Thursday, June 28, 2012

on the non-believer

I was not raised in religion.  Faith, tradition, sure.  But religion, as a practice, no.  It made things confusing at times but at an early age I knew what I believed and didn't believe.  But when you grow up in a town (or let's face it, a world) where nearly everyone belongs to something, not belonging can prove difficult. 

I grew up on Scudder Place.  A walk down to the end of the block, a left onto Vail, and a right onto Church led you to Main Street.  At the southern corners of Church and Main stood a large brick Catholic Church and a tall white Protestant Church.  These things were important, you could tell, there were two of them.  A majority of my town could be found at either one on Sunday mornings.  Instead, on Sunday mornings I was having long, lazy breakfasts or canoeing through the marsh at Crab Meadow or walking the paths at Twin Ponds.  There was a sort of religion there in the quiet and comfort of the migrating warblers and my Dad's whistle, but not the kind of religion my friends were learning. 

One summer afternoon, just a few weeks before we entered middle school, I took my friend Liz to the beach.  We swam and played and laughed and towards the end of the day she told me about the Virgin Mary.  I can't remember how she came up, Liz had just finished her CCD course and so perhaps she was on her mind, but I told Liz that it was an important story but that she probably wasn't a virgin.  I wasn't trying to be blasphemous, I didn't know enough to recognize how important this was to my friend, it was just that I was newly sex educated and there were things I didn't think I could believe. 

Liz looked shocked and plunged beneath the water to get away from me and my words.  She popped up for air about ten feet away and found her way to our blanket on the sand where she stayed, silent, until it was time to go home.  I didn't understand why my opinion had hurt her so much.  I didn't understand why not believing made me different, bad, but it did.  Liz didn't speak to me for a few months after that.  Her mom took up the cause and a few years later when my parents separated Liz was no longer allowed to sleep at my house.  Maybe if we were one of the families who gathered outside on Church and Main on Sunday mornings, maybe if we had just tried to show that we were sorry we weren't like them, things would have been different.  But we weren't sorry, so they weren't different. 

Liz wasn't the only one who didn't understand.  My Grandma, my Dad's mom, used to send me small, delicate crucifix necklaces on birthdays and Christmases.  My Mum, my mom's mom, used to clip the Catachism class schedule out of her church's weekly circular and leave them out for me to find.  And now Mike, the man I've decided to spend my life with, looks pained when I tell him that I don't want my children raised in a specific religion.  

It's our biggest argument to date, and one that hasn't been solved.  Whether he admits it or not, Mike must feel that he has the power in this argument.  His view is backed by 2000 years and millions of like-minded believers.  Mine is all my own, shared by others I'm sure, but mostly a created adaptation of several pieces of several religions.  It doesn't have a name, a beautiful structure attached to it, a day of the week set aside to worship it, and so I'm sure he thinks my argument doesn't carry the same weight.  

But not believing can be as powerful a conviction as believing.  I haven't lost yet.

from the car, over the Triboro

Thursday, June 7, 2012

on the power of two

The summer after my sophomore year of high school was the summer of me and my mom.  The year before had been rough and the years after would prove tricky, but that summer, those few months, we were settled, relaxed, and had started to understand the new world that was life after the end of the nuclear family.  It wasn’t perfect, that new world.  I grew up a bit too quickly, knew too much about the inner workings of my parents' marriage and divorce, but she was mine.  It was during this time that I started to joke that I had become the proud parent of a 46 year-old divorcee: every Sunday I moved from one place to the other and we parented each other, grew up together, she was mine.

It was a year of firsts.  The first time my mom did the grocery shopping she called me from the payphone outside King Kullen to tell me how proud she was.  The dinner that night may have been a pint of Cherry Garcia and some spaghetti with a jar of sauce*, but she had done it.  In the years before the divorce my Dad had been the grocery shopper, the most nights of the week dinner maker, and always the highway driver.  I remember the first time she drove the two of us out to my grandmother’s on the North Fork.  The merge onto the LIE from Deer Park Avenue was something she never had to do in that old life of her and my Dad, me and my brother.  In this new life the responsibility was hers, I was too young to drive, and instead of staying home and accepting that she was scared, we did it.  She picked me up from lifeguarding class on a cloudless Friday afternoon, windows down, Indigo Girls blasting, and we merged.  I loosened the seatbelt and turned all the way around to get a better view.

“Slow down, not yet, slow, slow, ok go go go merge merge merge!” 

She slammed her foot on the gas and it felt metaphorical even in that minute, even then with no presence of afterthought to help it along.  I knew as we sped through the cars with the volume up and our voices blending with the wind from the open sun roof that we were going to be ok.  I knew we had passed some test, some sort of challenge for how we were going to move through this new world.  And we would do it together.  We didn’t always play nice or fair, there would be plenty of angry hang ups and emails and words we wished to take back along the way, but she was, will always be, mine. 

" all the ghosts from your head,                    
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed,
smarter than the tricks played on your heart.
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart,
adding up the total of a love that's true,
multiply life by the power of two..."

*disclaimer:  The Ben & Jerry's for dinner years were short lived.