forget pictures, you need words

Posted by on November 13, 2006


I love this picture of me holding Esme after her baptism. It was the last picture taken before I ran back inside to put her in her “real” clothes for the journey back home in her car seat. We almost didn’t take it because after such an eventful morning, we were very ready to go, but I made someone dig my camera back out, remembering that this was a day, an event, a developmental stage in my baby, and most of all a christening-gown-to-beat-all-christening-gowns that were not going to come together again in this life. This and the other pictures of her baptism have that special glow of all pictures taken on a celebratory day, like a wedding, and one might almost think it had been a perfect day to look at it. The pictures are worth a lot, but not a thousand words, as they say. You need the words in this case to know what’s really behind the pictures.

Flashes of worry, and what I’d call event anxiety are what the pictures don’t show. These are among the thousand words, thoughts actually, that the pictures hide. Just as one of the desert fathers warned, they were like birds threatening to build a nest in my hair all week. I kept trying to usher them on their migratory way. In the days leading up, I could feel the flock of worries descending on me, threatening to converge and blacken the Sunday sky, so I was praying, engaged in a spiritual battle, that Esme’s baptismal day would be what it was supposed to be: a sacrament, a day of joy. Buuuut…how were we going to host a coffee reception on our student’s budget? How was I going to get our apartment looking nice in time for her godparents who were both flying in for the event? What food was I going to bring that could be both nice but not cost a fortune? What dishes would be best to serve it in? How were we going to get the food–in nice dishes–and the baby and all her trappings, and the godfather to the church on time? What if her godparents feel disappointed in our humble little Indiana parish and feel sorry they flew all this way? What if I misjudge the amount of food needed for the number of people there and it runs out? What if Esme’s godmother, from the northside Chicago frou-frou (sp?) Greek tradition, has clashing expectations for a baptism performened in a more Russian/OCA manner? What if that fancy dress she bought Esme makes her look as vain as a peacock? What if, what if?

I’d like to say that not one of these fears was grounded in reality, but that isn’t exactly true. After it was all said and done, everything went very, very well. But. Yes, but, it wouldn’t have hurt to have more food at the reception, and there were indeed a few brief yet eternal-feeling moments of tension brought about by the clashing of expectations between Esme’s godmother, trying so hard and lovingly to make everything so very nice and fancy, and our equally well-meaning priest, trying to perform the service in a timely manner so as not to get behind schedule.

Sleep deprivation is the other thing the pictures don’t show (maybe because I was wearing make-up?). My sleep-needy state just exacerbated the entire experience of worry and made each moment of tension worse. Wednesday night, I was kept awake with a stomach virus and spent the next day resting to recover. This got me off course for the remainder of the week and I didn’t have one decent night of sleep leading up to Esme’s baptism for one reason or another. I had so many incoherent moments the morning of the baptism, and felt so zombie-like, that I’m surprised I didn’t make more blunders. One that stands out is when the priest’s very sweet wife asked me who that young couple was that came for the baptism, and I looked at her blankly and said, “What young couple?” She gave me a you-don’t-get-it-but-I-won’t-push-it look, while I just blinked and thought, “Why is she asking me about people we don’t know?” Later I realized she referring to a couple we know very well– friends from Notre Dame, who were sitting near me during the service, holding Esme during parts of the service, and then across the table from me at coffee hour afterwards. Duh. My brain just wasn’t working. The pictures don’t show that. I actually look deceptively alert in them.

Now that I’m writing all of this down, I realize that maybe it’s a very good thing that the pictures don’t reveal all of the fleshly frailty that I secretly know were behind them. They actually favor the spiritual reality of the event that I was trying so hard to get in touch with all week as I prepared. As time goes on, that’s probably what will endure more than all the thoughts that pecked at my poor, harried brain that day. Hopefully I’ll be able to look at these pictures years from now and they will be worth a thousand words– but different, more heavenly words. Some of them are up on my flickr site if you want to take a look.

  1. anna j
    November 14, 2006

    i don’t know–i kind of like having photos plus words, so as to indulge my missing-Julia-and-wanting-to-meet-Esme self . . .and i loved the flickr photos. the comment about changing a diaper “in such a dress” made me chuckle. i felt like answering “why such a lovely thing as Esme, such a dress or not, would never have such lowly, pedestrian needs like diaper changing . . .” 😉

  2. Julia
    November 14, 2006

    I forgot to mention that my most prominent pre-Baptism fear was that Esme was going to have a huge diaper blow-out in that dress. I think I even said a prayer about that one. Believe me, Esme is very pedestrian in that department.

  3. Anonymous
    November 15, 2006

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Jenny
    November 20, 2006

    Dear Julia,

    I love the photo (you and Esme look so beautiful–she doesn’t look like a peacock at all!) as well as the post about Froggy! I have to read it out loud to John when he gets up.

    Jen