Tuesday, October 8, 2013


I find myself thinking about religion lately, but not in the sense of wondering about the existence or nature of God. It's more about how and why people come to it.

I think a lot of people pick it up because there's comfort in belief. To be certain about your role in the world, your place in a community and even what to expect from a specific set of actions is comforting. Stability, certainty are things to rely on. That might have been part of the message of that line in the Bible about Jesus building his church on a rock: this is a stable house, a reliable institution.

Actual miles may vary, of course...

Some people gravitate toward religion because of insider knowledge. They dig that --knowing what nobody else knows. It's one of the reasons why people join fraternities and secret societies, like the Masons: the promise of inside information on how it all works.

I think they're usually disappointed. I joined a fraternity while I was in college and I can promise you the least interesting aspect of that group was the club secrets. The magic words weren't particularly magical. The secret handshake didn't really make me feel like I was part of anything special. Only the costumes that went along with the ceremonies were really notable and that was only because they were fucking creepy.

Others immerse themselves in religion to make a kind of armor against thoughts and actions that repulse even them. I've heard of pedophiles, perverts and self-loathing homosexuals joining the clergy because they think that surrounding themselves with God is a way to imprison that thing in them they fear or hate.

Apparently, this doesn't work so great. 

On the other side of the spectrum, I think some people use religion to steel against their own appetites for wealth or capacity for wrath. It's easier not to be a greedy bastard if you've taken a vow of poverty. It's easier to keep your temper if you cling to a religion's message of kindness, love and charity.

They all pretty much say be nice, don't hurt other people and give what you can when you can.

The new thing, for me, is thinking about people turning to religion because maybe they're terribly shallow and kind of stupid. They pick it up because devout people are often seen as wise and they want to be taken seriously as the kinds of people they wish they were.

Preachers, priests and rabbis are assumed to live in a deeper world than the rest of us. They dwell on the nature of the soul. They plumb the depths of compassion, grief and every good and bad thing that might weigh on a human soul.

We defer to them based on this, I think. We assume they have insights we don't and grant them more credit than they deserve sometimes.

I've seen men and women, as dumb as rocks but deeply religious, who hide behind scripture rather than work out the meaning of what is in front of them. They play act and pretend to have some sort of authority on matters well beyond their very limited knowledge.

I have no idea where they come up with their shit, but they they say the craziest things, believe and spout the most outlandish lies --but they're good people. They're sweet, God-fearing/Christ-loving people.

They're just kind of shallow and stupid.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Alpha and Omega

"You're an uncle?" The nurse asked me.

I looked up from the infant, smiled and shook my head. I was just a visitor, a volunteer: a friend.

"You look so natural," she told me and I said I just blend in with folks.

Some days I hate myself for it, hate myself for feeling like I'm as common as a copper penny. Other days it's not as bad. Today, I didn't mind being mistaken for the girl's family for a little while.

The nurse resumed her rounds, went on her way, while I rock back and forth.

The girl didn't sleep, but she wasn't awake either. She lolled in and out of the twilight, her blind eyes accidentally slipping open to instinctively follow a sound, a smell, perhaps. The mystery of what these things were didn't seem to trouble her. Always, her eyes closed again and she rested, if not dreamed.

The doctors kept her drugged. It was the right thing, the humane thing to do. Without the drugs, the pain might be unspeakable or it might not. There was really no way to know. So, they kept her pretty stoned and that was fine with everyone.

It was fine with me, too.

I held the girl to give her peace, to show her there was mercy and kindness in this world she would not long inhabit. What had been done to her was cruel only in the way gods can be cruel. It was irreversible. The best I could do was keep her company. So, I whispered to her, told her about my dog and said it was pretty outside.

"Fall is beautiful," I said. "Right now, the colors are just starting to come in."

She wouldn't know a word I was saying and might not even know what a color was. It didn't matter. I kept talking, told her I wished I'd brought a book to read to her, told her I wished I knew how to sing, but that I wouldn't wish me singing a bad pop song on anyone --at least, on nobody sober.

An old woman came in with a cup of coffee, sat in a chair on the other side of the room and told me she was the girl's great, great grandmother.

I doubted that, but she said, "I had my first baby when I was 13. I had 10 kids, six boys and four girls." She sipped from the paper cup. "I grew up with those kids, you know what I mean?"

I kind of did, though I came to fatherhood much later than 13.

"My kids had three or four kids a piece," she said. "There are 36 of them and after that, I lost track."

She grinned. She still had some of her teeth.

Surprisingly, not a local, the woman had come from up north and had decided to come south, following a funeral for a niece. Graveside, a granddaughter asked her if she wanted to come visit for a few weeks. She took them up on it and here she was.

"I came to see that baby," she said. "I mean to be here as long as I need to be: She's precious."

After she finished her coffee, I gave her my chair and lowered the baby into her arms. I offered to stick around in case she needed something.

The old woman told me she could buzz the nurses, if she needed to.

"I got nowhere else I want to be," she added.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Black stones

I skipped another reunion. This one was with a bunch of old college friends, most of them turned acquaintances, some of them become strangers. They'd scheduled a golf game. I don't play golf, but I was willing to ride around on a golf cart, drink beer and pretend everything was the same as it was when golf was something we only played with our fathers, if we played at all.

In the old days, you could just about always pool your money with a couple of friends for a twelve pack or maybe share a bottle of something stronger --if you weren't to particular. Golf was expensive, even when it was cheap. It required memberships and greens fees. It cost gasoline just to get to the course. You had to rent a golf cart and buy all the right gear.

The game didn't seem complete unless you had a cooler full of beer or had a few drinks after all nine holes were played.

Back then, it was just more cost effective to sit somewhere and drink.

The golf game had been scheduled on a fraternity alumni Facebook page. We'd do it on Friday, the day before homecoming at the college.

I wasn't committed at first. Travel equals money: gas and tolls and hours lost at work. But I was encouraged to go. I've become something of a draft horse, a beast of burden so used to the routine of being in a specific place to do a specific thing every day I get uncomfortable if I don't make my rounds. I'm trying to rehabilitate myself, break the habit. The trip sounded so good and I'd missed those men and the years we spent together. I'd missed those breezy friendships.

The thing was the day before the drive I noticed there were conversations going on I was only seeing (at best) half of. Jokes were made. Boys were being boys. Only, the punchlines had been obscured. From what I could tell, at least one of the people I was coming to meet had blocked me, not just unfriended me, but blocked me.

It took me a while to figure out who that was and to remember how that happened.

Social media went ape shit after the Newtown Massacre. Pro gun propoganda and anti-government spin was suddenly everywhere. I'd never seen anything like it. Every morning, when I turned on Facebook or looked in the comments section of websites and news portals, there was deliberate and calculated lie after lie. It was frightening and no worse than when I saw it crop up among the people I thought I'd known.

One, in particular, had posted some really unbelievable stuff, but stuff that was easily debunked, which I did because it seemed embarrassing to me that anyone would want to be used as a pawn. He didn't care. He thought it was interesting, even though it was complete fiction and clearly designed to promote a specific agenda. He supported what the lie was promoting. That it was a lie, just didn't matter.

Things got heated and I got unfriended and then blocked.

If it bothered me, I don't remember. I remember being appalled.

So, it turns out he was one of the people in that particular group meeting for golf and he wasn't the only one I'd had some sort of run-in with. Another had flat-out ignored me for about a year after a disagreement and it occurred to me that maybe I didn't know what I was getting into.

There is no other way to put it: Many of the guys I went to school with, we don't agree on much. We barely did back in the day and over the years, it seems to me they've become so rigid and fearful.

I went the other way. I don't know why exactly. I had plenty of reason not to.

These men I knew once are good men. Some of them are heroes who've saved lives. 

But I would not burden them with my company. They have come so far to be there and I thought it better to let them play their game together in peace. I could stay home and drink alone.