Opening Words from Sun. February 26 by Emily Stenberg

In May 2015 my new doctor gave me a personality test, on which I scored low in “spirituality.” Well, I don’t believe in God, I said. It didn’t have to be that. Oh, I attend the Ethical Society. But that wasn’t enough either.

He said it was about being connected to a larger world. Instead, I was stuck in Randall Jarrell’s “the dailiness of life.” I worked. At myself. At my job. At my marriage. At being a parent and friend. At being a daughter, sister, and citizen. When something bad happened, I retreated into myself and wondered Why.

In March 2015, two months before this appointment, my father died. He went into the hospital for a one-day procedure and never came home. I was in the ICU with my mom and sister when he was removed from life support. They went home to rest, and I was alone with him, terrified he would die before my mom returned. I didn’t have prayers. I didn’t have a God. So I put into practice the ritual I had — I sang to him the songs from my daughter’s bedtime. This filled a void for me — both the silence of the room and the vastness of the moment.

When my dad died the next morning, my mom was holding his hand and talking to a nurse. I was the only other person there, scrolling Facebook, because that’s what you do at 4 o’clock in the morning when you’re sitting in the dark.

My family did not have a funeral. For the rest of the week, we talked, laughed, and cried. We listened to music and looked at photos. And we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant, the 15 of us toasting him. Back in St. Louis, I binge watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and returned to work.

Since then, I’ve thought about what I was missing. As a child, I had a rosary, and I remember learning the prayers, the feel of the beads, and of having something to hold.

As a visitor to the Ethical Society, I’ve thought of it as a building. A place with nice people, values I support, and interesting programs, but I did not list humanism as my religion, and I have not sought counsel here.

My father’s death did not grant me Spirituality with a capital S, but it did help open up for me a growing need for roots or even just stronger neural pathways. And while I don’t have a prayer to whisper or a bead to rub, slowly and with practice I am finding something to hold — not just the people and this building but the space it occupies and the larger world it inhabits.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.