I recently received some holy water — a gift I fear I may not have properly appreciated — and, having left the jug on our porch to freeze, I have begun to suspect that I might be suffering the consequences of sacrilege.
“What’s with that bubbly water?” my 4-year-old daughter asked the other day when she spied the plastic jug and its solid contents still standing near our front door.
“Not bubbly water. Holy water.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jane said. “Well, what’s with it?”
What was with it, indeed, I wondered while recounting to my daughter for the fifth time the story of how I wandered into the Bala Cynwyd Post Office more than a week ago to mail belated holiday cards and spotted a bearded man in Crocs heaving an unwieldy box atop the scale.
“What’s in there?” the clerk asked, eyeing what was apparently registering at an unusual weight. “You know you can’t send liquid.”
“It’s five gallons of holy water,” the gentleman replied, unperturbed, even after her warning that his package might be returned, and his handing over more than $60 for postage.
I, myself, was feeling a bit pinched for cash of late, after paying an obscene sum to exterminators to fight a losing battle against the flying squirrels inhabiting our 110-year-old house. Furthermore, we had just found out that our last-ditch hope to get rid of the critters was to tear up our deck, let the exterminator seal up any holes he might find underneath and then rebuild the structure. An $11,000 quote for the work had arrived via email that morning. Our twins had celebrated their 8th birthday five days before Christmas. And the price tags for the presents were still glaring up at me from my unpaid credit card bill.
These financial worries were impeding my festive spirit, which might account for my procrastination in sending out our holiday greetings. As I stood at a counter despondently stamping my envelopes, the man’s talk of “holy water” had an appealing ring. And so I offered to help him load his precious case onto a dolly the postal clerk had wheeled out in order to save her own back.
“Where do you get holy water around here?” I inquired, eliciting an intricate tale I had trouble following, one that involved a priest in Sri Lanka, a well in Texas and a faithful group of distributors somewhere in Overbrook. He travels once a year from Missouri to Philadelphia to collect this medicinal liquid ship back home to treat his kidney problems. But before I could ask any follow-up questions, he bustled out to his car and back in again, carrying a jug for me.
“You have to believe in something,” he said, hurrying back out before I, a longtime atheist, could utter sufficient thanks or ask exactly how I might use the mystical water.
“You never know what you’re going to get at the post office,” the clerk said.
Suddenly carried away with my good fortune, I texted a friend.
“Someone just gave me a gallon of holy water!”
“Save some for me!” she responded. “I could use some magical potion!”
Things get worse
And then, without further ceremony, I deposited my sacred cargo in my trunk and forgot about it until a few days later, when I realized it was leaking all over my groceries. So I decided to leave the bottle on my front porch, not quite sure what else to do with it and feeling superstitious about throwing it away.
By then, circumstances at home had turned grimmer. The flying squirrels were keeping up their nighttime clamors inside our walls, while we were trying to figure out if we could remove sections of our deck without completely destroying it and still battling the exterminating company over payment for the unresolved situation.
My best friend in California was advising us to adopt some feral cats.
In the meantime, my 8-year-old son’s scalp had begun to itch so intensely that late Saturday evening I placed a panicked call to the Center for Lice Control after our pediatrician’s nurse had told me over the phone that he was most likely infested.
“I’m really scared!” Griffin wailed. “I don’t want bugs crawling on my head!”
“Stop being a baby!” his twin sister scolded, though she, too, was soon in tears when the woman from the center started picking through my children’s hair with her nit comb.
By some undeserved miracle, she declared us lice free, but Griffin still kept me up most of that night with his mysterious itching. And, wrung out the following morning, I started to suspect that our trail of tribulations might have something to do with the frozen holy water on my front step.
I wondered whether holy water would still be holy after it had thawed, figuring I had nothing to lose by bringing in the jug and placing it in our kitchen sink. After all, it wouldn’t hurt to use it to anoint the roof and deck and possibly my son’s scalp.
And as I waited for it to return to its liquid form, I remembered that much graver problems plagued the world than flying squirrels and lice scares — silently sending out thanks to the anonymous man with failing kidneys, hoping that he had found succor in his holy waters, grateful for his generosity in sharing with me something he so cherished.