She is in the bathtub with her sister and is looking at me with far away eyes. After a moment, she says, "When we die all that is left is bones"
"Just bones?” I ask.
"Yes. After we die we go in the ground and then after a while all that is left is bones.” I ask what happens to the bones but she is still thinking. “And then we go up!" she says, gesturing with both hands.
"Where do we go?"
She looks at me to see what I think of this and while I am trying to think of what to say, she says, "I believe in heaven, Daddy"
"That's nice, sweetheart". I am not just saying that, either. It is nice and I don’t have the heart to argue with her. She might even change my mind.
She adds, "I believe in everything. Except monsters"
Sometime later we are driving in the car and her little sister asks, "Where do all the trees come from, Mommy?" Georgie jumps in, "God made them! He made everything! The trees, the mountains, the earth..." Where did she hear all of this? She sure didn’t get it from her mother or me and they don’t teach it in school. This all would have made more sense when we lived in Atlanta. God was great and everyone knew it down there. There was a church on every corner it seemed, and billboards on the freeways reminding us not to sin. We even prayed with the neighbours before Thanksgiving dinner (and football). For that I had to give the girls a quick primer on the practice of saying grace. I did this on the doorstep just before our hosts opened their front door.
On a trip to Vancouver, she starts up again. "Do you believe in God, Daddy?" I think she should go door to door, maybe with some pamphlets to help spread the word. But here it is, one of those big moments. I remember thinking about this when she was a baby and what I might say. I have had six years to prepare but I’m still not ready. It is like in those dreams where I have forgotten to study for the final exam and now it is too late. I stall for a little bit before giving a weak and long-winded answer about different belief systems and agnosticism. She looks at me, puzzled. I am silly and inadequate.
She shakes off what I have said. “Well, I believe in God, Daddy"
Another couple of weeks pass and we are going to the baptism of her cousin. "Daddy, there's going to be a guy there and he's going to talk about God”. She is excited at the prospect of her first trip to church.
"You mean the priest?"
"Yes, he's going to stand up at the front and talk about God"
I suddenly feel like we have been depriving her. We have given her no religious or spiritual guidance. Maybe she has some innate need for faith? We are bad, godless parents.
In the church, she gets to meet Jesus. This is not the God she has imagined. It is not the sweet, little baby Jesus either. No, this is a larger than life, bearded, suffering and bleeding Jesus. He is there front and center, crucifying above the altar. I see her looking at him and the nails through his hands and feet. I worry about what is coming next.
"Daddy, who is that?"
"It is? Why is he like that? Who did that to him? Why would they do that?"
I try to answer her questions but I am at a loss. She is distressed and I want to help but I have no good explanation. I tell her what I know, what I remember. We whisper about who Jesus was and what people believe. But she can't get past the gore, and the sadness. I am unable to comfort her. I am sitting next to her and she is struggling to make sense of it all. I am definitely not doing my job. She looks away from the bloody Jesus but the paintings on the side walls show mostly similar scenes of suffering and pain.
"Why does he have a circle behind his head in that one?" she asks.
"He might be standing in front of a shiny plate"
She gets the joke. The mood is lightened. I am now pretty sure she won’t start crying which makes me happy. She spends the rest of the service playing games on my phone while the priest goes on about drinking Coronas from the communion goblet (or maybe why that would be wrong?) and what a great thing it is to be Catholic.
Since then, religion hasn't been so much of a topic of conversation. I was starting to think that God might have let one get away. Until tonight, that is. While we were decorating the Christmas tree, Georgiana asked her sister, "Elise, do you know that Christmas is Jesus' birthday?"