The snow lies in waves like a summer river, polished and bright from the high winds sweeping the country. The temperature is below zero again, and indoor activities have long since lost their luster for the kids trapped by the cold. I watch the wind whip snow devils up from the hills, carrying the drifts up and over and up and over again. When it finally dies down, I think most of our snow will be in Lake Michigan or Illinois.
Winter is a time for hibernating in the colder areas of the world. We pack up our summer clothes, unpack the wool and the down, the coats and the long underwear, the duvets. We hustle around sealing holes and cracks against the wind. Sometimes, when the night chill threatens to sneak in on us around the door corners and window frames, we cover the windows with sleeping bags and pretend we are in Alaska's eternal night.
Doubt has turned into a restful state of not knowing. I tell people I am agnostic these days. I learned long ago not to profess what you will be in the future. One never knows how life will change us. I learn more about agnosticism, gnosticism, atheism, deism…words that had short bullet point definitions in my mind before now have paragraphs attached to them.
My earliest memories tell me I was once a gnostic theist, born into religion and faith as most of us are. I was sure of everything - at least until I finished high school. Because I was in the U.S., the god I was taught was Christian. Eventually, without really knowing why or how or when, I became an agnostic theist: I struggled over issues of creationism vs. evolution and landed on theistic evolution; I didn't understand how the Christian god could apply to the whole world when the whole world hasn't even heard of him, so I tried to find links between Christianity and other faiths, like Buddhism, Hinduism and Muslim. Could we all be worshipping the same god? I wasn't sure - and I didn't think anyone else was, either.
I used to think that as I went through life, I would grow into myself. I would understand myself, the world around me, and the universe a little better each day. It really wasn't until I sat with children dying that I began to understand how little I really knew with any certainty. My own kids, my career, my successes and failures, my cancer journey - all these have taught me, over and again, that I won't be more sure of myself by the time I die. Rumi famously said that we are each "the universe in one drop". We are made of the stars, the same chemicals and bonds. As life goes on, we grasp the fact of our smallness in relation to history, the universe, and the future. We are just a dot on a pointillist painting of billions and billions of dots. The most profound, daring, successful, and intriguing people of any era will disappear, too, into that sea of people that records no names and sees no faces. Death comes to us all, and our legacy is soon swallowed up with it.
What am I sure of, at 34? Only that I know very little for certain. I am certain I cannot explain the universe, not even one person at a time.
The leap to life without god was not made overnight, nor even in one season of my life. It started when I began to question the tenets of the faith I inherited when I was in my teens, facing a potentially terminal heart condition and the constant threat of death lurking around the corner every time I fainted and stopped breathing. I felt doubt as hot and painful as the breath of a stranger filling my lungs. It couldn't be ignored.
In my 20's, I came back to mysticism, but I was a skeptical church-goer at best. I tried all the time to see or hear god. I listened to the wind whispering, I looked hard at every cloud for a face or a hand. I kept a steady stream of worship music playing in my car to squeeze out the lingering questions that I struggled to ignore. My faith became my own. For over a decade, I worked hard at it, studying the Bible more often and with more tenacity than any book I read in graduate school. I used the principles of the Bible's teachings, especially in Psalms and Proverbs, to change my character, eliminating adult temper tantrums, weeding out negativity determinedly as I memorized verses and forced myself to stop "bad thoughts". Including doubt. I tried to kill it every way I knew how.
By 30, I was in serious trouble. Faith had taken a backseat to the constant erosion of the chaos of life. My own brain was trying to kill me, mostly because faith was telling me exactly how horrible I really was on the inside. I lived in fear of someone discovering the "real me" I kept buried, locked away, chained to the darkest and deepest corners of my self.
I opened the door to the cage in the beginning of this decade. I've slowly emerged, in all my failings and all my glorious individuality. I've long since learned to like myself, and slowly like is turning into love.
It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are. ~e.e.cummings