I didn’t want to be Sasha’s godmother because I know anything of god. I wanted to be her godmother because I love my friend, I love her child, and I wanted a tangible connection to them.
Some days I believe in god and some days I don’t, but when my best friend Julie’s daughter, Sasha, was born, I wanted to be her godmother.
I want to believe in god but my definition of god is malleable and mood-based. I didn’t want to be Sasha’s godmother because I know anything of god. I wanted to be her godmother because I love my friend, and I love her children, and I wanted a tangible connection to them. I wanted a label. I wanted to be part of their family.
Julie and I both grew up Catholic but the religion of our youth was just something we had to do. For so many of us, that is what religion is—this series of prayers and actions and responses that we have memorized, the ritual of kneeling and praying, and the connection you feel to everyone else who also knows how to do these things and recite these words. You are in an exclusive club. You speak the same language. You have the same guilt-based fantasies of how you will be punished for your sins.
You do this because your parents did, and their grandparents, and then you wonder about your own children. Do I want to have my baby baptized? Do I make them go to Sunday school? Oh god, does that mean I have to start going to church again? Is it helpful at least to give them something to rebel against?
In the weeks before Sasha’s baptism, I searched online for what a godmother is supposed to do. There are some intense Catholic forums out there. A godmother is supposed to show a child the way to god. Most advice went so far as to say that if you cannot show the path to god, you should recuse yourself. I was to buy a cross. The day before the baptism I learned I was supposed to buy the dress. I don’t know if I did the right things.
At Sasha’s baptism, the priest was not surprised that very few people knew the prayers, or knew what to do or where to stand. He understood this was about the ritual and most people are not devout Christians. (But let’s be honest, many devout Christians are far from Christian.) This baptism was not about god. It was about friends and family who were happy for this family and their new baby.
When Julie asked me to be Sasha’s godmother, of course I thought of my own godmother. I called her Aunt Danny and I thought she was the coolest, mostly because she remembered my birthday every year, and she made me feel cared for even if long stretches went by without seeing her.
Aunt Danny bought me hand-stitched dresses from France that my mother wouldn’t let me wear because they were too beautiful and I might spill juice on them. But sometimes my mother and I laid the dresses out on the bed and touched their delicate lines. My godmother brushed my hair with her fingers, and in the summer we laid out on the beach, our feet in the sand. In restaurants she wouldn’t let anyone touch the flowers until we all guessed if they were real or not. She had wild, tight curly hair exactly like mine—hair neither of my parents had—so I assumed I inherited it from her.
We never talked about religion or god and she probably didn’t go to church. She and I are not attached in those ways, or even by blood. Aunt Danny is attached to me because my parents picked her to be this extra special person. I still have the last birthday card she mailed me in 2001, the year she died in the World Trade Center.
Maybe I didn’t realize I was supposed to buy a poofy white dress, and maybe I didn’t buy the right sort of cross, and maybe I believe the bible is a lovely book of myths, and maybe I am wary of all religion. But it is crazy to recuse yourself of being a godparent because you don’t believe the stories are true. I believe there is something lovely about reciting prayers, crossing yourself with holy water, worshiping ancient stories, and standing in line to receive communion, though I can never remember how to hold my hands to receive the small wafer. I think somewhere along the line, I decided it didn’t matter. I can hold my hands however I want.
I choose to believe the label “godmother” means something. I was connected to my godmother by the ceremony, and the birthday cards, and the word itself. She wanted to be that for me. I don’t believe in the holiness of the water fountain the priest dunked Sasha’s head into, but I believe in my love for my friend and her daughter. And I believe that’s enough.
Sara Finnerty’s stories and essays have been published in Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, HTMLGIANT, Frequencies, The Weeklings, Burrow Press Review, and others. She is the co-curator of The Griffith Park Storytelling Series and currently lives in Los Angeles.