Eighteen.

She walked outside all alone, thinking. It was a foggy evening; you couldn’t see the sky except for clouds of white. It was damp. The air had a musty smell. At times she found it hard to breathe yet the air had a refreshing quality. She was out here to think and to reflect. That’s what they told her to do. Think about yourself, who you are, who you want to be. Now if that wasn’t a killer question, she didn’t know what was. What a crazy thing to ask of an eighteen year old. Think about yourself?  For eighteen years she was told to think of others first, not of herself, so wasn’t this now being selfish? Maybe. This was a time to reflect on one’s self. And what a perfect time – away from home, school pressures and friends. Ha! What friends? She wasn’t social with anyone from this group she was with. Anyone else she hung out with was at another place. Although this was an opportune time to think alone and to be alone, she couldn’t help but feel alone.   Oh, she could have switched and gone with the others but something held her back. She didn’t want to be part of a group; she wanted time to think on her own. But yet she hated being alone and not with the group. Confusing, eh? She wanted to be alone but felt lonely being alone. She thought about this while leaning against a dead oak tree. She shifted her feet, leaning on the right, and then leaning on the left, kicking branches and leaves around, all the while thinking.

But thinking about what? Oh, nothing in particular – her life, school, friends (or lack thereof), mom, dad, family and God. God. Wasn’t that what she was supposed to focus on? Is God in her life? Does she want God in her life?

Questions, questions, questions. Where were the answers? What were the answers? Who knew? Certainly not this young girl with her leather jacket done up and hands shoved into her pockets.

“It’s awful cold out here”, she muttered to herself.

“Duh, it’s the beginning of November. You expect it to be 90 degrees?”

“You be quiet,” she chastised her other self. She’d been hearing from this other eighteen-year-old girl in her head. Who was this person? Was she God? Was it God talking in her own voice? If so, why didn’t she say something more productive?

It was awful cold out there. She decided to go back inside into the warmth. As she walked back to the building she could hear muffled giggles from other areas of the grounds and silently wished she were laughing too. This was supposed to be a time to be with your buddies and laugh and have a good time. And she also knew it was a time to reflect, but who really and honestly did that? Only one person it seemed – herself. Everyone else giggled and talked about their boyfriends and stuff that was important to them. What did she have to giggle about?

How she hated feeling sorry for herself. It wasn’t worth it and it was counter-productive. She tried to think happy thoughts. She tried to recall happy memories and there were many but memories are different from reality. Oh sure, they were once reality but no one ever thinks that while reality is happening. It doesn’t matter how strong a memory is; you can never recall the original feelings. Somehow it just doesn’t come close.

So as she was trying to think happy thoughts, these memories came back but proceeded to depress her. She missed those days she recalled. She missed the person that she saw when she saw herself. She wondered where that person went. What happened to her? Where did she go? Had she ever really left? That was the big question. Had this happy-go-lucky girl just vanished? Or was she still there somewhere, only buried deep inside?

Questions. Questions. Questions. She wanted to find that girl again – the girl from her memories. Was it possible? Or did someone like that only come around once in a lifetime? She hoped not. It wouldn’t have been fair.

She wanted to be happy again. At that particular moment, she wasn’t. She wanted re-affirmation that she was special and worth knowing. But does anyone ever get to really know that? She doubted it, because then everyone would have high opinions of themselves and the last thing the world needed was another stuck up and snobby individual.

Why wasn’t life simple anymore? Had it ever been?

She thought of a song just then, it was called “Keep The Faith”. She guessed that the whole point to this retreat was just that – keeping the faith, or finding it.

Worship.

This past weekend, I took my son and daughter to church.  My mother was going for a memorial for an old friend that died 40 days ago.  My father couldn’t drive her and it was across town, so she asked me to take her.  She never asks me to take her anywhere, and she has done so much for us since the kids were born, I couldn’t say no.

I haven’t stepped foot in a church for almost 20 years.  I was raised Orthodox.  I did the church thing and Sunday school for many years.  And then my scientific mind matured and I questioned what I was learning about and decided it wasn’t for me anymore.  I don’t believe in God.  I don’t believe in a higher being.  I believe in science. I believe in the universe and that we decide our path in life, not some big old guy in the sky.  In high school, I learned all about the world religions – Hindu, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism, etc.  I also learned that far more blood has been shed in the name of religion than for any other cause in our time here on Earth.  That makes no sense to me.  So, I made a decision when I was a teenager that I would be an atheist.

Daughter got up super early that day and was already cranky by 9am.  Son would be ready for a nap by the time we got to the service (my mother wanted us there at 11am because that’s when the memorial would occur).  My husband talked to my daughter about where we were going and explained that she was expected to be quiet and good.

She did amazingly well.  There was so many interesting things for her to look at.  The church was adorned in beautiful paintings, this old guy wearing robes at the front was shaking this thing that had smoke coming out of it – why wouldn’t an almost-4 year old be mesmerized?  To my utter shock and amazement, the church had a little playroom at the back dedicated for children.  Brilliant!  Son and daughter spent quite a bit of time there with their dad.  I stayed with my mom looking at the congregation.  Interestingly, it was mostly older folks.  The only young people I saw that were my age arrived late with their kids (in time for the Communion), stood at the back, and left immediately after the service finished.  I was surprised by how much I remembered about the service.  Nothing has changed.  Nothing.  Its like the world evolved but the church stayed the same.  It was kind of creepy.

My daughter said she wanted to go again with her grandmother.  I don’t really have a problem with that.  I think it’s good for her to be exposed to church.  I’m not raising her in any particular religion – my husband and I are both atheists.  Yet, we intend to teach our children about religion and allow them to decide as adults what they choose to believe.  We plan to teach our kids about science, scientific pursuit and the nature of the world we live in, the universe that surrounds us and our little place in that universe. I suppose that is our religion.  That is what we worship.

And just for fun: