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June 18, 2005

For your sake I hope heaven and hell are really there, but I wouldn't hold my breath

When I went down to Louisiana in April, the first thing my mom and I did was find a place selling boiled crawfish. I bought a few pounds, got some cold beer, and headed home to feast. What I thought was going to be a relaxing first evening with my mom didn't turn out so well, unfortunately. Within two hours of my landing at Ryan Field, I found myself facing my mother asking me whether I believed in God.

Before leaving on the trip I had decided that I would handle any hard conversations that came up in as straightforward and honest and loving a fashion as I could possibly manage. I figured, look: I'm not a kid; my mom's not getting any younger, and she's fucking got CANCER; now is not a time for euphemisms and fibbing and talking around the corners of things. It was easier to take this position in my Brooklyn apartment than it was on my mom's couch in Gonzales.


"Do you believe in God?"
"Well, um, Mama, um. No. No, I don't."
"Aiiigh. You.... You don't believe in God?"
I sipped my beer and ate a couple more crawfish before I answered, and I pitched my voice as comfortingly as I could, and I said something like, "Well, no, but I try very hard to be a good person, Mama."

My mom didn't waste any time at all getting to the heart of what pained her most about my atheism. Her indictment of me was the most poignant thing anyone could possibly have scripted for this moment: "This means you haven't been praying for me!"

Nausea flooded over me as I thought, simply, "I suck." Then I remembered that I had prayed for her, the day I found out she had cancer, but I can't imagine my prayer would have consoled her any, as it began, "Look, I don't believe in you, but my mom does, so if you're there, here's the thing." I could hardly offer that prayer to her as prove of my belief in her God. I was suddenly inspired, though, to say something I am still pretty pleased with.

I apologized to her, implicitly admitting that yes, she was right, I had not been praying for her, although I explained that she hadn't been out of my thoughts since I'd found out about the diagnosis. I added, though, that I knew she had all of her friends, and all of her church congregation, all praying for her, and that I knew they were good people, and that while they believed in God, I believed in them.

That statement gets right to the heart of my own cobbled-together house-brand philosophy. I think it's better to have a lot of people care about you than it is to shout wishes down a well; I know which of those ideas gives me more comfort, certainly.

Unfortunately, my mom didn't hear what I said as being an expression of my personal philosophy. She heard it as the brandished excuse of a lazy heathen. When she fought with me later that week, she threw what I'd said back at me. A version of it, anyway. She claimed I'd said, "You don' need me prayin' for you! You got a lotta other people prayin' for you!"

Fucked. I am so fucked. I don't think she's ever going to hear where I'm coming from on this one. At least she's dropped it for the last few weeks, having decided that she's got more pressing things to deal with than the matter of my eternal damnation.

Posted by Rose at June 18, 2005 04:14 PM


I don't mean to clutter your blogs with lots of comments, but your post sounded so familar. First, im sorry to hear about your Mother. I lost my Father when he was only 41 years old. I am also an athiest in a religious family. Everytime it comes up, no matter how I try to explain my point of view, they just can't hear me and it just ends with them telling me how I'm going to Hell. Maybe someday they will hear us.

Posted by: Shawn at July 19, 2005 09:47 PM

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