The Jesus Ragdoll

Contributor: Karen Lindsey

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Sheila had no particular fondness for statues, holy pictures, or other renditions of Jesus. Baby Jesus always looked so snarkily cute she found him wholly without charm. The handsome young white hippy looked smug, even when he was interacting with children: she had a sneaky feeling he was giving them bars of healthy snacks. Worst was the morbid near-corpse nailed to the cross, its sparse right ribs bleeding heavily.

Raised by vaguely Christian parents, she had a slight belief in God and the afterlife. When her kids were young she had a Christmas tree and an Easter egg hunt. When they grew up and left home, she abandoned the practices comfortably. Nor did she ever go to church, unless weddings or funerals required it. On the whole, she preferred the funerals: they were less noisy and the food was less ostentatious.

But the year her husband left her for a younger woman, her friends decided to make her holidays bright, whether she wanted them to be or not. “Sheila,” they’d say warmly, “holidays are always rough the first year.” In fact, they weren’t especially rough for her; neither she nor Ralph had cared much about them. She enjoyed them as days off work, allowing her to sit and read or watch old films on television. She was not even that devastated by the end of a marriage that had long since gone sour. But her friends meant well, so she tagged along with several of them to midnight mass at a small Catholic church nearby. At least the music would be good, she told herself.

The music was indeed good, played by a small but highly competent orchestra and a well-trained soprano and tenor. Jesus, of course, was inescapable, in all his baby-through-crucifix manifestations, but she was prepared to ignore them.

Looking around the church she noticed one quiet, unpeopled corner that harbored a large box of toys—evidently some day-care center worked here during the week. There were dolls and plush toys, some small dinosaurs and a few of the less violent action figures. (It amused her to see Jane Austin among them.) Inevitably there was the little kiddy crèche, with its sadly smiling velcro-ed Virgin and its rather grim Joseph, plus assorted angels, shepherds, and barnyard animals. But it was the toy on the shelf above the crèche that grabbed her attention. This was the oddest Jesus figure she’d ever seen—a ragdoll that, dressed and coiffed differently, could easily be a Raggedy Andy, like the one she’d had as a kid. But this fellow had brown, shoulder length hair and a beard; he wore sandals and an Arab-y sort of robe, and his painted eyes had the saddest expression she’d ever seen.

He was totally incongruous. The size of a living baby, he would have looked perfect in the church’s crèche, except that he was clearly no infant. Yet there was nothing of pedant or martyr about him. It seemed that the cloth artist had captured the various images of Jesus in one piece; this God was his own trinity, at one with all human pain, from the cry of the soggy-diapered baby to the abandonment of a lover and on through the ultimate agony of death. The eyes could weep in a crib or in Gethsemane; yet the mouth, covered by its mustache, was nearly smiling. She could not look away from the creature.

As the mass ended, and people walked out of various aisles to speak with the priest or collect their altar boys or gather chatting in little groups, Sheila slipped away from her friends toward the dark corner of the play area. With her arm beneath its neck, she lifted the ragdoll as tenderly as if it were a newborn infant, and cradled it in her arms for a few minutes. Around her, some children were singing an old hymn, whose lyrics she ignored but whose soft sound she picked up—-“Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” she thought it was called. The music combined lullaby and dirge with a small touch of solemn pleasure, and she hummed it to the ragdoll in her arms. Quietly then she put him down and rejoined her friends. She would come back here: perhaps at Easter, perhaps not until next Christmas. She knew the Jesus doll would be waiting for her. As she left the church, she wondered if there would be any places selling Christmas trees open.


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Old writer trying genres new to me
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3 Responses to this post

  1. Sylvia Rapoport. on December 25, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    A gentle reminder how something small and unexpected can change our lives if we let it.

  2. Marcia Deihl on December 25, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    Nice. "Old writer trying new things, 'ey? No, you're a timeless writer writing artful things!

  3. Anonymous on December 25, 2013 at 5:50 PM

    Sweet story. SO glad to read it here.

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