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|