In second grade my mom put me in an art class taught by a fluffy-haired blonde who took us to a museum to sketch a Madonna with child. Before we began, our teacher asked us what we noticed about the painting. I raised my hand.
“She has a golden crown.”
“It’s a halo, not a crown,” my friend Sarah corrected.
“I want one,” I said.
“You can’t have one,” she said. “Only angels have them. Or if you die and go to heaven.”
I didn’t like those options.
A few years ago my mom brought me a folder of work from elementary school, and I saw my sketch. I had drawn the halo with a coppery metallic crayon on white paper. Framed in blue cardstock, it has a pink tag that reads, Jessica Eddings, Age 7.5.
My drawing had been in an art show, which I had forgotten, but suddenly fragments of memory appeared in my mind. Carefully stepping in shiny, patent leather shoes on creaky oaken floors, I wore white tights and a light blue dress with lambs smocked on the front; my big black bangs framed by pearl barrettes.
I still don’t remember my art being in the show.
What I remember clearly is struggling in my math class and thinking that I was stupid. That the shy curly-haired boy who sat on my left sent me a love note that had been written for him by a middle-schooler and what it said frightened me. That my teacher wore suntan colored pantyhose with a gold ankle bracelet underneath and made sarcastic jokes I didn’t understand. I was afraid to ask her a question.
I remember coming home and telling my mother that I wasn’t good at anything.
“Yes you are,” she said. “You are good at art and reading and music and writing stories.”
“Well, I’m not good at anything important for the world.”
“You are good at all of the things that make the world worth living in,” she said.
Now I’m grownup, and I’m married to a surgeon. A man who literally saves lives daily. And his job seems important for the world.
Last year I was pregnant. But the doctors told my husband and me that our baby had a problem. That she would be deformed. That she might be mentally retarded. That she might not grow. Or she might—she might grow unevenly and asymmetrically.
So my husband tried to get life insurance because we were having a baby with special needs, and I quit my job to take care of her. But my husband couldn’t get insurance because he has a congenital heart defect.
So he went to his doctor so she could write the insurance company a letter. To say, “Please. He’s healthy. Really healthy.” And she did, but she also said, “By the way, you’re going to need open heart surgery again. Actually, you might need it now. We can’t really know.”
It was a shitty summer.
I cried and cried and didn’t talk to anyone, but just lay in bed and cried because I couldn’t do anything important. I couldn’t save any lives. I couldn’t fix my baby. I couldn’t fix my husband’s heart.
And in my helplessness I prayed to God in heaven.
And then I started thinking about how I wouldn’t have any problems in heaven: no math, no deformities, no heart surgeries.
But wait, no heart surgery? Actually, no surgeries at all!
“My husband will be unemployed in heaven!” I told myself. I could feel my lip twitch and push the sides of my mouth up just a little. It wasn’t a kind smile—more of the ha-ha type.
I lay under the sheets with my giant pregnant belly and thought about all of the other people who would be unemployed in heaven: doctors, lawyers, criminal investigators, businessmen and women, politicians—people who do things that are important for the world.
And then I considered who would have a job in heaven: musicians, artists, calligraphers, composers, writers, gardeners, sculptors, dancers, architects, maybe chefs, too. And I smiled a nicer kind of smile and quit crying for a little bit.
I still struggle with math. My husband still needs heart surgery, and no one knows when or how exactly.
Miraculously, our baby was born healthy—the deformities we saw on the sonogram a week before her arrival disappeared when she entered this world.
And now I grasp for grace in all forms: second grade art classes, moms, medical miracles, a surgeon’s hands.
Nothing is to be disparaged or under-appreciated—even my own small attempts. For the things that make the world worth living in do so because they show us the promise to come.
Perhaps I do not have a halo. But I can draw one.
This post originally appeared at Good Letters on August 21, 2012.
Image depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
+ Click here to make a donation.
+ Click here to subscribe to Image.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Jessica Eddings-Roeser
Jessica Eddings-Roeser is a writer and mother who currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and children. While she has a background in education, she is presently home and writing while her family sleeps. Jessica has an MFA from Seattle Pacific University, and has work in Rock and Sling, Magical Teaching, and Art House America.