Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brussel Sprouts, Anyone?

I've had many opportunities this past couple of years to talk with people of faith, particularly Mormons, about my own lack of faith. Some of these conversations have gone better than others, but they all generally have that moment when the person to whom I am attempting to explain my journey looks as if they are trying to swallow brussel sprouts. No offense to the sprouts. But you know the look, as if they are choking down something completely distasteful. Like me with stewed tomatoes! And on some level, I do understand the reverence these people hold for their beliefs, the sacredness of the topic of faith. But what I don't get is why, how, and when their view of me changes and they start to see me as someone who is ignorant, stupid, or just evil. (See Kathryn Shultz on the subject of wrongness).

I like to think of myself as a thoughtful, intelligent person, and I would think that most of the people who have gotten to know me over the years would see the same. I've had many conversations about religion, beliefs, politics, education, books, movies, people, ideas; conversations that have gone on late into the night and at great length, attempting to figure out what this life means and the purpose of our existence. And how others view the world and our place in it as humans. I've always been very interested in understanding where ideas come from and how people attempt to explain their views and their reasons for believing as they do. I've sought out different opinions and have enjoyed reading books, particularly biographies, that tell of lifestyles vastly different from my own. The point is that I don't consider myself to be ignorant of the world and the many philosophies that exist. And I don't think I'm stupid; I did graduate from Utah State University, Summa Cum Laude. And I certainly don't feel evil. I asked my husband just last night, "How can the feelings of peace and happiness I'm currently experiencing possibly come from a dark place, from Satan?" He couldn't answer me. But I grew up in the Mormon church, and I know what is said of me over the pulpit. I know that as a heretic I'm viewed as dangerous and deluded, someone in desperate need of rescue from eternal damnation. But someone to be avoided as well, as I could potentially poison other's testimonies and drag them speedily down to Hell.

I do not wish to offend my many Mormon family members and friends. In fact, I love Mormons. They are generally a good-hearted, well-intentioned people, interested in the betterment of humanity, in spreading joy and happiness, in serving those less fortunate. I look around me in church at my ward family (yes, I still attend with my family as it's a simple way to show respect for their beliefs and support them in their quest for salvation), and I see people who are happy and at peace in their worship of their God. People who, were they to look into my heart and head, would look down on me as an apostate, an ignorant fool, a wolf in sheep's clothing. People who would see me as ignorant, stupid, or just plain evil.

But I'd like for them to consider another possibility. Maybe I do know what they know, and I am thoughtful and intelligent, and I am not under the influence of the great deceiver, but I simply see faith and truth in different ways than they do. I don't look at the same story, and come to the same conclusion, but not for any of the above-mentioned reasons. And I haven't figured out why yet, though I'm working on it, but I do think that sometimes beliefs are not under our control. That while we can control behavior, we cannot simply choose to believe something we don't believe. I've tried, for 49 years I tried. I gave God more than equal time. I read his books, attended worship services, went to the temple countless times in a quest for a deeper connection with the divine. I sought him out in all the ways I'd been taught: prayer and fasting, service, scripture study, callings, tithing, even serving a mission to spread the word. But to no avail. I've asked many, many times for God to remove my disbelief, to give me a believer's heart, to strengthen my ability to see Him in my life and in the world around me. To help me believe on other's words, primarily my husband's, for whom it is all so simple. But I've finally had to accept the fact that I do not believe. I have a skeptic's heart, and try as I might, I cannot change that fact. I cannot continue to ask myself to believe something that I don't believe. I have to allow myself to accept that, in my heart, I am not a Mormon, nor even a Christian. Very hard words for me to write, but also very true. I haven't quite settled on a label yet, and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with uncertainty for the time being, with the idea that there are some things in life that are not knowable, at least with the limited, finite brains we've been given. And I'm okay with the idea that there are many people who disagree with me. I'm not okay with the idea that because we don't agree, one of us is ignorant, stupid, or evil. Just different, diverse, unique. And okay.

There is one question that has come up pretty regularly in these conversations, and that is if I would please keep an open mind, open to the possibility that God is there, and is waiting for me to come back. My response is simple: to all the believers, are you willing to keep your mind open to the possibility that I am right as well? Can you entertain the notion that someday, you will agree with me?

How about if we just agree to love one another as we are, to accept one another as fallible human beings, each of us on a quest to understand the mysteries and purposes of life. Nations will never come together in understanding until we come together as people, as neighbors, as families. As individuals, entitled to our own stories. As children of a loving God, or not.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy birthday, Re-Daron!

This past weekend, I celebrated the first anniversary of my 50th birthday. So, yeah, I turned 51. But more importantly, my husband celebrated the first anniversary of the first day of the rest of his life. His idea of celebrating my 50th birthday? Have a heart attack. He said, while being worked over in the ER, that he felt like I'd been getting too much attention. Next time, just a discreet whisper in my ear, please!

That day will forever be etched in my mind as the day I could have become a widow. Of course, we all know that any day could be that day. There are no guarantees for any of us, no warrantys about to expire, no shelf-date beyond which we are no longer useful and will be put out for pick-up. But, that day, I had to confront the reality that the love of my life could leave me, permanently. Or at least for the rest of my mortal life. His best friend died due to a clot in the same coronary artery, hence it's macabre nickname, "The Widowmaker." It's a known killer, usually taking out it's victim before awareness has set in. V** didn't complete the sentence he had started to form before he hit the ground and was gone. Fortunately for us, my love only suffered a partial block.

The symptoms were pretty powerful and obvious. We both knew what was happening, and in under 15 minutes from the start of the symptoms, he was in the ER with an IV in his hand and EKG wires stuck to his body. I'll never, ever, forget the look on his face as the reality of the situation set in. I was sitting in a chair at his feet, and, throughout the workup, we stared into each other's eyes with fear and worry. Trepidation. The staff worked around us in a frenzy, trying to stop the pain and halt the cell death occurring in the cardiac muscle. He was conscious throughout the ordeal, and I don't recall his eyes leaving mine, though I'm sure at some point he must have looked away. But that's not how I remember it. I was trying to keep him here, present, mine. My friend, my lover, my companion. The one person who gets me, and accepts me as I am. And who loves me unconditionally. Well, as unconditionally as marriage gets. I know, I'm making this all about me..... it is my blog!

The ER doc came in at some point and said that he'd called for a helicopter to transport my love to SLC as he was having a heart attack and needed more invasive intervention than was available at Logan. That was like cold water in my face..... to hear the words we'd not dared utter thus far. A heart attack. He could die. As I write, the feelings of dread come back to me, and I can again feel the terror at the idea of losing him. I stared into his eyes again, trying to hold him here, communicate to him that nobody, even God, needed him more than I did. Stay with me, please. And what I saw in his eyes was fear, something I've never seen before. There isn't much that intimidates my husband, few things he is afraid to confront. But I could tell he didn't want to leave me any more than I wanted him to.

Within a few minutes, blood work started to come back, and the doctor felt that the results indicated that D was stable enough to get to McKay by ambulance. D had the presence of mind to joke about losing the opportunity to fly above the mountains in a helicopter. I reminded him that he wouldn't be in the co-pilot's seat! He probably wouldn't have been allowed to sit up and look out the window, so he might as well be lying down in an ambulance. Either way, we were eager for him to be on his way toward a higher level of care.

The ambulance driver turned out to be a friend, someone D had worked with in his previous life in law enforcement. That provided some comfort, as I felt like I wasn't turning him over to strangers who weren't invested in their patient's survival. Even so, no one was invested like I was. Closing those ambulance doors with him inside was the single most difficult thing I had to do that night. Close behind was calling my children and saying those dreadful words, "Dad had a heart attack." That's when I broke down and cried. Saying it out loud made it real.

Upon arrival at McKay, D was seen by a cardiologist, who outlined the plan of care. He would perform an angiogram in the morning, hoping to spot the location of the blockage and do whatever was necessary to eliminate it. D and I spent the remainder of that night with family members who'd come to the hospital to provide moral support, and I remember sitting at the edge of his bed holding his hand, trying to memorize the feel of it, and the warmth emanating from him. I didn't want to let go when the time came to go to the cath lab, but I was eager for him to be on his way back to health. He has always been my rock, a solid base from which I can go out into the world, do what I need to, always returning to home base. He is the earth, I am his moon, and the gravitational pull is just as magnetic and powerful as that which governs the tides.

The cardiologist placed a stent in the left anterior descending coronary artery, allowing blood to once again nourish the left ventricle of D's heart. I can imagine the woosh of the blood rushing back in to the starving cells, the relief as they once again received the oxygen they'd been deprived of for so many hours. His heart began the journey back to health, each beat saying, "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here." And my own heart started beating normally once again, seemingly in tandem with his, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

In the year since D's heart attack, I've had many occasions to reflect on what might have changed in my life had we not been so lucky. I'd be sitting on the porch by myself watching the moon rise over Mount Logan. I'd sit on the deck by myself next to a cold grill reading the paper silently, no one to share the news with if he weren't standing there flipping burgers. I'd have buried our Libby without his strength holding all of us upright, his love enfolding us and giving us a place to grieve. I'd tuck our kids in at night alone, rising in the morning to scramble eggs without that special dad touch that makes them taste just right. I'd have to raise my son to be a man with only memories of the loving, kind, compassionate dad he has been so lucky to have. I'd have to wrap my arms around the girls myself and try to convey to them the importance of having a strong, moral, kind man next to them throughout the trials they will be called to face. A man like their dad. A real man, one who is not afraid to cry, or to love with his whole heart, or to stand up for them whatever the cost. A man who loved his mother fiercely and tenderly, now willing to care for his father in spite of the cost to his own emotional health. A man who loves me, with all his heart, willing to swim shark-infested waters to bring me a drink were I to ask that of him. A man who would rather go to hell with me, than to heaven with anybody else. That is the man I have by my side today. And I don't know why I got so lucky; his friend's wife didn't.

An unanswerable question: why? Doesn't matter, really. All that matters is that we were given more time, another chance to live and love, one more day. Now one more year. How many after this we cannot know. This much I do know: I love that man, and every day for the rest of his life, and mine, I will tell him so.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

One More Day With You.....

Today is September 10, which is the Eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I'm immersing myself in memories. I don't have any direct ties to any of the victims of that day, but as an American I was directly effected, and fundamentally changed.

My son asked last night, "Between this and Pearl Harbor, which one was worse?" I immediately said, "9/11." Maybe because it happened during my lifetime, and I have vivid memories of the day. More likely because the terrorists disregarded commonly accepted practices of war, and completely obliterated any notions of safety we had as private citizens. The targets were not military, but civilian. Moms and Dads. Children accompanying their parents on cross-country airplane rides. Secretaries headed to their desks for another mundane Tuesday morning of dictation. Firemen, policemen, lawyers, waiters. People who went to bed the night before beside their loved ones, running out the door that morning without any idea that their moments on this earth were numbered. What happened that day was unthinkable, at least by any moral standard we'd known to that point. It was criminal, immoral, ungodly. And it was carried out in the name of God, by men who professed an allegience to Allah that demanded the sacrifice of not only their own lives, but the lives of innocent strangers. Truly unthinkable, and yet, completely within the realm of the possible. Because it did happen. I've seen the footage, the images burned into my retinas of office workers running from the dust cloud, of firemen walking dazedly into the rubble. And I've heard the voices, the cell phone calls home from a doomed plane, the panicked utterance of a man trapped on the 105th floor of the south tower, the grief on his wife's face as she described the moment the phone went dead, the moment she knew the love of her life was gone. Unthinkable.

I think often of those phone calls. They tell the story behind the story, the real human cost of the tragedy. And I wonder what my last words would be to my loved ones if I were in a similar situation. I've never doubted that my thoughts would turn to my family, but what would I say? How would I express what was in my heart under such dire circumstances? How do you say goodbye, I love you, it's been great?

The song "One More Day" by Diamond Rio received a lot of air time in the days following the attacks. I loved the lyrics, and cried every time it came on the radio. If I had one wish, what would it be? One more day with you. One more time, one more sunset. I'd hold you every second, say a million I love you's. But it wouldn't be enough; I'd still be left wishing for one more day with you. Simple words, but oh, the heartache, the yearning to be with a loved one for just one more day. I can't think about it now without tearing up.

So, the lesson of 9/11? Love your family, and tell them often. Look them in the eyes, and say those words we all love to hear, "I love you". Never let the sun set on a day without an "I love you". Never let a loved one leave for work or school without hearing the words "I love you". None of us knows the length of time we'll be alotted here on earth, whether we have months left, or years, or merely days. "I love you". It's easy, free, and most of all, the only thing remaining once a loved one is gone. Go find someone you love and say it.... now! I love you!!