I’ve had to look in the mirror a lot lately, and face myself and the choices I’ve made. It doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic as it has been, but then again, it’s thrown me off quite a bit so maybe I’m making it smaller than it appears.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was living by myself in Northwest Portland, happy with my job and friends and dealing with the realities that came my way. Granted, I probably wasn’t exercising as much as I could have been, I’d accumulated a pretty solid amount of debt for one person, and I lived in a smallish studio apartment, but I felt happy about my place in life. Then I get a phone call that changes everything, and I end up a week later saying goodbye to my mother due to cancer, which shook my foundation in ways I couldn’t even begin to fathom. It’s now a bit over 4 years since then, and I’ve changed almost everything about myself. I got married, I shaved my hair down, I moved out to East County, I gained a pack of cats, and I even changed my last name, but perhaps the biggest change was in my faith.
Up until my mother’s death, I practiced Catholicism. I didn’t attend mass as regularly as I should, but there was a simplicity and comfort in being part of that fabric that held to my foundation. I could time the ceremony in 45 minutes, knowing where the prayers hit in mass, the responses and when to say them, the songs that came up, it was a huge comfort. Or it could be considered a huge crutch, depending on how you looked at it, but what it did allow me to do was keep some connection with my family and the supreme being I’d grown up with. My beliefs hadn’t been questioned, and I’d even allowed my faith to influence my decisions relating to dating.
And my mother was the bedrock that influenced a lot of things I’d done up to that point, and so losing her was a huge upheaval in everything. I tried to follow the advice of some who said leaning on my faith would help me understand what happened, and where my place was after everything was done. And so I prayed, and went to mass, and prayed some more, and the more I did this, the more questions that came and never seemed to have an answer. It was at this point I’d met girl, who wasn’t like anyone I’d met before, and she had something that I’d never encountered before. She had a strong sense of self, and stayed true to her beliefs, and while she could relate to other ways of being, she remained true to what she knew. Amongst many things, this was one of the traits that I found appealing to me, and I still find that tenacity adorable. The fact that she’d been able to do this and not have faith in a god of any kind went against everything I’d known or dealt with, and because of my own crisis of trying to figure out where I fit in the world, I walked away from the faith that I’d known.
I’ve had to deal with this decision only a handful of times, such as when I visited my grandmother back in 2006 and brought girl to meet her. She recently passed away, but my grandmother never missed a mass in her 99 years of life because her faith was her stability, her beacon, her way. When grandma had asked me about whether we attended church and whether girl would convert, I said yes. Granted, we’d never talked about it up until then and I knew that there was no way girl would ever embrace church, but at the same time, I felt that glossing it over was the right choice. Now, I think I would have enjoyed the conversation that girl would have had with my grandmother, because it would have been one for the ages. I’m not sure who would have won, but I know that they would have left that discussion with mutual respect or crazed yelling. I just know that at that point, I wasn’t ready to walk away from my faith completely. But after months and months, the decision made more sense and I’ve never looked back until this past weekend.
A very dear friend of mine was getting married to her beau, and it was the first time I was attending a full Catholic service without fully being able to participate as a practicing Catholic. I wasn’t quite sure how I would feel about this, because I couldn’t even equate the feelings I was processing. I knew exactly what would happen, what songs would be sung, the readings that would be shared, the sermon the priest would provide, but yet I wasn’t part of that world anymore. It was like knowing the secret codes and messages to know what was going on, but not feeling comfortable about having that information. Even now, the whole concept was extremely foreign because the prayers and words didn’t carry nearly the same meaning as they once did.
Granted, I find that believing in something is important, and I can respect anyone’s set of beliefs no matter what they are. To me, it’s important to believe in something, even if it’s something or nothing, even if it’s a supreme being or an unknown power, and even if it’s simply in yourself. And I know that many find comfort in having belief in something as part of a community because there is comfort in a collective experience. But I’d rather people have faith that is personal to them and means something to them rather than just go through the motions because it’s comfortable. I’d spent my adult life doing that, and when the time came for me to find my faith, I found that what I had wasn’t right for me and it was time to find faith in myself. I still believe in a supreme being, but the relationship is much more transparent and accessible without formality.
And what is perhaps funny about it was that it’s not that far from something I’d found back in high school. Sunday mornings for me used to be about church, but I was the only churchgoer. And with having a limited amount of time to do things and me being a distance runner in high school, I started to complete my long distance runs Sunday morning when things were quiet and I could fit it in my schedule. While I was getting exercise and feeling better about myself, I didn’t realize that the runs soon became conversations with the being about things going on during my run. It was my time with it, and I began to treasure this simple custom that gave me great comfort. This wasn’t a talk in church or me talking to someone to talk to him for me, it was me talking to them unfiltered.
After I went to college and my Sunday mornings became more about sleeping in, I lost this tradition, and never regained it. I’d never realized that in trying to find faith, I’d had it right in my hands way back when, and to get it back, I’d just have to remember the simple lessons of believing in something. I can thank a lot of people, especially girl, for helping me find this, and I’ve never been happier. And while I’ve honestly looked back and thought about what might have been, I’m confident that my choice of path is where I need to be. And when it comes down to it, that’s all anyone can ask of themselves.
Granted, I can make this sound really simple, but this hasn’t been nearly as cohesive as I’ve made it out here. It’s tough to go against things that you’ve known and felt for years, and realize that where you were then isn’t where you are now. But I had to figure it out by pulling it apart, making it relatable, and respecting the path and the method to get here. And remembering that faith, just like many things, is entirely a personal experience, and something that we all need to figure out where it fits in our lives in whatever form.
What helps is having a world that respects faith in its various forms, and realizing the simplicity of embracing a belief in whatever form it takes. That’s the major rub, because while there are those that respect differences, others feel that their beliefs and thoughts are more important for whatever reason. And they use the cloud of faith and belief to preach those and push their agenda wherever, whenever. For some, it’s more important that people believe exactly what others believe because it’s the right way.
To me, I put faith in an analogy of putting 10 people in a room with a table, vase and flower, and then asking those people to describe what they saw. You might get some common themes, but there’s no way that all 10 descriptions will exactly match each other, and that’s why faith is important, but must be a completely personal experience. There might be benefits in being part of a group, you might need prayer, songs, meditation, or it could be chanting, but the paramount building block is that your faith is all about what works for you. And others should respect that because it’s part of who you are as a human being, regardless of what those beliefs are.
I know these words might not resonate with everyone, and that's Ok with me, I felt I needed to say this for my own benefit, mostly because I felt better expressing my thoughts about my faith, and what happened. Perhaps you'll find some insight into what I went through, or relate to what I experienced, or it may cause you more resolve in whatever you believe in. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed the tale, and can respect it for what it is - one person's grappling with what it is and where his place is within this wonderfully complex universe.