Little Theresa had been an ordinary teenaged girl, but then she saw the stars.
The stars had always been there, obscured by Connecticut trees; but she had never been to the beach at night, before that night. She had been to the beach when her mother took her, along with the crowds, carrying their beach towels and playing with a Frisbee; when the sea was a gentle playmate, the sand, a new toy, and the sky, a watchful parent. She had never been to the beach at night, until one night, she was. Then she saw the stars for what they really were, some things that were totally indifferent to her.
She had thought she was someone important, after all. She was a pretty girl, a child of God, someone who gets taken care of. But the stars didn’t care. They went on blinking as if she wasn’t there.
It wasn’t just the stars that were aloof, the sand was, also. The sand would move under her print, but it was just as happy to move back, should the water wipe it clean. The sea that evening was no longer a gentle giant, reaching forth to lick her legs and then shyly withdrawing back into itself; the sea was a raging beast which would eliminate her without a single thought if she got in its way.
At first she thought it was the night that did this to the stars, the sand, and the sea. Something about the night made everything so heartless; but she realized that Night followed the dictates of Time. Time couldn’t care less for her, as it went on and on, day in and day out, whether she was there or not, bringing the indifferent stars into being each day.
Little Theresa might have gone back home and left the stars, the sand, and the sea to the night and let Time devour them all, but her parents had been fighting. She had left to get out of reach, not only of their yelling, but also whatever it was that transformed love to indifference. It wasn’t the hate they had for each other that troubled her, it was the indifference they both had for her that would make them yell at each other in front of her, not caring how she felt.
Her parents, in their indifference, were no different from the stars or the sand or the sea or Time in their indifference. It was indifference she had discovered that night when she saw the stars, an indifference that would change her forever, even though Time wore on, day arrived, the stars withdrew, the sand sparkled in the sun, and the beach repopulated with beach towels, Frisbees, and little girls playing in the waves. Even though her mother made her breakfast in the morning and, when he went to work, kissed her father goodbye. Even though everything should have been better in the morning, it was not, for she had seen the truth behind the bright smiles, that she was just an object in an indifferent universe of objects, and had no claim to special regard.
Little Theresa arrived at this true knowledge of the nature of the stars, the sand, the sea, Time, and her parents not only by looking at them, but by interacting with them. She spoke to her parents when they were fighting, but they went on fighting. She screamed at the stars and threw sand at the sea, for she was enraged by their indifference. The stars went right on blinking as if they couldn’t hear. The sea registered small splashes but went right on being the sea, and even the sand she threw would, in time, make it back to where she picked it up. It was as if she had no voice in the roar and no presence in the vast emptiness.
For some time afterwards, nothing escaped Little Theresa’s disapproval. She found the whole world to be indifferent. Gravity pulled everything down whether it wanted to or not. Heat heated everything up. She took physics in school and found in its formulas and principles more evidence of callous detachment, the uncaring machinery of the universe. Math repeated the same lesson, squared. Gym was wordless physics. English was fairy tales told to children so they wouldn’t notice indifference. History might have told her the truth, but it repeated the lie that there were great men and forgot the many crushed under the wheels of greatness. Little Theresa, a future saint, even turned on her Sunday school teacher, for she hadn’t become saintly, yet. No, the future saint said, God was not love. God, if He even existed, presided over indifference.
Little Theresa might have gone on like this and progressed from being a gloomy teenager to a nihilistic college student. She might have become a hard bitten business woman with no thought of anyone but herself. She could have taught herself to pretend to care; but, as it worked out, she didn’t have to. Something happened which was an important exception to universal indifference. She saw, for the first time, the nape of a neck.
The nape belonged to a new girl who had forgotten her lunch. Little Theresa had taken up wearing black clothes, the better to blend into the night. She dyed her hair black, and wore it to cover her face. She had to cover her face to feign detatchment; for, if the world was going to be indifferent, she would pretend to be, also. It was not that she thought anyone would notice her face and tease her; she knew they would not, for they were indifferent; but she would know and would be out of step with the world.
From behind her hair, Little Theresa studied the face of The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch. When she thought someone was looking, the face of The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch said she didn’t care. I’m indifferent, the face said. Just like the stars, just like the sea, I don’t need to have anything to eat and I don’t care if I sit alone. When she didn’t think anyone was watching, the face revealed that she cared very much.
If Little Theresa had just seen the face, she would have gone on just as before, but she also saw the nape of the girl’s neck. The face told an inconsistent story, so Little Theresa could go right on believing what she tended to believe. But, The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch could not conceal the expression on the nape of her neck. The nape said, I’m vulnerable, I’m exposed, I can be hurt. I can’t see what’s coming behind me, so my safety is up to you.
The nape changed everything for Little Theresa, just as the stars had before. She had found something in the universe other than indifference, both the nape and her response to it. The nape of her neck was so defenseless, she wanted to protect the girl. Little Theresa knew she had a nape of the neck, too. She felt responsible. She moved over, said hello, and gave her the rest of her sandwich.
This simple gesture was the beginning of Little Theresa’s sainthood. From that moment on, she pulled the hair out from her eyes and looked at people full in the face. She had always been confused about the face, but the nape of the neck taught her what to believe. From that day on, she saw the need written on the face, the weakness, the vulnerability; she learned to pay attention and, paying attention, she saw the truth.
The stars, the sand, the sea, time, and even her parents may be indifferent; perhaps they, like the girl, feigned indifference. Perhaps the stars, the sand, and the sea were the hair in front of God’s face. Behind that hair, God cared very much. Perhaps the The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch was the nape of God’s neck: the way that God revealed His vulnerability, exposure, and willingness to be hurt.
That’s how Little Theresa went from being an ordinary teenage girl to the extraordinary saint she is today. Caring was the only thing that makes sense to her; everything else was meaningless.