A Matter of (not so) Great Faith

I am a Doubting Thomas.

Well, that could be an understatement. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, when Jesus arose from the dead, one of his disciples (Thomas) insisted on seeing the nail holes in his hands and feet, and the wound in his side.  So history refers to him as Doubting Thomas.  Well, let’s put it this way–I would have probably asked Jesus for two forms of ID as well.

Being raised by a Baptist minister means I have quite an impressive body of religious knowledge.  The Grandfather has a very cut and dry view of things, religious or otherwise.  It is how it is (in his mind) and everything else is wrong.  He has great faith and little doubt.  He believes in God’s plan.

Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that there are two things you don’t discuss with your friends–religion and politics.  You are just asking for an argument.  There is no doubt that some people will be offended by my view (or lack thereof) of all things religious.  But it’s been on my mind lately, and since I never have learned to keep my opinions to myself, I figure I might as well get it over with.

Is every single little thing we do controlled by a higher power?  Some people may not realize this, but I am very open-minded person.  I always try to consider all points of view, to the point of being paralyzed at times.  I also always try to think of things with common sense and logic, and I can’t help being a little doubtful that God really cares who wins a football game, or a NASCAR race (hail Mary fulla grace……) If you believe in God, and that He created us, then you know He gave us a brain, and the ability to make choices.  Why is that?  If everything was laid out on a path that we cannot deviate from, then why aren’t we just a bunch of puppets on strings?  It even says in the Bible that if you “honor your father and mother,” your days will be long on the earth.  Doesn’t that imply that we have a choice about how we are going to live our lives, and if we can lengthen our days, can’t we perhaps shorten them as well? Food for thought……

I go through religious extremes.  Sometimes, I think it would be easier not to believe in God at all.  I see my sister, and my daughter, and others like them, and I can’t help but ask, “What’s the point?”  This summer within a few days of each other, three people under the age of thirty lost their lives in two different car accidents.  Three families devastated and changed forever.  When I think of my daughter, sometimes I wonder if maybe I did something bad that sort of trickled down on her.  To quote Stephen King, “….if you put your ear to that door, you could hear the winds of madness blowing inside.”  In other words, I don’t even want to know.  Yeah, it would be easier not to believe in God, because the alternative is just too damn depressing.

Then, at times, I go to the other extreme.  Dave Barry (one of my favorite humor writers) says he believes in practicing as many religions as possible, “just in case.”  I think this is a sound theory.  I’ve always been fascinated by Catholicism.  I don’t think a priest can abolish your sins, but it sure would be nice if he could.  I just like the formality of it, plus I think it’s cool that they believe so much in things that others view as “superstitious.”  Also, the bingo and drinking thing is pretty awesome.  Baptists have to drink in secret and confine their activities to pot luck dinners and baptisms.  Let’s face it, once you’ve seen one person get dunked in the water, you’ve seen them all (I’m going straight to hell, aren’t I?)  The only other major hobby of Baptists is getting mad and splitting off to form another church.  Eventually, each Baptist will attend church alone, in their own building (now popularly being called a “worship center.”)  But I digress. 

Anyway, religion is a tricky subject.  I want to be one of these faithful, highly confident people who don’t fear the future, or question the present, or wonder if God even exists at all, but I’m not. I don’t know how to be.  Sometimes I wonder if He created our universe, and then turned us loose.  Then sometimes I wonder if we drove Him away, or disbelieved Him right out of existence.  It’s a circular thought process that never ends for me.  I’d hate to find out God doesn’t exist, but I’d doubly hate to find out He does, and that He’s pissed at me for doubting Him for most of my adult life. 

All I can do is hang out here and ride my fence, I guess, and try to cover all of my bases.  I’ve got to go.  I don’t want to be late for Mass……or Temple.

 

Hi, My Name Is…….Um……What Was My Name Again?

This post is related, albeit very indirectly, to another post I wrote about having wanderlust.  One of my points about having wanderlust was that when you live in the same small community all of your life, people have a LOT of preconceived notions about who you are.  If you’re not careful, this can lead to a full-blown identity crisis.

As a mom, this is always in danger of happening anyway.  Our kids define us, but at the same time, they sort of suck the you out of you–it’s a vicious circle, isn’t it?  I think all moms fall victim to that “I’m so-and-so’s mom” thing.  This is partly our own fault, because we allow it to happen–even encourage it at times.  (Unless the kid is doing something bad–then they must belong to someone else.)

I don’t know if I’m hormonal (likely), if my nerves are shot (also likely), or if I’m just losing my mind (most likely), but it seems like this person that used to be me has completely vanished.  I don’t even know her anymore.  I tried to think of the last time someone actually said my first name out loud, and I’m coming up with nothing here, people.  Hopefully my memory is just bad (it is) but I don’t think that’s all it is.  Consider the following:

  • I seldom (never) go to the doctor, but there are a lot of people in this house, so it always seems like somebody is going to the doctor or dentist all the time, and I’m the coordinator.  In other words, I constantly start telephone conversations like this: “Hi, this is Evelyn’s mom,” or “Hi, this is Matt’s wife,” or “Hi, this is Mindy’s sister….” you get the idea.  (I had some dental work done several months ago, and I think the main reason I liked all of them so much is they all called me by my first name.)
  • I have officially reached the age where I am “Mrs. Last Name.”  This bothers me more than anyone could ever, ever understand.  I can correct people and they will keep doing it anyway.  It’s not that I mind having the name or anything, but I have always connected that Mrs. Last Name thing with old people.  Now it’s me.
  • Everyone around knows The Grandfather.  He’s a Baptist minister, so when I say everyone, I literally mean it.  Remember when I said that some of this is partly our own fault? I’m guilty here–if someone doesn’t know me, I say, “I’m The Grandfather’s granddaughter.” They immediately know who I am.  I have more about this, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
  • My sister is almost as well-known as The Grandfather.  When we are out, we run into people who know her, and I don’t have a clue who they are.  Here comes the kicker.  These kind but ultimately  upsetting people say, “Are you Mindy’s mom?”  Now, what goes through my mind is, “Screw you, asshole, I’m three years older than her! WTF?” What I actually say and do is grin really big and say, “No, I’m her sister.” Then she giggles the rest of the day.  I guess at least it’s making her happy. Sigh.
  • People are constantly telling my mom, “You can’t be old enough to have a daughter that old!”  While this is a compliment to my mother (who really doesn’t look old to enough to be my mom) it certainly isn’t a compliment towards me.

What happened here?  My whole life is wrapped up in other people.

Now, before anyone feels compelled to give me a lecture about how fortunate I am to be surrounded by my family and loved ones, and how wonderful it is that they depend on me as much as they do, do me a favor and shut up.  Save your breath.  I know I’m fortunate.  I have the best friends now that I have ever had, and I met them because of my kids.  I always felt sort of pointless, but when my kids were born, that went away.  I believe my job in life is to be a caretaker, and I’m okay with that.  It suits me.

What I don’t understand is how I went in so completely.  People assume a lot about me because of who I’m related to.  Here’s that thing with The Grandfather I was talking about:  A couple of years ago, before I gave up on a lost cause and started homeschooling my son, I was attending our local school board meetings and trying to do things to improve our local schools.  I was all set to give my first of a few impassioned speeches, and my turn was up.  Just as I was about to stand, the board president (against whom I have nothing personal, but who always reminds me vaguely of Patrick Star) said “Aren’t you The Grandfather’s granddaughter?” The eyes of the other members lit up as well.  Now, when my sister was in school, The Grandfather was a terror at all board meetings, demanding handicap accessibility and a million other things.  He would make a point to get quoted in the paper.  Now, The Grandfather is a good man, but very, um, frank (yeah, that’ll have to do) and he just says whatever he thinks.  So immediately all of the people there who knew him sort of braced themselves, and I felt I had a reputation earned for me before they had ever even met me.  I don’t mind too much, because I think, in all honesty, I’ve quite lived up to that reputation, but still……

Isn’t it ironic? We spend our youth trying to “find ourselves” and then we spend our adulthood trying to recover who we were when we were young.  Blah.  I don’t want to be a teenager again–no thanks.  I have no desire to live just for myself, because I think that is a selfish, unhealthy way to live.  What I want is to have someone form an opinion about me that has something to do with who I actually am.

I’ll let you know just as soon as I figure that out.  In the meantime: Hi, my name is Janice.

 

Do Nothing, Have Fun, and Watch Where You Stick Your Pole

I am a wannabe outsdoorswoman.  I definitely have a love/hate relationship with outside in general.  At least once a year, and usually twice, we go camping at Watoga State Park.  No sissy camper, either–tent camping (in a campground with hot showers, laundry, a picnic table and a metal fire ring–let’s not get too crazy.)  We’ve talked about real, rough, rugged tent camping.  You know, the type where you hike so many miles then pitch a tent and dig a pit toilet.  That’s where the love/hate thing comes in.

I love the idea of nature.  Up where we go is arguably one of the most mountainous, rugged areas of West Virginia.  It is also one of the most beautiful.  There really isn’t any way to describe it.  You can see forever from the tops of those mountains.  It really is “getting away from it all,” and that’s what I needed.  Did I mention my husband and I went alone?  Sometimes the kids go, but I was ready for a break.  A little time to just hang out, wander and do nothing.  Anyone who knows me knows how hard that is for me to do (or not do, in this case.)  We hiked, sat around a camp fire, and talked.  It was a nice vacation for us.  There isn’t a McDonald’s for fifty miles, and that’s just fine by me.

Anyway, back to the love/hate thing.  Like I said, I love the beauty. Here are a few things to support my point:

and

I could post a million pictures of the views up there, but they don’t do it justice.  What can I say?  We hiked three miles out to an old fire tower that people carved their names into as far back as 1947 (that we could find.)  We saw a bear on that hike.  We sat around until the campground was quiet and talked about when we were kids and what our hopes are for the future.  There is a quiet there that can’t be duplicated or explained.  It’s a reminder of how small we are, how short our time is, and how precious.

It’s also a reminder that there are millions of species of insects in the world, and approximately 85% of them are apparently located in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  Here comes the hate part.  My least favorite are the Eyeball Gnats.  I’m sure that’s not their scientific name, but it serves.  These are little kamikaze gnats that fly right into your eyeball, where of course they die, but they just keep right on doing it over and over.  Also prevalent in that area are the infamous black flies (that really is their name) that buzz coyly by your ear every ten seconds or so.  They can’t be killed.  One thousand years from now, archaeologists will find the same black fly buzzing around up there that followed me all six miles of the trail we hiked.  Incidentally, he is also quite impervious to swearing.

The place we camp is on the Greenbrier River, although the name should temporarily be changed to the Greenbrier Trickle.  It’s dry up there, and the river is low.  I generally prefer rivers and lakes to swimming pools.  My mild OCD kicks in at swimming pools, what with all the chemicals and pee and various other bodily fluids in one tiny little concentrated place–kind of like swimming in a really big toilet bowl.  So, imagine my shock to witness the following actual occurence as it happened, and which we were fortunate enough to capture on film:

 

Yes, this is an actual picture of an actual deer peeing in the Greenbrier River.  So even the river isn’t safe.  Then, as if that isn’t enough, here’s another thing I witnessed:

 

These beetles are copulating on a fencepost.  Nature is nasty.  Pictures don’t lie, folks.

So, some parts of nature aren’t so great.  Also, I’m afraid of the dark.  I try not to drink too much, because if I have to pee in the middle of the night, Matt has to get up and go with me.  He doesn’t complain, but it still sort of sucks.

By far the high point of the trip happened during a short hike on Friday.  We did an easy, two-mile loop trail, and sort of just meandered along and looked around rocks and took pictures of cool trees and stuff like that.  At one point, we came upon a hole in the bank that had been dug out by some wilderness creature.  Now, let me preface this for you.  My husband walks with a fancy little adjustable aluminum hiking stick.  It serves a couple of purposes.  Firstly, it looks cool.  Secondly, it helps him walk.  Thirdly, he can bludgeon a bear if one gets too close.  It also serves another, more obscure purpose which I did not know about until this weekend.

My husband, driven by some primal, testosterone-fueled instinct that dates back to the cavemen, had to take his fancy hiking stick, say, “I wonder what’s in there?” and vigorously jab the stick into the hole.  I can’t criticize him, though.  I, driven by apparent heat-induced brain damage and too much Smirnoff Ice the night before, stood right there beside him and mentally wondered the same thing he voiced aloud.  Well, as it turns out, what was in there was a yellow jacket’s nest.

Yeah.

Have you ever had one of those moments when time sort of slows waaaayyyyyy down?  It doesn’t really stop, it just sort of switches to a frame-by-frame action sequence that allows you to see everything very clearly and have very complex thoughts in the matter of the a fraction of a second.  I saw the bees come out around the pole, and I even had time to think, “Huh, those are bees!”  My husband, on the other hand, had a much more succinct verbalization which I will not repeat here, except to say that it was very cussy and it summed up our situation nicely.  Then the frame-by-frame zipped right up into fast forward.  You know, two slightly squidgey thirty-somethings can move pretty damn fast when the occasion calls for it.  It called for it.  I’ve never been much of a runner, and Matt has a bum knee, but I doubt if an Olympic sprinter could have bested our time.  All I could think of was those cartoons when the bees make themselves into different shapes as they chase their prey en mass, like maybe a bow and arrow, or just the shape of one big, really pissed off bee.

They didn’t follow us, though, and eventually we had to stop running because we were laughing too hard to even breathe.  No stings!  Like I said, pretty impressive, and the highlight of my trip.  From now until the end of time, the hiking stick is officially called the bee stick, just another little bit of vocabulary to be added to the inner language of our marriage.  If you’re married, you know what language I’m talking about–the secret words and phrases, jokes and stories, that don’t mean anything to anyone else, but mean everything to you.

So all in all, it was a great weekend.  I remembered for a little while who I really am, besides a mom and a sister and a wife.  I remembered what it was like to escape a disaster and then laugh about it until I was breathless.  Mostly I remembered who my best friend is.

Oh, and I remembered to shower after I swim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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