“Look to the believers: they sleep beneath the stars.
Oh, how can I join them, when I have come this far?”
— Smith and Mighty, “Believers”
My first memory of insomnia is an early one. It is Sunday and I have school the next day and my parents are trying to tuck me in for the night. I am beside myself, because in church that morning, the pastor said that I might live “forever.” It is possible that my life will never end. All eight of my years of memories, pain, exhaustion, loneliness, expanding beyond a dark horizon that I can’t see. My parents try to explain that it is a good thing, it is a metaphor, it is a concept, it is bedtime. Later, it is explained that ‘eternal life’ is supposed to be brilliant and peaceful and good. I still don’t want it. The only thing that gives me any solace is ignoring the concept altogether.
Smith and Mighty’s album, “Big World, Small World,” came out in 2000 and was my second Amazon.com purchase. Though it was a seminal albums in an important period of maturity for me, “Believers” has continued to have a special resonance because it continues to carry me from one perspective of belief to another. Someone else has always been looking up at the sky wondering how to reconcile the things they saw with what streamed from their heart. I may have been and may always be confused, scared, and searching, but never actually alone.
“Once upon a time, if we stared up at the sun for long enough,
We just became one with all. But as we grew, we just became me and you,
And all the pieces that we are.”
Things that make me feel like God is in my life:
3. Rain, trees, & mountains
Things that make me feel like God is not in my life:
2. Agressive Drivers
6. Mental Illness
“So I’m here with pieces of a dream
That can never be sewn to make a whole
I want to and I need to get out of here.”
I was raised in a family of spiritual people — a band of choose your own adventure protestants who didn’t subscribe to anything as it was told to them. I eyed the church with similar suspicion. After all, it was my prim, lacy godmother who assured me that my uncle was only sleeping in his casket. A petulant age seven, I informed her that he was dead that I was going to be sad about it, as was everyone else. She looked at me and looked down at her tiny shoes and walked away. It wasn’t the last time I felt out of place in house of worship.
Our church was a community of name droppers and politicians, bakers and scarf wearers. My family didn’t care much for convention. The church ladies served casseroles. My grandmother served boulliabase in conch shells. They served oatmeal cookies. My grandmother served red velvet cake that everyone refused to eat. We stopped attending shortly after that.
Not every church is like that, but lots of churches lose sight of building a community. I was determined to make a community out of my belief. I tried being born again and talking in tongues, I tried a loving branch of progressive christianity that operated via weekend lock-ins,
I went to college and my roommate, Mitzi, asked, “But why do you believe?” I wrote letters home. An athiest! I was baffled. I went on the defensive, deciding that she hated me. “I don’t hate you,” she said. “I disagree with you. Don’t you know how to fight?” I did not. I learned. We fought. We made up. We ate pizza. We sang. We fought some more. She called me on my shit. I probably owe her my life — but at the very least I owe her my sanity.
I didn’t stop believing because she asked me why I believed. I kept fighting harder for my faith. I found my heart at a church camp in the mountains, in the most beautiful place on earth. But I felt empty again after I left. I tried to convert to Judaism and failed at that too. I tried to reconcile myself at school, studying science and faith. I was probably closer to God then than at any time in my life, but I continued to stray further and further from religion itself.
I still looked for God within the places and people I came across. And sometimes I found it and sometimes, there was a void. I found God in the beauty and desolation of the land. I found it in the beauty and desolation of myself and my friends and my family and complete strangers. And since then, it’s been enough for me. My journey is nowhere near over. And though my time with organized religion is likely at an end, I can’t imagine a time when I ever stop looking out at the stars.
Here are the reasons why I still believe in something beyond myself:
2. Dichotomy of wonder and disappointment
Last month, CNN ran an opinion piece and a follow-up by the author about the dangers of “Spiritual but not Religious.” The author, Alan Miller, stated that he isn’t religious, but thinks it’s only fair that people decide one way or the other — no fence-sitting, no waffling, no thinking — because, somehow, allowing people to think leads to selfish, lazy populations with an unacceptable tolerance for one another’s beliefs.
I’ll argue that open-minded spirituality is the opposite of thinking too hard. If I can’t understand and comprehend faith in the judeo-christian God, this man suggests that I simply give up and tell the rest of the schools of thought, including my own, to kindly fuck off instead of continuing to find God elsewhere in my life. That, I think, is the epitome of stupidity. The discouragement of thought, of self-empowerment, of discovery, of joy is, quite frankly, bullshit and has no place in a progressive society.
I don’t think there is a forever. I certainly hope there isn’t. But if I’m wrong, I hope that it feels like forgiveness. I hope it feels like learning how to fight with Mitzi. I hope it tastes like pizza and smells like pine trees. I hope it tastes like four glasses of wine and sounds like the laughter of my best friend. I hope it feels like when Adam kisses me every morning. I hope my dog Winnie is there and she still wants to share my sandwich. I hope my heaven is as good and sweet as the life I’ve lived.