As in real life, faith and belief in God and spiritual growth play a major role in Water Signs, particularly in the character development of the book’s heroine, Madeline. Like me, she was brought up in a traditional, Catholic home where the family attended weekly mass together, celebrated sacramental milestones (First Holy Communion, Confirmation, etc) and sent their children to parochial school. One of the things for which I am most grateful to this very day is the solid foundation of faith my parents gave me — along with clear boundaries of discipline. While I never thought of them as being overly strict or too lenient, my guess is that by today’s standards, most kids would view them as “out of touch”.
Given the prevalence of current cultural problems like drug and alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and generally out-of-control, irresponsible behavior, I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have grown up with parents who cared enough to set and enforce the rules. This responsibility mainly fell onto my mom, since my dad’s work as a surgeon often kept him out of the house during the after-school hours of dinner, homework and play time. Being a strong, independent and determined woman, mom was never one to scold, “Just wait until your father gets home!” when one of us was in need of severe reprimanding. Whenever there was a need for punishment (which, in truth, was rare as we were all pretty good kids most of the time), she had no qualms dispensing it. For me, one warning look from my mother was typically enough to change my behavior. I knew she meant business.
But I also knew her as not only disciplinarian, but as ever-willing helper with school-work, homeroom mother, Home & School Association President, confidante and comforter. Perhaps most importantly, she was also my first spiritual guide who taught me how to make the Sign of the Cross and recite prayers like the Our Father. And the values imparted in the home were reinforced through 18 years of Catholic schooling — from Montessori to university.
However, our traditional beliefs never stopped us from doing something that I now know many Christians consider the work of the Devil — reading a daily horoscope. Along with the crossword puzzle, my mother and I used to take great delight in checking out that day’s forecast for Aries and Pisces, our respective signs. Never did either of us think of it as anything more than fun entertainment, kind of like a thought for the day. And in no way did it change our beliefs about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; it was simply an enjoyable activity that became part of our morning routine.
In the novel, the same is true for Madeline. Thus, when she unexpectedly makes Ken’s acquaintance at the Somers Point dance club in Chapter One, she takes no offense when he expresses his delight upon discovering that they are both Pisces. He’s further intrigued to learn that not only do they share the same sign, but also the same exact birthday, down to the year. As an author, I gave my two main characters the same date of birth to enhance the “star-crossed”, “soul-mate” aspect of the novel, as if to suggest that God purposely brought these two souls into the world simultaneously so that they could experience life in a physical body and aid in each other’s spiritual growth while on Earth. Once they’d finally met each other for seemingly the first time (at least at the physical level), this purpose could be fulfilled. In real-life, “Ken” and I are both Pisces born in the same year, but about two weeks apart.
The Pisces symbol also reflects real life significance in terms of Madeline’s grandmother. In a previous post, I revealed that March 7 — the shared birthday of Ken and Madeline — was actually my maternal grandmother’s birthday. I’d enjoyed an especially close bond with her, having been born several months after my grandfather’s death and thus provided her a much-needed, joyful distraction from bereavement and sorrow. According to my mom, it was almost as if I were her baby, given the way she constantly doted over me. Although she died quite traumatically a month before I turned seven, my remembrances of her are crystal-clear, thanks to the close bond we’d shared, and the many wonderful hours we’d spent together. “Nanny” epitomized everything a grandmother should be: loving, warm, caring and comforting. A stickler for looking her best, she always had her hair done, and wore nice dresses with matching pearl necklaces and earrings. Her best accessories, however, were her ever-present smile and joyful disposition.
Which brings me to perhaps the most controversial element of the book, which is also an event straight out of real life. While still battling panic and anxiety disorder — in spite of embracing just about every known remedy from prayer and meditation to Yoga and exercise — I bumped into a very interesting woman at a monthly business/networking meeting. Trained in what is known in military circles as “remote viewing”, she was in reality what most civilians call a psychic — and many Christians a “handmaiden of the Devil”, although upon first sight, she looked like just another no-nonsense businesswoman.
When Maddy meets Ann Claire in the novel, it’s an accurate retelling of my own experience. Thus, when Ann accurately calls out Maddy’s guilt for “leaving behind a middle brother who is handicapped” (my brother Ralph who is in-between oldest son, Mark, and youngest son, Paul), and notes that she is still “in mourning” for a grandmother who’d passed away over 20 years prior, it’s an example of fact that has only been fictionalized marginally. I might have changed the names and altered the descriptions a bit, but the basic events are 100% true, including the fact that Maddy awakes one morning — six months after a private reading with Ann — to discover that for the first time in years, her head is clear, her stomach is calm and that the black cloud that seemed to relentlessly hang over her head has completely dissipated:
And exactly six months later, Maddy awoke with a clear head, a calm stomach and an overall feeling of excellent health for the first time in nearly eight years. It was as if a black cloud had finally been lifted, leaving a clear, blue sky and a brilliant rainbow in its place. Overcome with sheer gratitude, joy and relief, Madeline called Ann to share the wonderful news, exclaiming, “Ann, thank God I ran into you that night! I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t — I was at my wits’ end!”
“Madeline,” she replied dryly, “You manifested me into your life, don’t you know that? God led you to me, based on your own intentions.”
As was true for me at the time, Madeline doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of that statement until much later, when she takes a course at Unity Church in Delray Beach. She’d been reading Daily Word faithfully for years, having been gifted a subscription by her mother, and had even called their toll-free prayer line on many occasions, without really knowing anything more about the organization. That would change upon meeting the local minister and taking a few classes.
More thoughts on God and spirituality in my next post.