.org/blog)