Dani Shapiro
March 14, 2007

Life Imitating Art

This past weekend, while in Rome, we wandered into a small, nearly empty church not far from the Piazza Navona to see a Caravaggio. The streets of Rome are teeming with crowds, motor bikes, tiny bumper-car-like vehicles, suicidal cyclists–all moving at rapid speed down narrow alleys–but the churches are empty. We wandered along the aisles and marveled at the Caravaggio. I found myself musing about whether the gory crucifixion images might be too much for my seven year old, whose whole idea of religion at the moment boils down to making Hamentaschen at Hebrew School. Then, Michael pointed me to a shrine near the tall front doors of the church. Apparently, pregnant women come to pray at this particular shrine, and then–after their healthy babies are born–return with offerings: pink knitted booties, small plastic toys, and photos, taped up to the cold stone walls of the church. As I started moving to look closer, I was thinking of my various superstitions, both during my easy pregnancy with Jacob and then later–when achieving and holding onto several pregnancies wasn’t so easy, as I wrote about in my egg donation story in February’s Elle. When I was trying to conceive, I wore a gold and jade Abyssinian Lizard–a fertility symbol–on a chain around my neck, even though it was heavy and not remotely my style. It had been my mother’s, and she had worn it when she was pregnant with me. I borrowed a small, round fertility totem from my friend and hair colorist, Kathleen. I also kept another totem, meant to be the god of lost pregnancies, given to me by a friend after one of my miscarriages. I believed and didn’t believe in these symbols. I kept them around, on my bedroom vanity, scattered among the lipsticks and perfumes, where I could see them each day, but I never gave them a special spot, because that seemed too…well, too weird and desperate.

All of this was going through my mind as I began to walk toward the knitted booties and baby pictures on the church wall. Michael was standing next to me, when suddenly I tripped over one of those low benches they have for kneeling in churches–Jew that I am, I hadn’t been looking out for such a thing–and WHAM slammed down on my knee. And even as I was falling, in the less-than-a-second it took, I thought: what a perfect metaphor. An almost too perfect metaphor, actually. One that in a short story might feel heavy-handed but in life, a woman who once longed-for and has now given up on the idea of a second child can trip over a kneeling bench while looking at a shrine to healthy babies in a Roman church. In life, these things happen.