This was an assignment from my Creative Non-fiction English class in which we had a choice as to what to write. I was at a loss, so the instructor suggested I write something more personal and tied the other assignments together. I was squeamish about such a thing, but I did it and he said it was my best work yet. I don't know, but then again, I'm my worst critic.
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Life experience and interaction with other people help to form not only our psychological make-up, but also how we view the world. The behaviours of adults can either help or harm children as they grow into adults. We carry those memories into adulthood as we search for who we are both emotionally, culturally, and spiritually, and sometimes those childhood experiences cause us to go a different direction than our family. Early in my childhood, I realized the "god" that I knew was not the same god my relatives knew. The one I experienced was different, and I met it many times through the eyes of my pets, people, and in nature, but it was only the beginning of numinous encounters, along with its opposite from the humans in my life.
I was born in 1966, six months before the series premier of Star Trek. While I do not remember watching it with my mother while nursing, I do remember seeing it in re-runs when I was four. Gene Roddenberry had a message to give people and he did it via the media, which left an impression on me as I grew into adulthood. Along with Gene, my mother raised me on Dr. Spock. No, not Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame, but the child physician who wrote many parenting books during the seventies. Unbeknown to my mother, both Dr. Spock and Gene were Humanists, but they had an indirect impact on my life, even though it was fourteen years later that I would learn they were Humanists. I found the philosophy appealing and eventually studied it thoroughly. Even so, those closest to me had a greater impact and in some respects were less appealing.
When I was seven years old, I remember lying down on the back seat of a Vega looking up at the baby blue sky on the way home from my grandparent's house. I had spent the summer with them and my parents were finally taking me home. As I gazed up at the passing sky I thought, "We've been to the moon and back, but heaven's not there." Thus began a lifelong journey of questioning and seeking answers, but some questions I dared not ask the adults in my life. Instead, as the years passed, I went on my own quest to find my own answers.
The only time we went to church in my early years was when we visited my mother's family. My father was not religious, but my mother's upbringing was Evangelical Fundamentalism, which she departed from while she was married to my father. One of my great uncles was an Free Methodist minister, who was of the hellfire damnation variety and when he went into his forever-long altar calls it frightened me so much that I wanted to run out of his church, but I knew better, because to do so would mean I would get into trouble. My grandparents' church was not much different and I hated going because the adults became so frightening, but that was only the beginning of a very long ordeal in which I endured abuse from my biological father and religious oppression from my mother's side of the family.
I experienced the horrors that adults do to others, because two out of three times my mother left my father and went to her family, they would send us back to him, but not before we suffered through my great uncle's, "REPENT SINNERS! COME TO THE ALTAR AND BE SAVED!" He would bellow that and much more for what seemed like an eternity to me and would not stop until everyone, except me, went up to his altar. I just froze where I stood and no one understood why I did not go to his altar to be saved. As a child I could not say, "He scares me" without getting a sermon about it being the devil doing that to me. Even then, I knew that was wrong. My great uncle scared me, not some supernatural being.
After all that guilt-filled damnation preaching and because the Bible says women are to be submissive to their husbands and divorce is a sin, they made mother return to her husband. My father was still the same abusive man, but that did not matter to my mother's family as long as they followed God's law. My feelings were of no concern either, because a child is supposed to honour their father and mother, no matter what.
So as an only child, all I had to comfort me were my pets. To me, the sympathy and compassion they showed was love. This was god. It was not some invisible Zeus-like deity, who sat in the sky judging us and threw lightening bolts at us whenever we screwed up. To me that god did not exist, but love did, and I experienced it every time I was playing with my pets and sometimes I felt transcended, yet one with them as we mentally connected. At least, as a child, it felt as though we interacted mentally and I could only attribute it to something like the wind passing between us.
When I was fourteen, my mother finally left my biological father for good, but not without giving my grandfather full details of our experience. Once he knew, he consented to my mother's divorce and even paid for it. However, what really hurt was when my grandfather said in response to my saying I wanted to prosecute my biological father for what he did, "We have you away from him. That is enough. God will take care of him." I was angry and screamed, "But what about man's law? Doesn't that count for something?" Sadly, it did not, yet I knew there was something about obeying man's law too. Then my grandfather scolded me as he stated anger was a sin, but that was not true. It said, "Be angry, and sin not," not that it was a sin, so I had every right to be angry with the adults in my life.
Except for one and that was my grandfather's brother. He was a medic in WWII who became an atheist as he decided whom they could or could not save during the war. After the war was over, he started teaching elementary school, because he loved children. My grandfather continuously nailed him about it as he tried to get him to convert back to Christianity. I felt sorry for this great uncle, who always greeted me with a loving and compassionate smile, because my grandfather was being so cruel and disdainful to him. He did nothing wrong, yet my grandfather was always bringing up the subject of religion with him and in return he would get irate. Even so, he did not scare me, especially when he smiled lovingly at me. There was so much warmth in his eyes and the few conversations I had with him were heavenly. Being around him was like a dance of great delight as he shared the joys of life with me. For him this was it, and we should strive to make the best of it. He did make the best of it too.
Between him and my grandfather, they taught me so much about nature. The long walks in the woods during the summer months with my grandfather were awe-inspiring, especially when we ran across a doe in the woods. The doe and I studied each other for several seconds before she scampered off, but those few minutes were surreal as we communicated nothing, yet everything. His brother was no different when he shared with me his love of nature, but the two men called the experiences different things. My grandfather called it God's country, while my atheist great uncle called it nature, but that did not matter to me, because it was paradise for me.
It was also around this time I discovered Gene Roddenberry was a Humanist and started to explore what it was. I managed to find information on the subject and brought it home with me. While reading about the subject in the privacy of my room, my mother entered, saw me with it, and immediately took it from me as she sternly said, "This is not Christian!" She emanated anger as she left my room with the fascinating philosophy I discovered. I was stunned and with no idea what happened as I watched her exit my room. Even so, I knew it was my view on life and would eventually learn more about it. What I did not know was that I would learn that my cultural background is Christianity and my worldview is Humanism.
When I turned nineteen, I left home and joined the Episcopal Church so I could at least say to my family that I was attending church. To my surprise, the services were peaceful and soothing with the illuminating candles, serene icons, and calming organ music. Sometimes I would experience those same feelings I felt with my pets and in nature, but it was more than that. The priests, who were both men and women, spoke of love, not guilt and fear-ridden damnation, and people were equal to each other. There, God was love and love was God, an experience I had all my life.
Then there was the wonderful Bishop John Shelby Spong who preached everything I always thought life should be. He taught we should live life fully, love wastefully, and strive to be all we can be as human beings. Here was my fourth taste of Humanism, only this was Christian Humanism. Both Bishop Spong and I experience God, not describe it. I was enamoured by this man, who taught me that God was a human concept and gave me a broader understanding of it. Later I met a few other Religious Humanists within the Episcopal Church, such as Robert Price, and fell in sync with them, as well as learned a lot from them too.
While reading one of Spong's books I noticed he said something that sounded very much like Humanism and I asked him about it. He replied, "Mriana, Humanism is not anti-Christian or anti-God. It is through the human that we experience the Holy the Other. The divine is the ultimate depth of the human." It was very encouraging to me as a Humanist and I smiled with joy because I knew exactly what he was saying. He obviously was not rejecting me either because I considered myself a Humanist and just as my atheist great uncle exuded warmth, love, and compassion, so did Bishop Spong through his correspondence to me.
Within this time, my first son was born. As I held him in my arms and we gazed into each other's eyes for the first time, I felt transcending love. His beautiful blue-tinted brown eyes were captivating as he studied my face for the first time. It was like a time-paradox as I welcomed him into the world, because we knew each other, but never met until that moment. This was untainted numinous love between mother and child.
Sadly, my grandfather was suffering from psychotic depression. He refused help because he believed people in the psychiatric field were of the devil and would steal his soul. To my astonishment, he even said the doctors were playing God and keeping him alive longer than God wanted. Then this highly intelligent man, who knew better, quit taking his heart medications and died three days later from heart failure, never to meet his great grandson. His death tore my grandmother emotionally, so much that she denied me the right to say goodbye to my grandfather. Supposedly, her excuse for denying me of being at his funeral was that she did not want "a Black boy and Black baby at her husband's funeral". Such hypocrisy of my early years was a big turn off to me. Was not this sort of emotion and behaviour they displayed a sin according to them?
This was not love and I made my mother promise me that when my grandmother dies that she would not do me as my grandmother did after my grandfather died. Thanks to Bishop Spong's advice to me in a letter, "Love them. They are acting out of the higher they have. What they need is more love," I received more than I asked when my grandmother died eighteen years later. She turned ninety-four and we finally made peace with each other. A few days afterwards, my mother called to say that my grandmother laid down for a nap never to wake up again. She died peacefully, just as her mother did years before her and my mother asked my first-born son, now a Buddhist, to be a pallbearer. I received the chance to hug and kiss my grandmother good-bye and for one brief moment, no one's differences mattered.
As tears slowly rolled from my face, I heard distant memories of her beautiful piano playing and her sweet voice repeating some of her last words to me days before her death, "You were a good granddaughter, Mriana". Through bittersweet sorrow, I felt the warm love I experienced from her as a very young child. The matriarch was gone, but she gave love to others and felt sorry when she did not, but she did not die with regrets. What was four generations were now three, yet all four generations were present the day of her funeral. The religious, Humanist, Buddhist, and non-religious in one family were all present and the funeral was as it should be... for the living.
Our experiences in life shape our philosophies, beliefs, concepts, and values. The interactions we have with others, in our youth and as adults, shape our worldview in ways that may or may not be the same as our family's. As we grow older, we develop our own ideas about life through the influences of others, both directly and indirectly, while discarding those that do not fit with how we view life and we learn from others as we discover who we are both culturally and spiritually.
© Mriana November 2007
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