WRR 4.4 1 AUGUST 2007
The Triple Goddess Trials
APHRODITE AND THE LIGHTBULB FACTORY
I was a moody twelve year old, but I remember life blooming into full color when SHE walked into my room. Amongst scattered lipgloss containers, soccer balls and stuffed animals, hours with my best girlfriend would melt into minutes.
One time, after biking (my banana-seat and her Schwinn) to our favorite bakery to purchase cream donuts and grape soda, we decided to record some songs on my old beat-up tape recorder. We devised this game with one strict rule. You had to compose a song about the very first thing you saw when you entered the room. That day when I looked up (and she saw me look) I gazed upon the only thing hanging from my stark white ceilinga lightbulb.
So, we flung our preteen magazines on my bed, flipped our hair in front of our faces and turned our t-shirts into bikini topsyou know by threading the bottom through the top of the shirt. And then having dressed appropriately, the recording session commenced.
I still remember the words I belted out that hot summer afternoon, hips swaying for emphasis, as my girlfriend (a ballerina and jazz dancer) choreographed the moves. “I went down to the lightbulb factoreeeeeeeeeee. Ohhhhh woooooowoooooo, I searched through the whole light bulb factoreeeeeeeee. Fool, fool, fool...How could you leave meeeeeeeeee?” over and over again until we clutched the sides of our stomachs and gasped for breath in between animal-like shrieks of laughter.
Sweet, effervescent bubbles surging up so swiftly past any hurt or trouble, no matter how confusing or dark. I mean, where did I fit in a world that grew infinitely more complex by the second. My mom had just gotten remarried and we were planning to move later that year and I was terrified. Fiercely competitive with my younger brother, it drove me crazy that a mere child beat me weekly in chess (while watching television!). On top of that, almost every night after the lights went out, I would ponder how and where the universe ended (could it end?) in a compulsive trajectory that went something like the following:
If my room was in New Jersey, and New Jersey was in the United States of America and the USA was on the North American continent and the North American continent was on the Earth, and the Earth was in the universe (at which point I’d feel a dizzying rush of delightful fear) exactly where was I and what held it all together? Sadly, my grades in science betrayed my budding interest in cosmology.
APHRODITE’S DIVINE SECRET
Yet, there was one arena where I scored off the charts (though it often landed me in trouble in school). In fact, a magic place existed where I could influence others to collapse into chairs with milk spilling from their noses (one victim included my little brother!) But I really thrived in the company of my best girlfriends, with whom I instinctively laughed myself stupid.
As planned, I moved away later that year and somehow entered my new social terrain with surprising confidence.
In strange new hallways, I navigated less satisfying types of laughter. For example, one winter morning, I got busted passing notes with a “popular” girlfriend in Math class. In mundane adolescent language, I dashed off something about being bored, and my new friend, a gorgeously coiffed brunette, wrote back with a harsh physical description of our teacher. Did it matter that I hadn’t written the words, when the teacher whisked the paper from my desk and my friend laughed silently from across the room? The hurt look in my teacher’s eyes haunted me for weeks and I couldn’t shake the raw, empty feeling at the pit of my stomach. With swift social consequences, I ducked my new friend and her glossy set. Of course, they branded my intense remorse with one word: loser! And at the time, I pretty much agreed with their conclusion (after all I was teetering on thirteen!) but it didn’t matter. I learned my first lesson in the type of amusement that diminished, rather than replenished my spirits, and I knew I would always seek to avoid it.
So, at the end of each day, when I huddled next to my radio, I yearned for the sound of my friend’s voice and the one look from her that would send me into a fit of hysterics. With her (though we pitched up our own little tents of drama) the indecipherable changes within and around me had always faded into insignificance. What I didn’t realize then was that our giggle sessions had equipped me with my greatest source of strength.
THE LAUGHTER-LOVING GODDESS
Ask Aphrodite, the laughter-loving goddess.
Edith Hamilton writes that Aphrodite, born of the tumultuous sea, “laughed sweetly and mockingly at those her wiles had conquered; the irresistible goddess who stole away the wits of the wise.”
I should admit up front that Aphrodite, one manifestation of my beloved Triple Goddess, had her share of unforgivable faults. Her legendary vanity, treachery, and obsession with pleasure shocked Gods and mortals alike. But at this point, let us (with a wink and a nod) turn our backs on the modern sitcom/ sound-byte set, which tolerates only one vantage point (the equivalent of a camera’s flash) for each and every character. In short, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Sometimes even over-indulgent goddesses have volumes to teach. For Aphrodite was not without profound tenderness and compassion. Nor did she lack the vital wisdom of our most primal selves, especially as all the warmth in her soul unfolded in torrents of laughter.
Enough mirth. You might be scratching your head and thinking...Come on now, aren’t there too many things to be taken seriously for such a glib manifesto? War, poverty, injustice, environmental degradation, hunger . . . (to which I say of course, but!). Yes, there are countless moments appropriate only for gravity, circumspection, and obviously grief, but they have rarely been my personal places of strength. And never have they steered me to the too often shaky bridge of understanding between otherwise opposing points of viewas rapidly, as entirely as a shared belly laugh.
THE SOUND OF GIRLFRIENDS LAUGHING
On the day of my wedding celebration, two of my girlfriends dragged me to the Ladies room and wrestled me to the ground to make sure my underwear looked sexy enough. It didn’t (in their view) and I remember them rolling around, kicking their feet up and down, so intense were their delighted hysterics at my Gap cotton and lace (at me, understand, not with me). Before I knew it, I was snorting on the floor right along with them. These are my friends. But let me confess, our outburst steadied my nerves more quickly than any cup of chamomile tea or lavender infusion ever could that day.
The other night I took a walk with a precious friend. Late summer rain drenched the grass and thick mist rose from the trees. The sound of our voices (and periodic cackles) were easily drowned out by the whiz of cars splashing through the rain. I looked at my dear friend’s shining eyes and her wide impish grin. In them both, I recognized centuries of the kindest (sharpest) understanding.
“Lucky,” she said looking around us. “We’re so lucky.”
And that’s exactly the way I feel.
I am especially thankful for every fine vintage of laughter, for the wide rolling fields and sweet ancient flowers that come to life inside my stomach, for the winds that gust through my lungs and most of allfor every connection without words.
I was just talking on the phone with my oldest friend (think lightbulb), who now lives four hours away from me. I told her about this column, how maybe Aphrodite just had to laugh at the reflection of her own soul, the blemished world, and its unspeakable failings, in order to open her heart where life is most beautiful. And isn’t that the same shade of grace as forgiveness?
Girlfriend was having none of my musings. “Did you mention me?” she asked nervously.
“Well, sort of.” I confessed. “Remember our game and the lightbulb song?”
“No, you didn’t!” she screamed. But, I could still hear her laughing.