I never did like going to church. I hope that doesn’t offend anybody – it’s just the truth. I understand why church takes with people, it just never really took with me.
When I was little, my parents would drag me to mass every Sunday morning. They would burst in through my bedroom door, and I’d already been awake for an hour trying to figure out how to get out of this thing. I thought maybe if I was “asleep,” I wouldn’t have to put on the plasticky dress with the billions of bows. Maybe if I threw some faux snores from under the covers, my Mom would leave my hair alone. For me, church was right up there with Home Depot on The Boring Scale. My Dad would take me to Home Depot on a Saturday morning, and 15 years later, we wheeled out with paint samples and aluminum siding. Time inches when you’re a kid, and Sunday mass felt like the torture equivalent of solitary confinement.
I think one of the mistakes we make is we think we’re separate from the world. Deer, mice, cats, palm trees, acorns, strawberries – they came out of the world, but we think we’re somehow different. We think we have to face the world. Face reality.
But like there are baby chickens and puppies that turn into dogs and deli meats, we too are part of this “Circle of Life” thing. We too were born out of the world. I think we forget that. We forget that we’re all part of the same thing. We’re not just bags of skin with personalities, dreams, and pasts. We’re part of something much larger. And to me, that’s a ready-made miracle.
Once in awhile, I remember that I am actually all the ages I’ve ever been. I’ll be brushing my teeth, and it strikes me – all these different lives I’ve lived. My life was once timed by the clicking on of street lights, or my Dad pounding song beats with his open palms onto my calves. For awhile, I woke up to Coldplay on my CD alarm clock which was the absolute worst. You should never wake up to Coldplay on any morning – let alone every morning for the entire waterpolo season. My legs once had little solar system bruises from field hockey balls, and then fin scars. The blood caked with sand. I climbed on roofs and played hours upon hours of Donkey Kong. I teethed.
Some of the girls/women were girls/women I wanted to be. Some of them I just try to be on good terms with. Living in the place you grew up is funny sometimes, because you change, but the city doesn’t really change. Someone is always on vacation here, so there’s those perma-smells, like sunscreen and seaweed. Barbecue coals mixing in with the salt of the sea. I’ll smell these things and it’s us at the beach again. My Dad doling out sandwiches from the cooler. My Mom in a black one piece picking up sand crabs with the baby – who is now a junior in college.
When I try to bring back memories from high school, not much comes. A friend crying in the auditorium on a mass day. Getting wiped off the rocks at Sunset Cliffs and a stranger pulling me out of the water. My teacher reading “Birches” by Robert Frost aloud. Thumbing through Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible in a four hour detention.
But when I look at my life bit by bit – when I string the memories together – the things I remember most were Beautiful. Beauty is what really got my attention, and that’s why I remember these things. Slices of time when I was spellbound with the world.
We have these egos and they’re heavy. We think that if we take things more seriously – if we push ourselves harder – we’ll get out these self-imposed prisons. And then we think, “When I cross this finish line, when I hit this mark, I will have arrived.” If we live this way, our futures will always blow away before we can get there. We’ll be living like we’re in a hamster wheel. Our dreams will be like a pile of ash, and we’ll always be hungry for something else. Something better.
I had a teacher once who said, referring to religion, that “There are many different paths to the top of the mountain.” When she said this, I was wearing knee high Roxy socks and a plaid skirt in the back row of a Catholic high school classroom. I could see Jesus (or was it Mary? Somebody) in the quad – arms outstretched – and I thought this was an odd thing for this teacher to say. The general vibe pulsing through the school was “Play by the rules,” and what this teacher said was like a fly in the ointment. An incongruity. All I cared about was Friday’s football game and my upcoming driving test, but now, today, I appreciate what she said. The thing is, my faith looks like a quilt – a little of this, a little of that. I try to focus on this one route up to the top of the mountain, and it’s just an openness. A faith in the unknown.
Cheryl Strayed said, “The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
I think when we realize how connected it all is – how we’re just like every other living creature moving through a life – we’re able to see the richness of it all. We are on our way, as Strayed says, to a “becoming.” I think when we realize this we get this deep sense of lightness, and things even work out better for us.