Growing Up Catholic and Charismatic

Posted in Misc: Article | Under , , , , , , , |

BMX bike

Stories Like This by Migs Miganelli

Since I began writing my blog (theboredsavage.com) I’ve been told many times that we’ve chosen a positive and spirit-filled approach to the undulating life into which we’ve stumbled. I do hope the sum of our decision making and daily moods resembles these comments, but I can’t pretend that this conditioning originates in me. It has been given to me. A gift. From very long ago. Allow me to illustrate this:

“I prayed out loud. I was raised praying; my mother’s Catholic faith was of the charismatic variety.”

My father built us a puppet theater in the spring of 1986 or so. His boss, friend, and idol, a giant man from Germany with an equally giant personality, gifted my sister and brother and me hand puppets, crafted in Europe. We were creative kids. My older sister became an actress and my younger brother a teacher. The puppets, which I still have, are gorgeous. Great characters. A sheik holding a Samurai sword behind his back. Ducks and frogs, a maniacal baker. It was in natural order that we’d begin writing shows for the puppets to perform.

My little brother was not invited, as was usually the case. Five years younger than my sister, he was always too wet with drool and eager to cry to be involved in our games. “Matt the copycat and the spoiled brat,” we sang. Poor kid. Though he is now the most capable of taking what he needs in life (and a life-changer of an educator). So maybe we did him a favor.

My sister, ever the type-A, put together a flyer for the neighborhood kids, inviting all to our puppet show. She walked our suburban neighborhood, spilling out from 495 southwest of Boston, handing out flyers, speaking to parents. She would have been eleven, just entering her middle school savvy, where the girls leap tall buildings of intellectual progress and the boys make fart sounds in the rear of the classroom. I, two years younger, was atop my bmx-style bike, flying down our steep hill before climbing slowly back for another run.

Careening down Sunset Drive, a strange thing happened to my trusty mastery of all things bicycle. A car began up the road, traveling opposite me. I think it was a neighbor from a few doors down. She posed no threat and yet, my legs instinctively forced my feet down and forward, braking on the pedals, as was the bmx style. Having already hit a blistering speed relative to age and weight and appropriate levels of fear, I was launched over my handlebars, sailing long enough to record the flight in memory, and hit the pavement hard. I rolled to a stop in front of my next door neighbor’s house. My younger brother, six at the time, was playing in our front yard. He saw the whole thing.

Now here’s where an aside is necessary. Besides playing football at recess, memorizing baseball statistics, writing stories, and riding my bike, teasing my younger brother was about what I lived for. My skills of emotional torture were of ninja quality. I dominated his thoughts. And one of my favorite games was seeing how much it would take to convince him I had been killed, or at least severely wounded.

I’d feign falls and remain motionless on the ground, my brother starting in annoyance and incredulity, accelerating toward panic and the despair reserved for children prior to the age of reason. I’d announce my perfect health just as he made moves to get the attention of adults.

So I suppose it’s altogether appropriate to expect and even applaud my little brother’s response to my gasping pleas for my mother. My wrist and several ribs were broken. I couldn’t breathe. I got up and struggled to the front yard and collapsed as soon as clearing the street. My brother stood silently for a moment. I called out to him again. He looked suspiciously and remained still. Another long breath later, he took off running in through our front door.

My neighbor’s dad got to me first.
“What’s wrong,” he said, impatient and inexplicably angry.
“I can’t breathe,” I said. Or tried to anyway.
“We’ll, nobody can help you while you’re lying on the ground, Chris. Get up and we’ll see what’s wrong. You have to get up.”
I still couldn’t breathe. He got frustrated.
“Chris, no one can help you while you’re on the ground. You have to get up.”

There are few sins as great as unkindness toward children. Nearly every act of violence in our world was born years and decades prior to its perpetration. The fire is always kindled in the loathsome encounters involving small, brutish adults taking advantage of youthful innocence. Remember that today when some dumb kid annoys the crap out of you.

I was too hurt to take this ass seriously, but my parents were happy that he sent a clown to my hospital room the next day. At least he had a conscience. So as I look at it today, he’s totally forgiven.

I spent the next two or three days in Milford General Hospital. I can recall passing it years prior to my fall and thinking it must have been what that “General Hospital” soap was about. My mom watched it. As big as a kid’s imagination is, it still operates in a very small world. It’s one of the cooler parts of being a kid.

Before being admitted, I was lying on a bed in the emergency room. My father was to my left and my mother to my right. I prayed out loud. I was raised praying; my mother’s Catholic faith was of the charismatic variety. Spontaneous prayer, tambourines, laying on of hands, and speaking in tongues were commonplace – which only complicates the route I’ll now take.

Though it was to be my only childhood hospitalization, that alone wasn’t really enough to render it forever meaningful. Too many other things were going on. But perhaps because I was in a hospital, my parents wearing actual concern on their faces and my nine year old brain unable to process it all effectively, another aspect of my being took the reigns more readily. If this other aspect, one I will spend each word here examining, is of another level of awareness – a deeper level, maybe – then it follows well that experiences piloted by this richer understanding would burn themselves more permanently in our psyches, would create foundations in our active lives.

So it is that I speak of the Spirit.

The doctors had obviously given me something. Breaking ribs is no joke for adults. Every breath hurts and you can’t do a damn thing about it but wait and try not to laugh or cough or move. I drifted in and out of sleep. At some point, I awoke to screaming, a child of my peer group. But before I woke up, something happened.

Now understand that a child in the aftermath of trauma, medicated more heavily than he’d ever experienced, is going to be much more likely to hallucinate or endure some pulses of an alternate state. I whole-heartedly accept that and give much credence to it, but…

I heard a voice, or, would you believe, I had a vision? Perhaps you’re okay with me speaking to God or having a transcendental moment? I’m not sure I know to classify it well, but I can tell you how I described it then. Waking up to that boy’s screaming (it turned out to be a young Latino boy hit by a car somehow) I turned to my mom with purpose.

“God wants you to pray over that boy, mom.”

Now keep in my mind that asking my mother to pray over anyone or anything was like presenting her with her favorite meal; she’s gonna take a big old bite. No invitation needed. But this was an odd request. We were in an emergency room. There’s a lot happening and like my later NICU experience taught me, you have to give people space to go through things in their own private way. Plus, this kid was screaming. It was tough to hear.

“We can just say a prayer for him here and his family can prayer over him out there.” My mom replied.

But I knew. I woke up knowing. “No, mom. God wants you to go pray over that boy.”

I can remember my mother regarding me seriously for a moment. Then she just turned and left to go do it. I can be hard on my mom for a number of reasons, but the courage to just roll up and share her faith with a stranger is the best of her. And I admire her for it. It’s really a central piece of my own faith, in fact, it’s likely the best of me too.

As she tells it (and she does tend to embellish, so that’s another strike against me), the kid was on a gurney, surrounded by multiple family members. She was pretty sure no one spoke English, their wails and prayers in Spanish. I have a picture of it in my head, painted at some future point when my mother told the story. Hunchbacked grandmothers and great aunts with rosaries and a young mother screaming, ” aye dios mio!”

My mother walked up to the group, making the sign of the cross to broadcast her noble intentions. According to Mumsy, they part to let her through, all the while the kid is screaming and screaming. He’s making everyone uncomfortable. My mother moves in, his screams reaching a crescendo. She extends her hand, the laying on of which is textbook invocation of the Holy Spirit. Slowly she lowers it, ensuring no objection from family. The boy’s wailing is like a thick blanket, suffocating peaceful thoughts. Her hand lands softly on his young chest. He instantly breathes deeply and falls asleep. Peace reigns.

And I knew it would be so.

You are reading the thoughts of one who believes in stories like this one. I thought you should know.

Migs Mignanelli is a teacher, writer, and musician living in Connecticut. This piece has been reprinted with permission.