Lighten Up Your Enlightenment

Is it possible to be spiritual and funny at the same time? This has long been a dilemma of mine that I recently shared over the phone with my friend and fellow blogger, Adele Uddo. We were discussing blogging, life and being on a spiritual path.

Like Adele, I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. 12 years of Catholic school provided me with a good head start. At the very least, studying Catholic Church history during my junior year in high school enabled me to answer “Charlemagne” for the pie in Trivial Pursuit years later. Take that, you public school kids!

What I didn’t find spiritually while growing up Catholic, I tried to find in other ways. I’ve had Tarot cards read. (22 is a powerful number for me but I don’t recall why.) I’ve had my natal chart done and discovered that my Leo sun is buried in the 12th House (probably along with those three Gillian Welch CDs that I can’t find). I went to a psychic who told me that my dream man was a swarthy Greek. The only time that I’d want a man, let alone a swarthy Greek one, would be if I needed a waiter because I ran out of ouzo on vacation in Athens.

So, I have the curiosity but I’m afraid to really embrace my spirituality because I don’t want to become one of those annoying people. I’m not talking about the Tim Tebow types. That goes without saying. I’m talking about those perennially blissed out, airy-fairy types who are always spouting New Age fortune cookie advice at you. You know the type.

New Ager
Money is an illusion.

Tell that to the credit card company.

And spiritual people can be so serious! I can’t imagine that anyone ever sat down with Mother Teresa and told her a joke.


“So a priest, a rabbi and a duck go into a bar…”



How can I find inner peace while not losing my desire and ability to poke fun at the absurd aspects of everyday life? Will I lose my satirical streak if I meditate and commune with the universe? If any of you have any ideas, please let me know. I’ll be over in the corner with the Dalai Lama, a martini and a karaoke machine.

Yes, Sister Gabriel, There is a Santa Claus

This is me back in 4th grade in 1974. I can hear the giggles and see the pointing all the way across the blogosphere. God, that was a bad look for me. Although, the hair and sweater may have made me an excellent candidate for a spot with the Bay City Rollers. All I needed was a little tartan and a Scottish accent. What do you think?

It was before Christmas when this woman, Sister Gabriel, my 4th grade teacher, decided to drop a bombshell. No, she wasn’t retiring immediately and thus making 4th grade safe for children once again. That would have been too wonderful. Her announcement wafted over our heads menacingly like the smell that occurred when she made a boy named Tony sit on the heater to dry his pants after he peed them. And it was just as disturbing.

I can’t remember what led up to it but this is what she said:

Sister Gabriel
There is no Tooth Fairy. There is no Easter
Bunny, and there is no Santa Claus!

 Miscellaneous Children
(Whimpering and Screaming)

As you can imagine, we were distraught and all ran home crying to our parents. Kids back then weren’t as jaded or grown up as kids are today. Our childhoods, and in many respects our innocence, lasted longer. All of my friends still believed in Santa at the age of nine, so Sister Gabriel’s announcement caused a bit of a moral dilemma. On the one hand, there was this authority figure, and a nun to boot, telling us this “truth”. On the other hand, she was a mean old biddy who hated children. What to think, what to think.

When I informed my mother what Sister Gabriel had said, she was very upset, saying that Sister Gabriel had no right to say such a thing, who did she think she was, etc. Then Mom calmed down and proceeded to dazzle me with her explanation.

Well, I feel sorry for Sister Gabriel
because the only thing she’ll get in
her  Christmas stocking is coal.

That was an excellent passive-aggressive response, wasn’t it? Fake concern for Sister Gabriel’s stocking contents while delivering an insult. Give my mother some props! Mom then went on.

But, is she right? Is Santa a lie?

Let me ask you a question.
Do you fill your own
Christmas stocking?

No! Who fills their own stocking?

That’s right. Mommy doesn’t fill
hers and Daddy doesn’t fill his.
Let me ask you another question.

Do you see how my mother has mastered the art of deflection? Like a smooth politician, she never answered my original question but went on to distract me with other questions and answers. Brilliant!

Do you fill Daddy’s stocking?

Of course not!

How about Mommy’s stocking?

No! You’re silly.

Well, if you don’t fill your stocking and you
don’t fill Mommy’s and Daddy’s stockings
and Mommy and Daddy don’t fill their
stockings, who fills them? Hmm?

This reminds me of those annoying word problems in math class that would include lots of extra information not needed to actually solve the problem. Instead of focusing on the trains traveling in opposite directions, I’d always get hung up on what the conductor’s name was or what kind of sandwich he was eating. Now I see why.

Well, it has to be…Santa!

I proceeded to hug my mother and I ended up believing in Santa Claus for another couple of years. Mom gave me more than answers that year. She gave me the permission to continue believing despite the protestations of others.  And she gave me love. These two things have always been the most treasured gifts. They certainly beat coal. Do you hear that, Sister Gabriel?

Death and Catholics

To those of us who grew up Catholic, especially of the Irish and Italian variety, funerals and cemeteries were as much a part of growing up as playing CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) sports and dodging a nun’s fury. The first significant death in my life came while I was in utero. When my mother was seven months pregnant with moi, her best friend, who was her brother, was killed by a drunk driver, He was 36 years old and the father of seven. Can we say that the last couple months of her pregnancy were stressful? There are no pictures of her pregnant because she was crying all the time. For years I insisted that I was either (a) adopted or (b) the next Immaculate Conception. With my mother, the latter was definitely more plausible.

From 1965 to 1976, there were at least seven immediate family members who died. I must admit that I didn’t attend the rosaries and funerals of these relatives until my maternal grandmother’s funeral in 1976. You see, a traditional Catholic rosary features an open casket which, to many, let alone a child, is a tad gruesome. So, when Nan died, my parents wanted to spare me the trauma of kneeling in front of her, seeing her decked out in one of her prettiest dresses with hair and makeup perfect. It never occurred to them to just CLOSE THE CASKET. No. Not an option.

What I was required to do on practically a weekly basis was to schlepp between four cemeteries with flowers for the various dead relatives. In those days, the Catholic Church didn’t allow cremation; so getting scattered to the wind wasn’t an option. You were buried in the ground and that was that. The dead needed a place to go that the rest of us could visit. Kind of like that one rich kid in school or a rich relative who had the summer place you got invited to occasionally. As with the rich kid or relative, the cemetery served as a reminder to the living to pay some damn respect. Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the saints and the dead relatives were ALL watching. Guilt does survive the grave. Don’t you forget it.

This sentiment is why it’s so ironic that my mother doesn’t visit the cemetery anymore. The change seemed to have happened when her mother died. After that initial pilgrimage following the funeral Mass, she hasn’t been back. She doesn’t even know if the headstone has been updated. And when my Dad died 20 years ago, she has only visited a handful of times. I haven’t really asked her why mainly because I haven’t wanted to get re-acquainted with the weekly cemetery crawl. I don’t need to visit a plot of ground with a stone slab on it in order to think about my father or my grandmother. I have my memories and that is enough. Maybe after a lifetime of open caskets, chanted rosaries and funeral plots, it’s enough for Mom too.

What’s in a Name?

I’m named after a priest and a saint. And not just any priest, but the one who married my parents. And the saint? None other than the grandmother of Jesus, St. Anne. If this isn’t either (a) pressure to be really, really good or (b) a damn good reason to rebel, I don’t know what is. (In case you’re wondering, I practically wore a halo until college.)

Anne is my middle name because of infertility. You see, it took my parents nine years to have me and it was during those nine years that my mother and grandmother would go out to St. Anne’s Church in San Francisco and attend St. Anne’s novenas. Apparently, St. Anne is the “go-to” gal for women who want to have a child. So, for nine days every year for nine years, my mother and grandmother made the pilgrimage and prayed for a baby. I’ve told my mother that St. Anne must have gotten tired of seeing them and finally had a serious chat with Jesus. I imagine it went something like this:

(sighing and rolling his eyes):
If this is about my hair again. I can’t help it if
hippies like it. I’m not getting a “Beatles” cut.

St. Anne
But you would look so cute! Like Paul! But this
isn’t about that. It’s about a baby for the Reiterman
woman. It’s been nine years and it’s getting depressing.

Well, it sounds like she’s been devout. Have you spied
on her and her family? Are they sane? Loving? Amusing?

St. Anne
Yes, yes and yes. And if they have a girl, they will
name her after a priest and a uh, very special saint.

Oh, really? Let me take a wild guess. You?

St. Anne
Well, I have to take the naming where I can.
It’s not like my own daughter honored me that way.

How could she? I’m the Messiah and a man! Can you imagine
the teasing I would have suffered with a girl’s name?

St. Anne (pouting)

Okay, okay. I’ll put in the requisition. Happy now?

St. Anne
Yes, dear boy. But, really, just a little trim…

In case you’re wondering about my last name, I’ve been told that Reiterman means, “man riding a horse” or a “horseman”. So, in addition to being named for a priest and a saint, I’m descended from a German jockey. That certainly explains why I’m short.