Monday, November 24, 2008

And If So, In What?

Belief is a funny thing. It can be easy to feel, easy to express, and next to impossible to explain. It's like most relationships and certain kinds of ropes and cords - incredibly firm, strong, dependable to carry a weight up to a certain number of tons - but cut the right way, it unravels completely.

During my first year at Maryland I became friends with a guy named Jarl (yeah, like Carl with a "J" - I don't know why either). Jarl was a lifeguard at the JCC and became a regular at the Poker Nights which have now turned into burger nights. Jarl was also very different from most of my other friends, especially at the time - a deeply religious Christian who actually listened to and enjoyed Christian rock; an outdoor enthusiast who's idea of relaxation was four days in the woods without a shower; and an old school sensibility where he would get genuinely offended by curse words but not always the ethnic jokes. To put things in perspective, when he asked to pass out at my place one night I said, "Sure, but I just have a blanket and pillow, no extra mattress - that okay?"
And he replied in stone serious tones - "I've slept in standing water before. I'll be fine."

So a nice guy, but an odd fit.

Which can be good, to get a new perspective.
Except for that night he slept over.

We're at the point in the night when the conversation is naturally starting to wind down - the pauses are getting longer, we're both tired, my ability to distinguish between dream and reality is starting to give way - when suddenly Jarl askes "Jason, what do you believe in?"

Well, that's a hell of a question. And I'm not sure this is the best guy to have it with - knowing my thoughts and knowing his - he's got the faith and I don't. It's 2 am and I have work in the morning - I don't have time for the four hour spiritual debate.

So I say "I believe in love, Jarl."

He gets real pissed for a second and sort of barks out "I'm not joking."

"I'm serious. I believe in love. I can't see it, I can't prove it exists, but I believe in it."

There's a nice long pause and I'm ready to add 'bullet dodging' to the "Special Skills" section of my resume when suddenly -
"Why don't you believe in God?"

Oh, fuck.
I don't want to have this conversation at all. But Jarl's a nice guy and I don't want to just ignore him, so I need to think of something I can say that'll answer the question decisively and without provocation so I can get back to the important task of falling asleep.

"Well, Jarl - there are so many religions each with their own God, and I think part of what each of them believe must be right, or why else would they believe it - so I don't want to commit to one until I'm totally sure that it's right. Okay?"

Silence.
Fantastic.

I'm this close to what I'm sure would have been the dream of a lifetime when -
"Why don't you believe in the Christian God?"

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

"Because I'm JEWISH Jarl. I was born Jewish. If I was going to believe in any God, it would be the Jewish god and if I don't believe in that then I'm not jumping over to Jesus anytime soon!"

I was not pleased and finally just ended it. Because seriously? No. It's 2AM, I have work in the morning, you're a douchebag okay? Don't sleep on my floor and try to convert me. Ok? Just don't.

But here's the thing...
I was being totally serious to Jarl. I did believe in love. That perfect true love, where every morning you could wake up next to the same person and still be mesmerised by their face, just as stunned as the day before. Not a love without work, or compromise, or sacrifice - but one that embaced all of the above, without boundaries or limits as long as two people were willing. This was the core of my morality, the core of my person - my faith. My religion. I spent years truly believing that love was the single most powerful force in the world and if two people really loved each other, really, everything else was complications or excuses. Distance, life plans, etc. - utterly surmountable by anyone who really wanted to. And those were the excuses if you didn't want it bad enough.

I believed in Love with all my heart, and built my dreams and my desires around it.

But faith is a funny thing.
Everyone has the moment where their faith is tested, or shattered. And it's different for everyone, based on your core. For some people it's the death of a loved one and the realization of mortality. For some people it's questioning the existence of God for the first time. For some people it's seeing their parents cry, and realizing that they're just people too.

Well - God has never been more than a character in a story to me, and a childish and petulant one at that. I've known my parents to be human beings, with all the good and bad that comes with, for a long time.

I had my moment in a relationship. And that may seem simple, or sad, or silly to some of you - but to me it was like realizing there is no God. Because it's not about the break up - it's about the loss of love.

I meant it when I said "you are the love of my life." And when I said it I never intended to say it to anyone else. I had no doubts. And that's maybe the most important sentence I am capable of saying.

But now they're not.
It was real and it wasn't strong enough.
Or it wasn't real and I don't know the difference. Except I truly believe I do.

So either I was wrong, or that's that. Game over, glad you played - that was your shot.
One choice is utterly depressing, the other requires a total re-evaluation of basic truths I've always known. A worldview. A belief that has defined me as long as I've known how to define and that is crumbling to a cynicism I despise. I know it's really not that simple, there are shades of gray - this doesn't have to be black and white.

But if you've wondered why I haven't seemed as happy in the past few months - if you're one of the people who have been asking where the 'old' Jason went - "you were more jovial before" - That's why.

This is my crisis of faith.
I'm not sure what I believe in any more.

Belief is a funny thing. It can be easy to feel, easy to express, and next to impossible to explain. It's like most relationships and certain kinds of ropes and cords - incredibly firm, strong, dependable to carry a weight up to a certain number of tons - but cut the right way, it unravels.

1 comment:

Damo said...

Jason,

You have reached a very common place in your life. Just about everyone, whether they have it or not, has a crisis of "it" at some point. "It," of course, if faith.

You touched on a some interesting aspects of faith and it is not so important whether what you've said about faith in this post is "correct" or "accurate," what is important is that you've defined WHERE YOU ARE in your journey.

As you make progress in your search for meaning, be willing to review this post or any other writings you have that refer to what you have built the foundation of your reality on.

I will not pretend to give you answers, at least not in this space, because the first step i can see from where you are at now is to open yourself up to the adventure of self-discovery that is your life.

As thoughts bubble to the surface, entertain them, all sides of them. The side that seems comfortable and the side that terrifies you. These trials and tribulations are imperative for a thorough and meaningful understanding of your world.

The most interesting piece of anecdotal perspective I can offer you is that every single person I know, myself included, has been experiencing something along these lines recently. As far as "faith" goes, I don't believe it is a coincidence.

Talk to your trusted friends. Stay open during this process. I feel that is how many of us are going to make it through this fascinating, yet tumultuous slice of time we've been served.