Believe? Well, that’s a pretty large question to answer, but not one I’ll shy away from. Living in the belt buckle of the “Bible Belt,” I, for obvious reasons, cross paths with folks from all walks of life, incredibly different backgrounds, and in pursuit of completely different things. And, of those innumerable encounters, I find myself in the midst of one question that gets posed quite often, to me as a writer, to me as someone open to all the possibilities of the cosmos — “Do you believe?”
Some of my earliest memories as a child were of sitting in a church pew. Growing up in a pretty devout old school northeast Irish Catholic family, it was expected we were in attendance at mass every Sunday. It was also expected that we partake in confession every couple of weeks, and also aim for a successful communion, confirmation, and marriage ceremony, all as the years went along.
From the age of 4 to 12, I attended Catholic school. Saint Mary’s Academy. Champlain, New York. I remember the building, an enormous, looming stone structure, some three stories high on a hill overlooking the small, quiet downtown. My mother and her siblings had attended there in the 1950s and 1960s. There were nuns there, too, older ones with strong French Canadian last names, who always made sure you never forgot that a life of sacrifice and, maybe, of suffering, was the true path to eternal glory at the right hand of the Lord.
I was never a fan of religion in those youthful days. I think now, and did even then, that when you push something onto someone long enough — religion, politics, etc. — then they will eventually push back. The more I questioned God in religion, the more I ended up in the principal’s office, which was often, as Sister Kelly and I became “well acquainted” by the time I graduated from there in sixth grade.
As the years wore on, I distanced myself more from the church. I’ve never been a fan of obligation, of obligations of any kind. I didn’t like wearing a stifling necktie to mass. I didn’t like the priest telling me (and all of us in attendance) that we’d all “burn in hell” if we didn’t watch our step at every moment of the day, every crossroads of our lives. The whole “fire and brimstone” thing never was my cup of tea. If I, or anyone else, were to want “to believe,” shouldn’t we believe in something of progress, of positivity, and of the promise of a better tomorrow?
And in recent years, I’ve found myself in deep thought about those early days, strolling the long corridors of cold concrete walls and 100-year-old creaking wood floors at Saint Mary’s. I think of God, and is he/she/it really does listen, and if I am even worthy enough to make some semblance of a query in their direction high above the restless minds and curious souls of this earth.
Even today, I’m not sure I believe in God, as in a real deal person sitting up on a cloud somewhere above Southern Appalachia. But, in my travels, I’ve come to the conclusion that I do not think that beauty in this world is coincidental. Whether it be a freewheelin’ jazz jam in a Manhattan basement club or when a significant other kisses your cheek when that’s all you’ve ever wanted, the way the forest smells during an all-day hike into isolation, or simply feeling the words spill out of your heart at 3:30 a.m. when every person, critter and bug is asleep, and all you want to do is solve the mysteries that have plagued humanity since we first witnessed the sun rise, only to wonder where that blazing ball of light and energy goes at night.
Maybe there isn’t a God. Maybe there is. Who am I to say otherwise to those who might think otherwise? We all have our viewpoints, and as such, each should be respected and allowed to flourish in their own sunlight of a new day. All I can say, is that I’ve be in the presence of things I cannot explain, things beyond reason and science, that stop you in the your tracks, if but for a moment, where you find yourself in utter awe and ecstasy within your surroundings.
Besides, what’s the fun in thinking that nothing means nothing? I, for one, awake with the notion that we all have our victories in our own time, and that the only true currency between all of us is the value we place on the golden rule — treat others the way you’d want to be treated.
Awake into the day with a renewed sense of purpose, for you never know just who is watching, mortal or immortal. Life is too short to stand there, pointing at everything and dismissing it as nothing. Sure, acquired logic as you push further down the road is a key component to a good life. But, so is never losing that childlike wonder that there are things so beautiful, physically and emotionally, on this hurtling rock of ours through space, that, surely, it can’t all be for nothing.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The “Trail Magic Ale #14” release party will be June 3-5 at Nantahala Brewing Company in Bryson City.
2 The Jackson County Youth Leadership Council will host the fifth Annual “Spring Into Summer” from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 4, at Bridge Park in Sylva.
3 Art After Dark will continue from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 3, in downtown Waynesville.
4 The Fines Creek Fire Dept. will hold its 4th annual barbeque from 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 4, at 244 Fines Creek Road in Clyde.
5 The Shady Ladies will host its 13th annual show “Quilt Art By The Shady Ladies” from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 3-4 and noon to 5 p.m. June 5 at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville.