What I believe

Today I’m taking a break from economics, politics, social science, sexually aggressive children and Liberal Anger to think about the past four years. Stay with me, as I’m going to ramble. I’ll try and proof this at some point, but I don’t promise a damn thing.

Four years ago, I raced down the Eisenhower Expressway to get to Loyola so I could say goodbye to my mom. Actually, that’s not true. I did 120+ down the Ike to tell my mom not to go. I missed her by five minutes. The day before, her oncologist reminded her that, “there may come a point where the fight’s over.” The point where the radiation, chemo and cancer treatments would not even maintain her quality of life. My mom told everyone as best she could how much she loved us, then she passed away. Knowing her like I did–a story in and of itself–I know she passed away without much fan faire because she did not want to be a burden on her kids. I also think she wanted a few moments alone to make peace with herself and God. It was her one selfish act, and she had earned it.

When I asked a few weeks ago, “What do you believe?” I was going through the early process of missing my parents. I want to believe that there is a heaven, a communion of saints, a benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient God. I so I want to believe in the idea that when I die, I would get to live on in some form with my parents. I want that comfort.

Yet, I do not need that comfort to continue living. It would make life easier, hence the “want”, however I refuse to believe in something just to make my life easier. That is a form of moral and intellectual dishonesty that my parents would be appalled at.

Like Seth and Torteya, I fear oblivion–and not just for myself. When I think of the atheist’s idea of the end, I want to scream for my parents. It is unfair, unjust and just plain wrong to snuff out who they were. Of course, I am thinking of myself in this regard: I miss their guidance, my dad’s wit and wisdom, my mom’s amazing ability to make peace (or surprise me with a well placed F-bomb); yet I also think of my friends and family who have been touched by them in some way. How many problems could have been dealt with with one single phone call from my dad (I know one recent reader knows exactly what I am talking about) or how just talking to my mom would make an unbearable weak turn into an opportunity.

My mom brightened up the cancer ward at Loyola. The nurses loved her. She would help the other patients with small acts of kindness–helping to pass out cookies, telling them which part of the ward had the better snacks, listening to them talk about their own treatments–even when she just wanted to worry about her family. Not herself, but the burden she felt she caused her family. This is not a woman who should be confined to oblivion.

I do take comfort in the fact that she knew that her friends and family relished the idea of being able to help her in her time of need. Her church friends loved sharing their cooking with her. Old friends from her teaching days loved to talk politics and keep her company. The year I moved back home to take care of her will be one of the highlights of my life.

Before my parents died, I was a casual Catholic. After my dad died, I still believed. Hell, I was determined, on some level, to maintain my Catholic identity in the face of its co-optation by the Right. I still believed shortly after my mom died. Now, four years later, I struggle with the idea God. Like YvaDiva i am repulsed by the idea that my parents were “duped” into belief. I am scared and angry that they may be gone forever. Without my parents guidance, my faith is far smaller than a mustard seed.

Losing my parents harmed my faith. I don’t find the platitude, “the Lord works in mysterious ways” to have any modicum of comfort. It is a cop-out of the highest fucking order; however, in all fairness, I find solace in Woody Gutherie’s words.

I know I am still angry about my parent’s illness and death. Hell, I’m mad that my faith in God was harmed by my church community. My family was betrayed by a priest and my parish turned on the best pastor we ever had. I have seen my faith turn it’s back on its mission of social justice and turn into a monster of a monolith. I know my mom would be disappointed in this; however, she wasn’t so close-minded to believe that one must be a believer to be a good person.

The more I think about it, the more I believe in what my mom believed in. I believe that people are inherently good. I believe that people can change. I believe that hard work should be enough to guarantee one success in life, but that it doesn’t always work out that way. I believe that being kindness is the way to solve most of one’s ills–but that does not mean one has to cave, be weak or give up.

Like her, I believe that you don’t stop fighting until you’ve done everything you can do. And even then, you go out with grace.

I don’t have my mother’s faith, and I know that makes me a weaker person than she was. At the same time, I know she wouldn’t want me to believe in her ideals just because they were hers. I also know that she wouldn’t want me to miss her as much as I do, I know she would be touched at how I try to live like she did.

I miss you mom. More than I can really ever say.

17 thoughts on “What I believe

  1. I’ll tell you what I believe Marty:

    I believe that if your Mom and Dad could read the words you have written, they would be very, very proud of you. Not because you have arrived at the answers, but because you are brave enough to ask the questions.

  2. The funny thing is… they had such a good impact on so many people that when you make a statement like, “I know one recent reader knows exactly what I am talking about”, one has to wonder who you’re actually talking about. Was it me? Maybe. Someone else? Yeah, them too. You’re folks were just good people.

    I miss your mom as well. And your dad too.

  3. I can’t say this right, but I’ll try anyhow:
    It is funny, that as someone who feels there is nothing waiting for us, I still feel your parents so keenly. I carry them with me, in a way, in that the indelible impressions of their strong personalities are still there. It isn’t that I think about them constantly, but that when I do, it is as though I turned around and saw them once again. It’s just oddly potent.
    I guess what I mean is that as I age, and move further from that time in our lives when they were with us, it seems relevant to point out that unlike so much else, they stay with me.
    I dunno.
    I miss her too, Marty. I’m glad I got to know your family though, either way. Even if this part sucks.

  4. Powerful words from a young man who has had a lifetime of one set of experiences in too short a time, right along with your brother. Pat was a man who could joke wildly, and still show a deadly serious in a moment should the need arise. Judy was a woman of extraordinary grace and compassion, full of understanding and a willingness, as you said, to reach out, even to a young New Yorker stuck at college during holidays that shouldn’t be spent along. You and your brother a in our thoughts and prayers, and I can truly say that, like my own children, I’m proud of the man you have become.

    Faith allows the doubts, understands that answers aren’t always there and tha sometimes keeping going in the right way – known by your heart, whether your head does or not – is all we can do. Walk honestly, my son, and your parents’ faith may yet catch you, whether in Catholicism or some other expression. The Great Spirit isn’t as selective as denominations can be!!

  5. A few meanderings before I go to sleep like I should’ve done an hour ago…

    I do believe, and my beliefs are fairly prosaic basic Judeo-Christian. I can’t not believe in God; it sounds odd, but the past year would have been a hell of a lot less painful if I could have doubted. The stuff I’ve been dealing with lately is crushing, but underneath (admittedly deep underneath, these days) is this inexplicable seed of joy. On the rare occasions that I can bring myself into line with what God wants of me, it’s glorious beyond any words I could use.

    Know what you mean about the leap of faith, though. If I didn’t have it already, I couldn’t do it right now. And I wish my mom and your mom could’ve gotten together; they’d probably have solved a good chunk of the world’s problems by now.

    So that’s my two cents on God. You could probably get a nickel or two more, but I don’t want to spam you. As for the question of oblivion/afterlife…got a few thoughts on those, but they’re totally subjective and not really something I want to get into on a public thread. Drop me an e-mail if you care to.

  6. We’ve approached similar events very differently, but I just want to say I think you’re stronger than you think you are. What you place your faith in evolves and changes as your life experiences shape your future hopes–be it a divine figure or those close to you. I don’t think that faith in a divine figure necessarily makes you a stronger person. IMO, it’s your ability to evaluate your beliefs and then act in a way that reflects them that is the real test. Just know that we’re all here for you! (Care bear stare!)

  7. Everything I’ve typed seems cliche or sappy right now, but I’ll do my best to make my point without sounding like a dipsh*t. This will be attempt number five. /fail

    After my grandmother died, and I expressed my faith issues to my stepfather – an agnostic – he said he could almost guarantee my grandmother lived on. He said to look in the mirror and I’d see her legacy. Every good thing I do, every smart thing I say or good turn of phrase that spills out of my mouth? She’s there. She always will be, because she made me a better person.

    This most certainly pertains to you, too. You almost marvel at your mother’s compassion here, yet I don’t know many people so willing to step up to the plate and go to bat for the stranger as you, nevermind the near-heroic feats you’ll undertake for a friend. She instilled those qualities, or helped shape those qualities, yes?

    We should all thank her for helping you become as awesome as you are, then.

    Anyway, hope that didn’t seem silly, and I’m sure it didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped it would, but it made sense inside ye old bean.

    Thinking of you.

    H

  8. Thank you for sharing. I’m not really sure what to say, except that I agree with the prior comments that your parents would be proud of you. I’m not sure why things happen the way that they do.

    As far as faith goes, and how your parents (specifically your mom) would feel about your faith – I know parenthood is just not simple. A person has hopes and dreams for their children – and sometimes those dreams involve a shared faith or belief system. I’ve actually heard some people of faith say that they wish that their children/loved ones had faith, as they would be in less pain during difficult times. (That their children/loved ones would feel less pain through trials, as they would have their faith as comfort).

    Perhaps I’ve over-simplifying it, but I’m not sure that this is true.

    I think things are painful, whether or not a person is of faith or not. As far as I’m concerned, any (healthy) way that a child or loved one deals with pain is a good thing. It might be organized religion, spirituality, therapy, what have you. It is probably more than that – but from some parents, that’s what I see in the focus on religion. An attempt to protect loved ones through difficult times.

  9. Coming up on Bubie’s first yarzheit, I totally get what you are saying. Like nobody’s business…

    However, having gone through one awful break-up (though I can honestly say he was nothing but a charity and total screw ball head case for me and a huge step down and the climb back up was the best thing that ever happened to me), I realized death and bullshit break-ups are the same: you don’t do shit to deserve it, he’s (deathor the ex) a fucking liar, cheat, stealer of dreams and guess what — you get some pedestrian parting gift and never have much to show for it. It is done without your consent and it’s so totally unfair. So fucking unfair!

    Yet, I don’t fear the nothing. In fact, I look forward to the day when I die and it is all just ashes to ashes and nothing.

    Instead what matters now is how we effect the lives of the people hear on earth, through the teachings of the good deeds other departed on us before they left this earth.

    But that is just me…

    Whatever you chose to believe, believe it with all your heart and never lose the love and yearning to have them back, even if for just one day. One day to say all that you need to say, all that you want to say, all that you can say…

    Having something taken from us without our consent is the worst feeling ever. I never want to know the feeling ever again. Nor do I ever want to cry for someone after they are gone. What I want to cry for is what I still have left of them and they are not riding shotgun anymore to see it.

  10. Mart,

    I’m not sure either of your folks would be disappointed in you finding your own path. While they might have liked you to stay actively Catholic, I think more important to them was you making your own decisions. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re proud of you.

    I do believe in something after this, ‘though I’m not entirely sure what it is. If you do believe there’s something to come after this life, why wouldn’t the people you love most not be there?

    I still have the programs from both your parents’ funerals; not because I want to hang on to the grief, but because being able to go was something I could do for you, and for your family, when you and your family had done so much for me, and for so many others. I’ll always remember sitting up talking with your mom, at O’dark-thirty, after Tony picked me up at Midway, because I was there, and your mom was by-God going to see how I was, despite the hour.

    I don’t think any of us who met your folks will ever forget them. And I think even those who never got to meet them have, through you and Tony. I know you have trouble seeing it, but you guys really live what your parents taught by example.

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