Several months ago I submitted two of my pieces to The Missouri Review because I smelled out the $5,000 prize. It was a no brainer. Just submit two pieces at $25.00 a pop (and go without groceries for a week), and then BAM! I’m buying plain tickets to London, Golden Double Stuffed Oreos, and going shopping at Urban Outfitters.
Within a few weeks, I receive a letter from The Missouri Review, and before I hop in the car to go to the bank to cash my reward check (not really),I open the letter and they kindly ask me to donate money to their magazine as if my $50.00 wasn’t already enough. I never even got a rejection letter to cry about or to burn in the backyard. I guess they wanted to save on postage, but they are so kind to send me a copy of their magazine every now and then to rub it in my face that other writers actually did get something accepted. But really the joke is on them, because now I am using their magazine to help me do my homework for Advanced Creative non-Fiction, so who really won in the end?
I’m not really one to pretend I’m a literary thinker, and I have nobody to fool to make them think I’m smarter than I am. I could say, “Oh my eyes were drawn to Beth Cranwell Aplin’s article, and my writer’s eye led me right to her story”, but she wrote the shortest article, so I thought, “We have a winner!”
I’m so afraid to write about spiritual stuff. I’m a Christian, and I believe that the Holy Spirit can do some awesome healing (physically and spiritually), and I believe in speaking in tongues and prophesy (even though I have seen it done wrong!) Aplin is a newbie at writing about spiritual experiences too, but not because she is nervous me, but because this was one of her first significant spiritual experiences.
Basically Aplin, when in a session of acupuncture, feels the presence of an “other” being in the room, and that other being starts to stroke her hand. When I was reading, I kept waiting for her to roll over and see it was in fact an old pervert who had followed her in from the waiting room. However, I was glad to see rather than finding a pervert, Aplin finds that no one was in the room at all, making her experience even more peculiar.
Sometimes the lines between spiritual and trippy may seem to blur, and Aplin does admit that “acupuncture created a nice buzz”, and after she “felt good and stoned”. But for a relatively unspiritual person, she admits to feeling a “presence” in the room to her acupuncture therapist, who then points to a picture in the windowsill and says “It was probably her.”
Later we come to find out that “her” is the picture is of a woman named “Amma”, which means “Great Mother”. From the beginning I felt this article was a little dated because of the acupuncture and herbal remedies to me seem a little behind on the New Agey trends, so I was surprised that I haven’t heard of Amma, if she is current, because she has such a large following. Apparently, she claims no formal religion other than love.
Eventually Aplin decides to attend the Amma meeting that just so happens to be in her neck of the woods, NYC, and it’s only three weeks away. Even a dim reader can see that Aplin is clearly a skeptic, but at the same time she is curious enough to take her baby through Midtown to see “The Hugging Saint”.
Personally, I believe that a spiritual encounter happens in the natural too. If we get our aching back healed, then that is just as much physical as it is spiritual. Spiritual experiences are so new to Aplin, so she writes and describes the scene of people around her in the physical. Before reading her encounter with Amma, I was worried that I was going to have to trudge through some BS spiritual stuff that would mean nothing to me because I hadn’t experienced it myself. Because Aplin is figuring out what to feel, she can take a very neutral point of view that helped me read without feeling I was forced to agree with her or even believe her.
Inside the meeting, Aplin mentions the “volunteers in royal blue sashes”, which may sound elegantly spiritual, but she also describes the less glamorous “middle-aged woman with gnarly fingers”, who says in a thick NY accent, “Do you know how much longer we have to wait? My back is killing me!” (I would probably be like that lady.)
The vehicle through which Aplin tells her story is the spiritual figure of Amma, but at the meeting she mentions her infant daughter, Susannah, who has recently had surgery on her uterus and now she has “to wear bags, which needed to be drained every couple of hours, until the swelling went away.” Here the story shifts focus to the real motivation driving Aplin’s curiosity, which I feel is to find help for her daughter.
Aplin goes on to eventually meet and hug Amma, which ends in disappointment because, as she states, “Amma hadn’t even looked me in the eye”, and then she is ushered out of the way so the next person can receive their hug. She leaves the session and is immediately back in the real world where she finds a McDonalds bathroom to empty Susannah’s urine bags. But while walking on the street Aplin says she was “struck by a phrase that washed over me like water: You Are What You Imagine.”
She says this “could be the most useful guidance [she] had ever received.” Eventually we find out her daughter’s drainage tubes are removed, and immediately after, Susannah has a rapid succession of other medical problems that constantly weigh heavy on Aplin and her husband. Aplin writes with vivid and powerful scenery with sensory details as well as emotional details. She ends the story in her daughters room at night where she remembers bits of the Lords’ prayer, and she prays. Aplin confesses, “I am not sure if I am praying or pleading”, and she is even less sure who is listening, whether it’s her Mother-in-Law Liz, or Amma herself, but she “beg[s] them to stick around.”
After reading her story, I feel that Aplin took me on a journey of faith with her because she keeps me right beside her as her reader. I felt free to question the legitimacy of her experience because she was questioning it too and not trying to sell her faith to me, but rather she just told her story as she experienced it. And she beautifully interwove the story of the natural and the spirit, and I buy it.
The Missouri Review. “Strange Comfort”. Beth Cranwell Aplin. Vol. 4. November 4, 2011.