Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.
I slept very well. The silence of the generic hotel room was in sharp contrast to the constant noise of my sister and brother-law-roommates and the next door neighbors. I got up, brushed my teeth, showered, shaved, combed, dressed, put on my shirt and tie. With my overnight bag packed, I switched off the light and headed down to the lobby to check out.
The “ball room” was practically empty when I arrived, about a dozen men and women in business attire milling about with hushed voices. I strategically picked a table next to the side entrance that lead to the buffet, apart from its ideal location, it was identical to the others: clad in a black table-cloth, with a stainless-steel pitcher of ice water at the center, and a heavy bottomed glass face down on a coaster at each seat that read, in large, friendly letters: ‘Sit. Think. Relax.’ At the front of the room was a projector and a PowerPoint pulled up with a title, date, and bunch of government and private entity logos. I unslung my laptop bag and settled in. I was alone this trip, no colleague accompanied me. As the room filled up, I felt the distance between myself and the strangers in the room grow.
I did my best to focus and take notes. The day dragged on. I texted with Her, called my Grandmother who I’d be meeting later, hob-nobbed with a defense contractor, a chemical manufacturer, and an aeronautical engineer during the stuffy business lunch. During the breaks I’d walk around the hotel outside, enjoying a fairly cool day in Silicon Valley. It was a nice break from the grind to take a business trip. Really, there is nothing like a seminar on government-imposed regulations to get one pondering the meaning of existence. Certainly hearing about part such and such point such which applies to such with exception such and such gets one thinking about metaphysics, semantics, etc. I realized that I hadn’t been this alone with my thoughts for this long for quite some time. You never feel more alone than sharing an afternoon with a hundred persons you’ve never met and will probably never see again.
I hadn’t seen my grandparents since the divorce. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My Grandma sent me weekly sermons, Christian articles, etc. She’d made it well known to me that she loved me, even if she was disappointed with how I ended my marriage. But, most of all, she wanted the sweet little Christian boy back. When I showed up at her doorstep after my seminar, she had a smile, hug, and a kiss waiting. The thing that amazes me about life these days is how everything is pretty much the same, but I’m different. Grandma’s house and Grandma and Grandpa are relatively unchanged from last year, but my entire outlook and perspective is different. It was bizarre being there sans wife and son. But, other than that, all seemed relatively the same. Grandma tried to spoil me from the second I was inside her home. “Are you hungry? How about a sandwich? I’ll make you a mocha freeze and here are some cookies…” She really was the sweetest lady. I remember my wife and I talking about how we always looked up to my grandparents as our model for how we wanted our old age to be: active, hospitable, loving, up till late, possessing a real lust for life.
After dinner, Grandpa was feeling a bit sore, so he sat down while Grandma and I took a stroll around their mobile home park. We talked a bit about my sisters, and my father’s cancer.
“My sisters never really got over losing mom,” I said answering my Grandma’s question about how they were regarding long past death of my mother, Grandma’s daughter. “Every year on the day of her death they are a mess, they cry and cry.”
“I get a little weepy myself whenever I think of her.” Grandma said.
“I know what you mean, but I think the difference is, is that my sisters never got out of the mourning process. I mourned my mother, I was disillusioned, angry, and then I made peace. Now I just miss her. My sisters, they are angry sometimes still, they feel it is unfair that others have a mother, and we don’t.”
“It isn’t. Life isn’t fair. But, what can you do?”
I knew the conversation would eventually get to God. After years of being a resolute Christian, it was so interesting to be on the other side of the fence. It was freeing in ways though. I felt the constraints on my thinking had been lifted. It used to be so rigid, I realized I’d put myself into a corner where I had to believe that the majority of people in the world were just dishonest with themselves in not acknowledging God as I saw Him. Really, this thinking is incompatible with the way I view the world and people. Everywhere I go, I feel I’m always running into myself. I saw myself in the people at the seminar. Even if I don’t get to know them, as soon as you dig beneath the surface you see that each person is not so different from yourself, they live, they breath, they have hopes and dreams, they get up to face another day, and tell themselves ‘good days are still ahead.’ I see myself in my Grandma, and Grandpa, and sisters, in my ex-wife. And in Her. We are specks in an ineffable sea of the blackness of time and space. So limited in our knowledge. I don’t blame anyone for turning to God for answers, not one bit. A divinity with a view of it all to tell us what it is all about, to give us meaning for our existence is a wonderful thing to have. I feel I can’t have that anymore, it limits me too much, for me it is disingenuous to claim I can have faith at this time. The limits of reason and information will not allow me to rest easy on the Bible being a solid foundation to follow. And, I’ve never had a spiritual experience to rest my convictions on. It is also impossible to explain this to my Grandmother in a way she can accept. I know, I was in her place not more than a few years ago. It is simple confirmation bias, you accept without question the pieces that support your position, and you have to explain away the small threats to your faith, because as soon as the cracks form in the foundation, it is only a matter of time before the rest follows.
As in most religious discussions with Christians, the usual appetizers and main courses were served as we walked: teleological argument, moral argument, textual criticism, case of the empty tomb, martyrdom as evidence, and barring all those, you always end up with a dessert of Pascal’s wager. I know, I’d served them to my atheist guests on many occasions myself, and now was on the receiving end of them from my Grandmother as I knew I would be. I gently answered them with counter-arguments. The problem with my current state of agnosticism, is you are always left hungry, counter-arguments provide no satiation, they only negate what little food for the spirit there is. It is human nature to want to know. We thirst for knowledge, even a false knowledge. It is hard to restrain oneself from the delights and allure offered by empty arguments and false promises. I used to gorge myself on them in their many forms, and offer them to my non-believing friends as Eve offered Adam the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, perhaps the Christians have it all figured out. My Grandma could be right, after all. So could the Buddhists, and pagans, and Jews, and Muslims. I’ve decided it isn’t my place to assume one way or another. Ultimately, we all live in a world of fantasy of our own devising. Do I know if there is a God? No clue. Is there objective morality? No idea, but I still live my life as if there is. Is there life after death? Don’t know, if there isn’t, doesn’t that mean that when we die it is no different than if we’d never been born? What is the purpose, what is the meaning of life? The only seemingly consistent answer I can come up with is to seek good things. Even the Christian admits that they are righteous on earth so they can have good things when they die, deferring the pleasures of sin for the joys of heaven. All everyone wants is to experience good. And I feel the good is self-evident and hardly warrants explanation. We all love the close bond of family and friends, the feeling of good health, the joy of art and stories, the satisfaction of helping others, the sensation of making love. It isn’t hard to figure out what is good, even if sometimes we have to defer good things so we can enjoy a higher sum total of good. We only differ in our ways of going about achieving these ends. But, we get through each day believing a net good outcome is heading our way, even if today may be filled with trouble. Perhaps in that way, we all have faith. We came to the end of our walk and stood on the porch.
“Well, you know where I stand, I’ll say no more,” Grandma finally said, drying her tears, I knew it was heart-wrenching when someone has gone and changed on you, and not for the better in your mind. “I’ll always love you, and that’s that.”
“I know, Grandma, I love you too.”
We left it at that. The rest of the evening progressed as evenings always did at Grandma and Grandpa’s since time immemorial, we played cards, then watched an old movie, and said goodnight. I know that my Grandmother only brings up religion because she loves me and wants good things for me in this life and in the next. At the end of the day, we have to part ways on how to achieve that. I still don’t have the answers I continue to seek. But, I feel that at least I’m closer than I’ve ever been before. I’ve stopped dogmatically stagnating. My vision seems much clearer, the clouds have vanished away and I can see farther, but not far enough. That isn’t to say that one day, I may come back to Christianity, but, at least, if I do, then it will be in truer faith than I had before. Until then, don’t expect me to lie.