What haunted Gordon as he thought about it that night, that wet night in the cabin with Donna and the kids, was what he remembered of The Godfather, a scene in which a killing took place at the exact time a mobster who set it up was creating an alibi by having his son baptized--terrifying, ugly murder occurring while the boss stood on the front steps of a giant Gothic cathedral for a religious ceremony as empty as a tinkling cymbal.
But after all, he thought, how many of the couples whose kids I’ve baptized were really thinking through the vows at all? How often did people simply baptize their children because, like fireworks on Independence Day, it’s such a good thing to do? What would be the difference anyway?--he thought.
And isn’t baptism just a promise? The water’s not holy. The janitor takes it out of the restroom. And don’t we all break promises? Wasn’t it true of any parent that the pledges of honor and perfect parenting were all broken sometime? We all have sinned, after all, every one of us. Did baptism mean anything really--it is nothing more than a sign and symbol.
Would his sprinkling tidal waters on his nephew’s head somehow destroy God’s own pledge? Was there anything a man or woman could do to a child or his parents that would somehow affect God’s grace? If God wanted this child was there any question but that Christ’s own cleansing mercies would wash over him?
Isn’t my brother’s soul worth it?
“You know what your father would say.” Gordon’s mother sat on a picnic table working a crossword puzzle, the three youngest kids puttering on the water’s edge.
“But this is his son,” Gordon said.
“What makes you think that would make any difference?” she said.
“Maybe it should,” he told her.
They were alone, all the others out biking on the roads toward the pass. Just Grandma, the three littlest kids, and Gordon, who had told the rest he would catch up.
“We’re not a church,” she said, “we’re a family.”
“We’re a church, Mother,” he said. “We’re believers who happen to be a family.”
She slapped the opened magazine lightly against the edge of the table. “Seems to me your mind’s already made up,” she told him.
“Are you with me?” he said.
“You know what your father--”
“You, Mother,” he said. “I want to know what you think.”
She stood, stepped out from behind the picnic table, and walked up behind her grandchildren, so busy at the water’s edge they were oblivious to both of them.
“I have to, Mother,” he told her. “I can’t face Jeremy with any more theology.”
She turned back toward him slowly, followed the line of her tracks back up toward him, then looked away. “Then let me just say this,” she told him, shaking her head. “Don’t you ever forget him.” She raised a finger. “This isn’t just something “cute” here, so don’t you ever, ever forget about him.”
“You mean Jeremy?” he said.
“No, I don’t mean Jeremy,” she said. “I mean, Aaron--the boy you’re about to pledge to God. Don’t you ever forget about him.”
It took longer than he thought it would for him to catch up to the other bikers--almost an hour, in fact, an hour he had alone on the road.
The next morning, alone, he told Jeremy that he would baptize the child. But he told his prodigal brother that he wanted assurances from him--that he and Alex would take Aaron to church, that they’d begin to go themselves, that they’d begin to take the faith of their parents more seriously.
“Sure,” Jeremy said. “We’ve been thinking that church would be a good thing again.”
“A good thing,” Gordon thought all the rest of that day. “A good thing,” he kept telling himself that afternoon, when all the kids were there, and all the grandchildren--when the whole family stood there at the shore and watched Gordon Martins reach down for the water that was already retreating back out to the pass, the whole family, except his mother, whose absence, Jeremy claimed, he understood and accepted.
“I won’t be there,” she’d told them all. “You know your father would not approve.” But neither did she try to stop them.
So Gordon Martins baptized Aaron Martins, Jeremy’s son, because it seemed so much to him to be, at least, a good thing to do.
And today at Snowhomish Church, every time a couple comes to him, he sits down with them, opens up the possibilities of what might happen on their day in front of church, offers some suggestions, points at the banners and lets the newborn baby squeeze his finger.
And then they talk.
“Do you know what it is?” he says to the couple. “I mean, baptism--do you really understand what you’re doing?”
The couple invariably looks shyly at each other, shrug shoulders--they’re often very young--and nod their heads. Of course they do.
“Do you know why your child should be baptized?” he says.
They glance at each other, and then, once in awhile, the father says, “It’s a good thing to do.”
“It is a good thing to do,” he tells those young couples, but then he tells them no. He says he won’t baptize their children until they know for sure and believe in what is going on with the sprinkling of the water.
You see, in 1987, Alexandria left Jeremy for very good reasons and took Aaron to New Mexico, and that’s where they live--mother and son--together. Jeremy still lives in St. Paul. He’s had more than his share of trouble, and he’s got another girlfriend, he says, one with two kids--two kids, he claims, who need a father.
So today Snowhomish Church knows it’s a thing with Rev. Martins--this sacrament of baptism. And now you know why: his dead father has a grandson somewhere in New Mexico with an invisible mark on his forehead placed there by his uncle, a preacher who drew in a handful of water from a basin that had begun, even as the family stood there together, to seep slowly back out to the sound.________________________________
Most all stories have prototypes, as does this one, a situation not unlike the one I've created in this story. But the story itself is pure fiction.