Underneath The Skin

When I was a child,

I didn’t care how it might look

to just stand there smiling

In love with the suns warmth on my face

Or how irrational it was

To justify obliterating a mud puddle

How wrong it might be

To whisper to the little girl in line in front of me my secret…

All I knew,

Was life.

No apology was necessary.

Then I grew up,

and ate that bitter fruit of trying to be God.

“I’m in the hospice room, holding my mom’s hand as she’s dying from brain cancer.” His sunny disposition is sullen now and he’s making a cyclone in his beer. I can tell it’s still really bothering him. “She’s in a lot of pain and I’m thinking to myself how could a good God allow this to happen to her…”

He explains to me how his single mother worked tirelessly to send him and his brother to private Christian school. How she taught them to hold on to the faith, but since her passing, he and his brother are avowed atheists. “My brother’s a lot angrier than I am,” he’s saying with a candid sense of self-awareness. “I just kind of see God as an absent father figure to tell you the truth… When you grow up without a dad, dead or alive, it doesn’t make much of a difference when he shows up later,” he says. “He’s irrelevant.”

We have been talking about God and faith and the nature of being. It was a friendly exchange, both polite, neither of us wanting to offend the other. Both cognizant of the fact that we were not going to persuade the other. I explain how I used to be a nihilist, how to me it was the only honest version of atheism. We both agree that everything is ultimately rendered meaningless by the death of the Sun. We disagreed about the fact that grief, in the end, means something. I believe it points to something more, he says that it’s also an illusion.

“Then I guess we don’t have to wait for the sun to burn out,” I say.

“And why is that?” He says finishing off his beer.

“Because if everything is ultimately an allusion, we’re already dead.”

He pauses and looks directly at me as if he wants me to explain.

“If everything is ultimately meaningless, you can only really enjoy this life knowing that it is a lie… How do you enjoy anything if you never really believe in anything that you’re doing? How do you keep yourself from being crushed under the weight of the sheer pointlessness of all the frustrating work life requires? You just have to keep numbing yourself… That’s all you have in the end. I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between death that kind of half-life.”

We both sit there silently for a moment. He let’s out a deep sigh. “Just out of curiosity, how do you keep on with your belief? I’m not trying to be rude, but there just seems to be such a huge amount of evidence against it- How do you remain optimistic in light of the reality of life, science, history, etc… I can tell you’re not a dumb person so I’m just curious how that happens. I hope that doesn’t sound bad.” I can tell by his tone and posture that he is sincere. I look down into my glass.

I explain to him that I have a ex-wife. How her dad left when she was five, how her mom worked all the time. How her grandparents did their best but they were uneducated. How she spent most of her time alone as a kid. How she didn’t care about Christmas growing up but loved the Fourth of July. To her it was a time when people celebrated each other, it wasn’t about getting things; it was about being a family.

I tell him our son was to be born on the Fourth of July. How this made her so happy. But how she woke me up in a panic at 3 AM in the middle of winter in her second trimester. How the streets were both abandoned and cold and eerily quiet as I raced her to the hospital. How I remembered the fluorescent lights of the hospital room. How the tears rolled down her face, her hands are shaking clamped in mine. How I kept reassuring her it would be all right. How it was half a prayer, but also a half a lie. That she was never the same after that. How she grew to hate God. How I felt utterly abandoned and alone. And when I started praying again and going to church she was so angry she started cheating on me and threatened divorce. How she eventually followed through with that.

“I guess the reason why I still believe, despite it all, is because I see a God in Christianity who is going through what we are. Someone saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This God is not aloof, or removed. He’s right there in the middle of our pain. He knows what it’s like, perhaps even far more than we do. He’s a God who bleeds and dies and loses his loved ones. And forbwhatever reason we are experiencing pain right now, I can honestly say that it’s not because he is removed or doesn’t care. That I can at least rule that reason out. How He identifies with those who are suffering the most.

He’s getting emotional. I’m pretending not to notice too much. He asks me if I don’t mind giving him a ride back to his car. He asks me on the ride over what church I go to. We exchange numbers but I don’t ever expect to hear from him again. I get it. Sometimes we want to hope, and sometimes we’re not sure if we can. Sometimes we just need to hear it from our Father.

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