Archive | March 2013

Good Friday

A Brief Resurrection
By MARY JOHNSON
Published: March 29, 2013

I was sitting next to my husband in our neighborhood pub on a spring afternoon, munching on fish and chips. I reached for my beer and looked out the window, and there he was: a 30-something fellow in a scruffy beard. My ex-husband.

I felt my breath catch, my heart race. What was he thinking, showing up in my town, the New England city that felt so free because it held no memories of him? As he passed the window, his red robe slipped a little, revealing his collarbone. He was weighed down, lugging a cross along Main Street. Through the glass, I heard a familiar hymn: “At the cross, her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, for our Savior, crucified.”

It was Mother Teresa who introduced me to the concept of Jesus as my husband. I was 19. Until then, I’d thought of him more as model or partner or friend. But she insisted. On the day in 1980 when I walked down the aisle to take my first vows, the organ blasting, my sisters carrying flowers, she had written those words on a little card for me beneath the face of Jesus. “Sister Donata” — my nun name — “you are the spouse of Jesus Crucified.”

Countless times I’d sat at Mother Teresa’s feet and watched her face take on the glow of a woman in love, heard her repeat: “Sisters, no one has ever loved you as Jesus loves you, and no one ever will. Never allow anyone to separate you from the love of Christ.”

I thought I was over all that — but there it was, a tightness in my throat, a pulling in my chest. Something in me still longed for those years when I worked and prayed and laughed beside my sisters as we made the world a better place.

It was Good Friday. How could I have forgotten? During my 20 years as a nun, I would have eaten only a crust of hard bread on Good Friday morning, out of respect for the suffering of my mystical spouse. Though I’d since left the church, I dropped my napkin and stood, simply unable to do otherwise. I left my coat and my gloves and my real husband and ran from the pub.

A crowd had formed on the sidewalk between Jesus at the front and the priests trailing behind. I looked over the shoulder of a gray-haired woman, but two tall teenagers blocked my view. I was frantic to see the man in the robe.

This was crazy, and I knew it. He was no Jesus — he was a plumber or a lawyer or some guy who worked in a convenience store, a parishioner who grew his beard all winter so he could carry a cross down Main Street on a nippy spring day. I didn’t even believe in Jesus anymore. Yet here I was, an atheist searching for the Messiah in the crowd.

Had Jesus forgiven me? I wondered, in spite of myself. Would he take me back?

I had sinned. Or that’s what they called it. I fell in love with a sister, then with a priest. I sought consolation and friendship from others when a nun should seek only Jesus.

But I hadn’t left the convent because of a scandal — I’d cut myself off from my lovers by then. I left because I couldn’t bear being forbidden to think my own thoughts, couldn’t survive in a group that valued conformity and obedience over creativity. Truth be told, my irreconcilable differences had been more with my in-laws, the sister-wives, than with my ex.

Yet, 12 years after my spiritual divorce, I found myself shivering on Main Street, repeating, “Lord, have mercy,” even though the things I felt guilty about at that moment were things I no longer considered sinful, like forgetting Good Friday and loving a human husband. What was I doing here? The hymns and the pageantry still held a certain appeal, the sense of being part of something larger than myself, but no way was I trading my hard-won freedom for a mystical thrill. Luke, my flesh-and-blood husband, was back in the pub, waiting quietly for me while I revisited my past.

I had to let Jesus go again. I had to let the sisters go. I thought I had let them loose long before, but they had clung somewhere deep inside, the way those we love somehow become part of us.

I stood on the sidewalk and allowed the crowd to pass around me. I’d grown tired of death and resurrection, bells and incense. I wanted fish and chips and beer. I wanted the half-grin on my husband’s face when I re-entered the bar. I wanted Friday to be Friday, nothing more.

Mary Johnson is creative director of retreats for A Room of Her Own Foundation. She is the author of a memoir, “An Unquenchable Thirst.”

E-mail submissions for Lives to lives@nytimes.com. Because of the volume of e-mail, the magazine cannot respond to every submission.

Tattoo and honour to RED

20130328-005124.jpg

In a Room Full of Naked Koreans, Margaret Cho’s Body Is an Unwelcome Sight
Margaret Cho
This is a really beautiful Korean spa in Los Angeles called Aroma Spa & Sports. Korean spas are wonderful, and they hold a special place in my heart. I have been going to the jimjilbang since I was a little girl in Korea. You can have a bath and a scrub and a sauna and usually a meal and other spa treatments if you like, and aroma is special because there’s a huge swimming pool, a state of the art gym and a golf range on the top floor.

I went this morning, had a gorgeous swim in the pool, then went downstairs to have a soak, scrub and sauna. As soon as I walked into the locker room, I felt uncomfortable. I guess I should mention here, Korean spas are, uh — well, clothing optional is not the right thing to call them. It’s more clothing non-optional, in that everyone is naked.
Perhaps I do get stared at a lot because I am a heavily tattooed woman, but I am also a Korean woman, and I feel I have the right to be naked in the Korean spa with other Korean women. I don’t feel shame that my skin is decorated. My tattoos are my glory. I am happy in my skin and I am not sure what to say when others are not happy with my skin.

I walked around from pool to pool, and I kept getting dirty looks from the ladies there. They would talk about me very negatively in Korean, and I just spoke loudly in Korean –- not back at them, but nicely –- saying “ahhh Jotah!” which means “this feels good” –- really at no one -– but just to show that I could understand what they were saying and they weren’t getting away with anything.

I walked into the huge sauna, naked, and sat there watching golf on tv –- they have a fucking tv in the sauna. How sweet is that? A few seconds later, a fully clothed young woman, I am guessing the manager of Aroma Spa, came into the sauna, looked around and walked back out. Then, I guess she mustered up the courage and came in again and asked me if I would come outside with her, as the sauna was too hot for her as she was fully dressed.

I walked out to next to the pools with her, and she sat me down on the wet bench and tried to tell me, very apologetically that I was making the women there upset with my heavily tattooed body. She was really sorry and embarrassed about it, and I felt bad, but I was actually enraged.

This is something I have never done -– I actually said, in Korean “Do you know who I am? I am MARGARET CHO!” She realized who I was, and she was horrified! She said she did know me, and had seen me and was familiar with my work, and she apologized even more profusely and tried to explain that in Korean culture, tattoos are very taboo and my body was upsetting everyone there. I told her I was aware of that, but that I really wanted to enjoy the spa and my treatments and I was going to pay for them, just like everyone else there (it’s pricey, by the way). She asked if I could please wear something, anything -– a towel or something –- and cover myself so that I wouldn’t frighten anyone with my body.

She brought me a robe and arranged for some nice extras in my treatments, by way of apology, or uh, whatever.

Even after donning a robe, I was still being given heavy duty Korean woman stinkeye as I moved from sauna to hot tub to pool. I would get into the pools, trying to stay as clothed as possible until the last minute, just trying to get my body into the water and all the Korean stinkeye women would all get out.

This was too much to bear, and I knew I had to get out of there before I got all “OLDBOY” on them, as I watch too many Korean gangster movies and can threaten a bitch in Korean harsher than Choi Min Sik on a bad day.

I restrained myself from saying “joo-goo lae?” which loosely translated means, “you want to die?” I didn’t say it. I thought it. but I didn’t say it.

I left the spa, way tenser than when I came in, which is the opposite of what should happen in a spa. I paid at the counter, and the manager and some clerks were there who were extremely sweet and apologetic and I gave like a 40% gratuity or something because I didn’t want them to be upset.

I told them that I really wanted to join, but I felt so weird about how I was treated. I told them that Korean culture is one thing, but this place is in Los Angeles. We are not in Korea right now. This is America. And it’s not like I enjoyed looking at their bodies that much. These were all women of various sizes and shapes and some, like me, bore the marks of a difficult life. My tattoos represent much of the pain and suffering I have endured. They are part of me, just like my scars, my fat, my eternal struggle with gravity. None of our bodies are ‘perfect’. We live in them. They aren’t supposed to be ‘perfect’. We are just us, perceived flaws and all. I am just only myself. I like a good scrub and a sauna, especially when you can watch Tiger Woods while it’s all going down.

Their intolerance viewing my nakedness –- as if it was some kind of an assault on their senses, like my ass was a weapon – made me furious in a way I can’t really even express with words -– and that for me is quite impressive. This bitch always has some shit to say.

I guess it comes down to this -– I deserve better.

I brought the first Korean American family to television. I have influenced a generation of Asian American comedians, artists, musicians, actors, authors -– many, many people to do what they dreamed of doing, not letting their race and the lack of Asian Americans in the media stop them. If anything, I understand Korean culture better than most, because I have had to fight against much of its homophobia, sexism, racism –- all the while trying to maintain my fierce ethnic pride. I struggle with the language so that I can be better understood. I try to communicate my frustrations in Korean so that I can enhance my relationship with my identity, my family, my parents homeland.

I deserve to be naked if I want to.

P.S. I saw a heavily tattooed Korean man in the gym area, and I doubt he was asked to cover up at all.

Margaret Cho is a comedian, actress, and all-around badass.
Photo by MissMissy Photography.