There is No God and Mary is His Mother

By Marion Winik

She was there, because she’s always there, and I was late, because I’m always late, swerving into the parking lot kicking up gravel like the last cop to arrive at the scene. I slid my hatchback into the spot next to her black pick-up, and she got out to meet me. Hey, she said. I said hey.

Marie is obviously a runner: tall and lean, with long hard muscles. She has short gingery hair and light gray eyes and high cheekbones. She almost looks like she’s in drag when she wears a dress. I’m about a foot shorter than she is and have more to stuff into my underwear. I don’t look like a runner. Maybe a pastry chef.

It was less than a week before Christmas, perfect running weather in Texas, lots of people out on the one-mile oval track at the army base. It’s a surreal place: treeless, scenery-free, close enough to the interstate to hear and sometimes smell the cars, shimmering with heat and dust in the summer, but we like it. It’s close to our kids’ school and not as crowded as the pretty, tree-lined hike and bike trail around the lake, which is a stampede at this time of the morning.

She was a Quaker for a while, and a Buddhist, but when her kids were born, she rejoined the Church…

“Tell me what you think about this,” she said as we fell into stride, which involves her going slow enough so I can keep up. “Jake brought home a permission slip for me to sign. He wants to miss a day of school to go to a rally at the capitol.”

We had to go single file to get around a pair of new moms with jogging strollers coming the other way.

“What’s it for?” I panted, catching up.

“That’s the problem. It’s pro-life.”

“Pro-life? You’re kidding. How the hell did he get into that?”

“It’s the church youth group that’s sponsoring it.”

“They take them to pro-life rallies?”

“Well, it’s the Catholic church. You may have heard that’s their position,” she said drily.

Marie is raising her children as she was raised, Catholic. I’ve seen many people return to their abandoned childhood religions once they reproduce, partly because they think they should, partly because they suddenly feel an enhanced need for divine assistance, but this is not Marie’s story. She’s been interested all along. She was a Quaker for a while, and a Buddhist, but when her kids were born, she rejoined the Church, feeling that Catholicism has more to offer children than Zen.

Though she does not accept papal authority or Catholic dogma, Marie does go for the extravagant rituals. Every Saturday night at nine, she participates in the Adoration, where the members of the congregation take one-hour shifts sitting in the chapel guarding the Eucharist, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Keeping Jesus company, she calls it. She says that quiet hour is the most Buddhist thing she’s found about being Catholic.

The quiet hour part sounds good to me, but I still have trouble understanding how such an intelligent and thoughtful person could be involved in hoo-ha like Stations of the Cross and Holy Communion, much less be a member of an organization with such antediluvian politics. But my boyfriend Frank, an art history professor who seemingly knows everything about everything, says there’s a whole tradition of being atheist and an observant Catholic at the same time, like the early twentieth century philosopher George Santayana. (No, he did not record “Oye Como Va,” Frank said when I asked.) Santayana found no contradiction in performing the rituals while doubting the claptrap. There is no God, he pronounced, and Mary is His mother.

“Or maybe there is a God, but Mary’s not his mother,” suggested Marie when I relayed this to her.

“Have I got a religion for you,” I said, pretty much exhausting my knowledge of Jewish theology right there. I couldn’t return to religion for the sake of my children because I never had it in the first place. My parents’ idea of a religious ritual was having bagels and nova on Sunday while they read the New York Times. My late husband had had a Catholic upbringing but I don’t think he planned to impart it to our boys even if he stuck around. So to my kids, Easter really is about hardboiled eggs and candy, Christmas really is decorated trees and shopping malls, and the indispensable component of the faith of our fathers is packaged matzoh ball soup.

When you raise kids without religion, you run some risks — for example, the risk that their teenage rebellion will include joining a cult. You come home one day and they’re chanting Hare Krishna or moving to some fundamentalist commune in South Carolina where there are no telephones. Worse, they will be out of touch with America in general, where more than half their fellow citizens believe there really is a hell, if not a devil with a pitchfork too. They could hardly run for president, since photo ops at one’s place of worship and copious references to God in one’s speeches are things America requires of its leader. Lately, they seem to be the only thing required.

But though I might have an easier time imparting basic moral concepts to my little narcissists if I sent them to Sunday school of some sort, I would feel like a hypocrite. I don’t get God, I don’t get ritual, all I get is a little rush during the guided relaxation at the end of yoga class. There’s nothing to tell me what to do or how to live except my own mind and heart. Neither of which was taking this pro-life rally thing too well. Marie had really picked the wrong day for this conversation.

“Marie, how could you let him go to one of those things?’ I said to her just before we cut around a couple of briskly walking older ladies in pastel sweat suits, the four of us acknowledging each other with quick greetings. This intrepid pair was on the track every Thursday morning when we were; we referred to them as the Ghosts of Christmas Future. “Think of the nuts that will be there, waving fetuses in jars of formaldehyde. How can you let him be brainwashed by that crap?”

“How can I not let him go? He’s thirteen years old. How can he learn to think if I don’t let him use his own head?”

“Is the church letting him use his own head? Would you say this if he wanted to go to a neo-Nazi skinhead rally?”

“It’s not the same. Reasonable people can be opposed to abortion.”

“Reasonable people can be opposed to abortion for themselves, but not for other people.”

“Okay, but do you think you could slow down a little?”

I run faster when I get excited. Marie and I both hit puberty right around the time of Roe v. Wade, and both of us had benefited from it directly.

“Maybe you should tell him your own story,” I said.

“I’ve thought about it. But it might be more than he wants to know. Anyway, I’m not sure whether he really even cares about abortion, or if he just wants to miss a day of school and hang out with his friends.”

“Can’t they go ice skating or something?”

“On your left,” came a voice behind us, and we moved to the side as three crew-cut cadets pounded past us in their bulging gray US ARMY t-shirts. “Excuse us, ma’am,” one barked politely.

“So,” she said after a minute, “are you ready for Christmas?” Marie has a knack for keeping the conversation going just as my sore feet and heavy legs begin to crowd out all thoughts other than how much farther we have to go.

“The boys put up lights on the house themselves since I said I wasn’t doing it anymore. That was after they had me drive at gunpoint to the tree place. All that’s left is one major mall experience and I’m out of the woods.”

Marie took a swig from the water bottle in her utility belt and passed it to me. “Is Frank going to be with you?”

“Yeah, I invited him to stay over on Christmas Eve.”

Marie twisted her head toward me and gave me a little x-ray with those pale flinty eyes of hers. “Think he’s gonna give you a diamond?”

“He better not. Is this two miles or three? Or fifteen?”

“It’s three.”

Frank and I have been going out for a couple of years now, since not long after I started teaching at the law school. I recognized him on the quad one day from a bereavement group I’d gone to once after Mickey died. We were two of the youngest people there, except for a girl in her twenties whose truck driver husband had died on the road. Frank’s wife was breast cancer. Mickey overdosed on a John Belushi-style combination of drugs at a nightclub.

I was watching Frank walk towards me, talking to a student with dreadlocks and many piercings. I wasn’t going to say anything, but then he noticed me and told the kid he’d see her in class.

“I know you,” he said, narrowing his eyes to figure out where from. He was too tall and too thin, with long dark hair that bounced over his horn-rimmed glasses. He wore a tweed jacket and blue jeans. I had tried to decide if he was cute the first time I saw him, then chastised myself for cruising the bereavement group. Wasn’t there a bad movie about that with Ben Affleck?

Things happened fast between us. It was no trouble to end my semi-secret affair with Mike’s soccer coach which was based on nothing but sex, not really even first aid for my loneliness anymore.

“Is it something at work?” Marie asked.


“Elisa, you’ve got this look on your face. And you’re not listening to me.”

“I’m listening. Jake’s going to a pro-life rally.”

“That was two miles ago. We’re on Christmas now.”

“You’ve got to at least show him the other side,” I said. “Explain to him that people who support choice aren’t for abortion. Nobody’s for abortion. I think you should tell him the truth about you. Let him see how it really is.”

I might have told her the truth about me but we were coming up on the finish line and I was only a couple of days late and not sure of anything yet. This conversation had gotten me a lot more worried. We separated as we neared the lot and headed back to our cars, and I drove straight from there to the drugstore to get a home pregnancy test.

“C’mon, guys,” I said, shoving the dishwasher shut and starting it, “how can Santa come if you never go to bed?”

They were sitting with Frank on the worn velour couch, watching a Scooby Doo Christmas special and eating Slice’n’Bake sugar cookies with little green pine trees in their centers. Frank and Karen hadn’t had kids — they were trying to get started when she found the lump. For him, the fact that I had two boys who needed someone to throw the Frisbee and drive to Dairy Queen was part of my array of charms.

I’d almost finished cleaning the kitchen, an activity that begins at the crack of dawn and concludes close to midnight every day, and hasn’t gotten any easier since I started dating that big skinny slob.

“Santa, yeah, right,” said Ricky, the nine-year-old sophisticate.

“You mean you’re not going to leave him a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk?”

“And a bowl of water for the reindeer,” added Mike, his eleven year old brother.

“When did you stop believing in Santa Claus, do you remember?” I asked.

“What, there’s no Santa Claus?” Frank cried, giving Mike an excuse to sock him in the arm and start the evening’s wrestling match.

“It’s Mommy, Frank,” Ricky yelled demonically, joining the attack. “Just like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. They’re all Mommy!”

You would think I wouldn’t have encouraged my kids to believe in these fantastic characters, but I did, and not only because I got months of slightly improved behavior out of the threats. In my version, even the tooth fairy might skip you or reduce your fee if you didn’t do your homework and clean your room. But it wasn’t just that. I loved that they believed, believed in something sweet and harmless, and I loved telling the stories. It seemed natural to me to believe in magical, invisible beings when you were small and natural to grow out of it, to step into adulthood by losing faith.

“Frank,” I said, “please.” By now the three of them were rolling around on the floor and it was only a matter of time before someone banged his head on the coffee table and wound up in tears. “Don’t get them all riled up before bedtime.”

“Yeah, Frank, don’t get us all riled up before bedtime!” shouted Mike, trying to pin him.

Frank shook them off and sat up. “Want me to read to you?” he asked. “Go get ready for bed and I’ll come in.”

Frank loves to read to them; I got tired of it a while ago. We had been slogging through The Hobbit for about a year by the time he came along. Now, even though he’s not over at bedtime all that often — okay, pretty often — they’re into the second volume of Lord of the Rings.

If they’re awake when he finishes reading to them, they still ask for me to come in there and kiss them goodnight and sing them my old James Taylor songs. I have a feeling it won’t be much longer though. They used to come get in bed with me every night — that was only a couple of years ago. I liked it too, after Mickey died, one behind me and one in front, all of us curled together. Then there was the first night I let Frank sleep over, somehow forgetting they’d be trotting in there at two in the morning. They climbed right in, not even noticing at first until Mike realized there was someone on the other side of him. “What are you doing here?” Mike asked.

“Sleeping with your mom,” Frank told him.


“I get scared at home alone in my bed.”

“It’s okay, Mike,” I told him, “go back to sleep.”

I wondered if I should start locking my door but Frank said the boys would hate him if I did, so I didn’t. And from then on they started coming in less frequently. More often  I would find Ricky in Mike’s bed in the morning, the Dallas Cowboys sheets twisted around their little bodies.

As soon as the bedtime reading started, I went into my study where the presents and paper were hidden, shut the door and started slapping the wrappings on each box. I was exhausted. First trimester exhaustion. I knew it well.

“Hey, you didn’t wait for me,” said Frank when he slipped into the room twenty minutes later. He was barefoot, carrying two glasses of champagne, not wearing his glasses and his hair in his eyes, so goofy and adorable it made me wince. “I remembered you said how you and Mickey used to drink champagne on Christmas Eve — should I not have?”

“Oh, no,” I said, “it’s sweet. Thank you.” I took the glass and sipped it. It felt slightly wrong to drink when I was pregnant even though I knew it didn’t matter. I had tried to get an appointment with my ob/gyn the day I found out, but she was on vacation until after New Years and I didn’t want to see a partner I didn’t know. I was only a few weeks late. I still had time.

As if it were medicine, I slugged back half my glass.

“Thirsty, huh,” Frank said, eyeing me dubiously. “Hey, look at all this stuff.”

“Some of it’s from their grandparents and aunts,” I said. “But I did go a little crazy on my last-minute shopping spree.”

“And I’ve got some things in my car.”


“It’s a surprise.”

“C’mon, tell me.”

“Okay, but don’t kill me. I got them a PlayStation and some games.”

“What? Oh, Frank.” I rolled my eyes. They already spent hours each day in front of the television; I figured if they had video games they would give up fresh air and physical activity altogether. They played them enough at their friends’ houses, they didn’t have to have a system at home. And Frank knew exactly how I felt about it.

“Are you crying?”


“Yes you are. Because I bought them a PlayStation?” Frank folded himself up like some kind of travel ironing board and got on the floor with me, wiping the tears off my cheek. “I’m sorry, Elisa, I can take it back.”

“No, don’t take it back,” I sobbed. “It’s fine. They’ll love it.”

He put his arms around me and I cried into his shoulder. “Tell me what’s going on,” he whispered into my hair. “Come on. You’ve been acting weird for weeks. This seems like more than PMS.”

“No,” I said, “it’s PMS. I’m sorry. It’ll be over soon.”

“Come on, tell me.”

My lips were buzzing with the urge to confide in him. “Everything’s fine,” I said, wiping my eyes and handing him the monogrammed terrycloth bathrobes from Lillian Vernon. “Wrap these.”

Ever since the pregnancy test, I had been a wreck. I kept flashing back on the abortion I had had at sixteen; this time would be no better, perhaps worse. Now I was a grown woman with a man who loved me and who would want nothing more than this child. I thought of how I could wrap up a copy of Dr. Spock and a pacifier and give it to him for Christmas. I would have loved to see his face. But I couldn’t do it.

That night Mickey didn’t come home from the Yellow Rose, my sense of the world had changed. I went from being a relatively brave, confident person to one who feels certain the people she loves are going to be snatched away any minute. It was like when my parents were mugged in New York City when I was little. Afterwards, my mother became absurdly fearful, acting like armed hoodlums were lurking around every corner of our suburban shopping mall. After Mickey died, just having Mike and Ricky ride bicycles and swim and run away from me in the grocery store was almost more risk than I could stand.

And it wasn’t only that, it was the whole thing. Any time I started picturing soft pastel onesies and tiny hands on my face, I’d click over to an image of me with black circles under my eyes in a trashed living room with a crying baby, screaming at two boys playing video games. Or Frank and I standing ankle-deep in dirty laundry, plastic diapers and pulverized Teddy Grahams, fighting over whose turn it was to be too tired.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love him. It was that I did.

“How was Christmas?” asked Marie when we met the morning after it, the rain that had begun Christmas afternoon still coming down. Sometimes I wimped out in bad weather but she never did, and this day I really wanted to see her.

“I’m pregnant,” I said.


“I guess this is what they mean by 90% effective.”

“Jesus. What does Frank say?”

“I haven’t told him.”

“Why not?”

I hesitated. “Because he’ll want to have the baby. It just seems cruel.”

She was silent for a minute as we slapped along in the wet dirt. “Why aren’t you wearing a hat in this rain?” she scolded. “Let’s stop at my trunk and I’ll get you one.” I said I didn’t need it but she insisted. We cut through the mud to her car and she found me a Boston Marathon cap among the Girl Scout cookies and file folders. I could barely get it on my head over the giant afro my hair became in weather like this.

“So let me see if I understand,” she said when we were back underway. “You’ve been dating this guy for two years. He’s practically a father to your sons. He worships the ground you walk on. How is it you don’t feel close enough to him to talk about this?”

“It’s not about close. Why should I tell him when there’s no possibility that I’ll do what he wants to do?”

“Are you so sure what he wants to do?”

“Well, Marie, remember how you thought he might give me a diamond for Christmas? It was worse. He gave me a big art book of Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child.”

“Really,” she said.

“And then he wanted to go through and show me all his favorites. It was about to kill me. It was like he knew.”

The hard-core jogging stroller moms passed us, rain protector panels zipped around their bundled infants.

“I wonder what your and Frank’s baby would be like,” Marie mused.

“Neglected. Due to senile parents.”

“Oh come on. Forty-two is young these days.”

“I’m a very old forty-two, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“So this really might be your last chance.”

“It better be,” I said. “Are you trying to convince me to have a baby?”

“I’m just trying to get you to think about it.”

“I’ve already thought about it so much my head is about to explode. I’m going to see if I can get my tubes tied while they’re in there with the godforsaken vacuum cleaner.”

My voice broke on that line, and we ran another half mile in silence. I was fighting tears.

“You know, Elisa,” she said, “your life is going to change no matter what you do. You can’t freeze everything right here.”

At that, I stopped suddenly in the middle of the track. “Go to the pro-life rally with Jake, why don’t you. I think three miles is enough for me in this weather.”

I turned and started to run away from her, but immediately collided with a fireplug cadet and almost fell in the mud.

“Careful, ma’am,” he said, catching my elbow.

When I got to the car, Marie was right behind me. “Feeling a little hormonal?” she asked.

“Do you have a cigarette?” I replied, knowing she did, right there in a pouch of that running belt. She belonged to the very elite group of distance runners who are also dedicated smokers.

She shook her head at me, then smiled. “Get in the truck.”

New Years Eve is hard for us bereaved spouses. All the major time landmarks are, even years out when you’re mostly fine. Birthday, death day, New Years — the days that make you look back and see how long it’s been. And there’s that missing person again, frozen in your head as they were on the day they left, and you just keep getting older and farther away.

Frank and I went out to a blues club the first New Years we were together, sat limply at a table in the back drinking, then left when the horns and the hilarity got to be too much.  He was as morose as I’d seen him. When I asked, he said he didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to dump on me, and got ready to leave. It’s not dumping, I pleaded, it’s what people who love each other do, but he wouldn’t listen. Mike is like this about Mickey — he just won’t talk about it, tries as hard as possible not to think about it, or at least to pretend he doesn’t.

The second year we stayed in with the boys and fell asleep waiting for the ball to drop on t.v., which was all in all a good move. But this year, they’d been invited to a slumber party, so we had accepted an invitation to a party at Melissa Carpenter’s. Melissa was a fiber artist who taught at our school. She lived near campus in a lemon yellow Victorian mansion, where she threw famous parties, attended by faculty, students, and local celebrities like Molly Ivins and Kinky Friedman.

Norah Jones was on the stereo and someone had made that artichoke dip I love.  Actually, all the food tasted great to me. I spent a quite a while in the kitchen stuffing my face and listening to a bizarre montage of conversation about recent movies and suicide bombings and a sexual harassment scandal that had broken that fall at our school, involving the football coach and several players. Sexual harassment law was one of my areas, but I was sick of talking about this case so before anyone could try to involve me in the discussion, I sneaked out of the kitchen with a piece of strawberry cheesecake to look for Frank.

He was on the couch with a female student on either side of him, a drink in one hand and the other stretched along the top of the couch behind the head of the one with pink hair. The Asian one had his glasses on. He seemed to be enjoying himself. Usually I didn’t mind this kind of thing but suddenly I felt very pregnant and very annoyed. I went over and stood in front of them, chomping my cheesecake.

“Hey. I was wondering where you went,” Frank said. “Girls, do you know Elisa? Elisa, this is Jinju and this is- ”

“Barb,” said Pink Hair. “My roommate has you for Media Law. She’s probably home studying right now, that class is so hard.”

“Yeah, I’m a bitch,” I said.

The girls giggled nervously.

“Frank, I hate to say this but I’m not feeling too well. I’m not going to make it much past midnight.”

“No problem,” he said, retracting his arm and half-standing up. “We can go right now.”

“It’s all right,” I said, “It’s 11:45 already. We can wait.”

I flounced away, expecting him to follow me, but he didn’t. Some oaf from my department slobbered all over me when the kissing started, and I was sure those girls were collecting theirs from Frank in the next room.

At home, I took off my heels and took out my contacts. Frank hadn’t come into the bedroom so I went out and found him in the kitchen, eating cold lasagna and drinking Irish whiskey.

“Can you pour me a little glass of that?” I said.

He gave me a long look. “You’re not even going to tell me, are you.”

“Tell you what.”

“That you’re pregnant.” He put a forkful of lasagna in his mouth and chewed it without taking his eyes off me. “I saw the test kit box in the trash, but I thought I should wait until you brought it up. When you didn’t say anything, at first I figured it must have been a false alarm. But it wasn’t, was it? You’re pregnant.”

No words were coming into my head. I studied the wood grain in the table.

“Or have you already had an abortion?”

“No, I —”

“But you’re going to.”

“Frank, I —”

“Is it that it’s not mine? Is it that you don’t trust me? What the hell is it?”

I continued studying the table. “It’s that I thought you would want to have it.”

He took this in for a minute.

“Did you think I would pressure you?”

I looked up at him then, pale and trembling in the fluorescent kitchen light, and what I saw pierced my heart. He looked haunted. And I knew how it felt, because I was too. “I’m not ready for this, Frank,” I said helplessly. “I liked how things were going.”

He twisted his mouth into a small smile. “I’m sure you did, because they’re not going anywhere. This is it. We’re not going to live together, we’re not going to get married, I’m not going to be the boys’ dad, and you’re not going to have this baby. You’re terrified and stingy and paralyzed but I’ve got such low expectations, we’re a perfect couple. Here,” he said, sliding the bottle across the counter toward me. “Knock yourself out. I’m going home.”

“Oh, Frank. It’s so late. Don’t go.”

He went to get his coat, leaving the lasagna dish and his dirty glass right where they were, I couldn’t help noticing.

I followed him to the front door and grabbed his arm. “Please.”

“You need me or you don’t need me, which is it?” His voice was cold.

“I need you,” I said, “you know that.”

“You have no faith,” he said.

“I didn’t know if you’d be here,” Marie said, when I showed up more than the usual five minutes late. It was seventy degrees and sunny again; we were both wearing shorts. The place was jammed with guilt-ridden holiday face-stuffers and new-leaf-turners. January 2nd tends to be like this.

“It’s Thursday, it’s 7:15, I’m here,” I said.

“How are you?” she said carefully.

“Still pregnant if that’s what you mean. And Frank knows.”

“You told him?”

“No, he found out.”


I recounted the events of the evening, up to his departure and the sleepless night I’d spent after it. “What a mess. I knew this would happen once he found out.”

“Knew what would happen?”

I paused a moment, trying to figure it out. “That I would get all confused,” I said.

She didn’t reply and I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. “What did you do for New Years?” I asked to change the subject.

“Kelly had a slumber party, so we hung out with the sixth-grade girls. Jake had a date, believe it or not.”

“Who with?” The old ladies passed us coming the other way, a new, large male friend puffing along a half-step behind them.

“Well, it’s kind of a story. A church story. Can you stand it?”

“Does it have formaldehyde fetuses in it?”

She told me about the candle ceremony they have at her church during the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, something all the kids do together, from little five-year olds all the way through high schoolers. The church is totally dark except for one child in the front holding a lighted candle. Meanwhile, though you can’t see it, all the other kids are filing in from the back of the church, softly singing “Silent Night,” making their way in two lines around the sides of the pews. They meet in the front, where each lights a taper from the main kid’s flame, then circles back so that the congregation ends up surrounded by candlelit, singing children.

Jake was the kid up front with the candle. And Marie really does not brag about her children, so I could see her actually struggling to tell me this. She said that there he was, her son, with the candle lighting his face, the only thing you could see in the church, her hyperactive, half-grown boy who is a pest and drives everyone nuts and gets in trouble at school, and he looked exactly like an angel. Jake is still small, with delicate bones and smooth skin and pale blond hair. Angelic could happen.

And she was not the only one so moved, she told me. One Stephanie Glatfelter, whom Jake was in love with since pre-school and long after, Stephanie who had rebuffed him so many times that he did finally give up on her, more or less, or at least took the little school photo of her off the wall and stuffed it in his underwear drawer and painted white-out over the places where he’d written her name on his binder, she was there too. She was one of the kids in line with the tapers. She came up that long aisle seeing only Jake’s radiant face, and she lit her candle from his.

“They started instant messaging that night and haven’t stopped since,” Marie said. “And she took him with her to a New Years Eve party. How’s that for the miracle of Christmas?”

“Pretty good,” I agreed. “This is the real reason I should have raised my kids religious. So they could get girls.”

“At least now he has a date for the pro-life rally,” she said, then flashed me one of her x-ray looks. “You know, if you need anything, you need me to come with you or drive you or anything, I’m there. No one can tell you what’s right about this except you. Not even Frank.”

Surely friendship is one of the mysteries of the universe. Like the appearance of butterflies, the taste of peaches, the possibility of simultaneous orgasm, any instance of beauty and pleasure that exceeds what evolution demands — you’ve got to wonder what these things are doing here. It does make it seem as if something out there takes a fond interest in us, not just as a species but as individuals. And if I confess, if I mend my ways, if I forgive myself, if I figure out how to raise my kids or how to live my life, it all happens on the trail puffing along. That’s my church. The Cathedral of the Blessed Smoking Marathon Runner.

Meanwhile, there was something about Stephanie Glatfelter and her vision of Jake’s face. How a sudden trick of illumination, holy candle or fluorescent kitchen light, makes you see a person in a different way, makes you feel something you thought you couldn’t feel, makes you say oh, what the hell.

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About Marion Winik

Marion Winik is the author of eight books of creative nonfiction and poetry, most recently The Glen Rock Book of The Dead (Counterpoint, 11/2008.) Her other works include Telling (Random House, 1994), a best-selling collection of personal essays; First Comes Love (Random House, 1996), a memoir now in development for motion-picture release; The Lunch-Box Chronicles (Random House, 1998); Rules for The Unruly (Simon and Schuster, 2001) and Above Us Only Sky (Seal Press, 2005.) She is also the author of two books of poetry.

Winik's essays and articles have been published in The New York Times Magazine, O, Salon, Real Simple, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. Her commentaries have been heard on All Things Considered since 1991, and are collected on the website. She was the 2008 "My Life As A Mom" columnist for Ladies Home Journal, and continues in 2009 as that publication's "Advice Lady."

Currently teaching writing at the University of Baltimore, Winik was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction and has been inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. She has appeared on the Today Show, Politically Incorrect and Oprah.

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