Wednesday, January 19, 2011


When children have nothing to do they'll conjure up anything to entertain themselves soon after discovering stating aloud that they're bored will earn them two days cleaning a garage that has accumulated 24 years of unwanted stuff that somehow escaped eviction. Sometimes this isn't a total failure; it's amazing the things one can do with 11 cans of used lead paint and a rusty hacksaw not to mention 8 stale packs of Winstons my grandfather used to hide in the drop ceiling when he would run downstairs every twenty minutes to 'check on the boiler.'  Don't ask me about the razor blades or the matches, please, but my brothers and I do have some interesting scars.

My house was the one on the street with all the kids inside, outside, everywhere, always. My parents put up with it with good humor mostly because at least they knew where WE were, except maybe at dinnertime when we descended on the kitchen like Mongolian hordes. When we weren't playing wolf-pack out on the street until the lights came on signaling it was time to go home or at least plotingt the next slumber party, we were devising more ways to maim and disfigure each other.

My sister being the youngest and therefore more fragile than the rest of us peasants (I had demonstrated my ineptitude at keeping her in once piece by shattering her collarbone in an unfortunate jungle gym accident), spent much of her time with my mother, shopping or on errands, so I the lone girl, would play with my brothers and my uncle, John.

John was my worst nightmare. He was what people back then called a 'change of life' baby as in, 'Ooops...heh heh..I thought I was too old to get preggers but GUESS WHAT HONEY?' so when my mother and father were dating, my grandmother was foisting her toddler on them to kill two bird with one stone--get some free time away from a screaming snot nosed angel and said cherub with stinky cloth diapers and rubber pants would be the best birth control chaperone one could ever hope for only that didn't work that well because somehow I was born six months after the wedding. So much for precautions.

Grandma was already tired and Mom had us like stair-steps; four one after the other so what was one more? The thing was though...I was technically the oldest of MY PARENTS' children but because John entered the mix, he was the oldest of the group. Because he pulled the YOU'RE NOT MY REAL MOM card on her every change he got, he was able to torture me without restraint and did so gleefully. His pulling rank made Lord of the Flies look like a lemonade stand in comparison and my grandmother was no better.  She owned our house and if John convinced her we were trying to decapitate him, she'd get all nasty with my mother who'd get medieval on our asses.  I learned to independently and stealthily fight boys pretty young and damned effectively as a result. Bones were broken. None were my own.

One rainy afternoon we were killing each other over the Colecovision controls and screaming over the proper way to blow on the cartridges to get supreme effectiveness. DON'T SPIT YOU PIG! when one of thought up a new war game. Bomb.

My brothers ran into their secret lab errr...bedroom which in some states should have been closed down by the EPA and CDC but because we were in New Jersey, they were able to obtain access, and searched for every sock that had lost its match. They quit counting after about 600 and we set out to the task of stuffing balls of socks into a giant misshapen lump. This would serve as our ball as our eavesdropping mom had kiboshed our first idea of a brick wrapped in a pillowcase. I still don't know what her problem was. I figured they should have stopped at me anyway and would be doing the human race a favor by allowing us our own Darwin Awards competition but.....she was the adult and out of cigarettes and chasing my sister around so, "Keep quiet and don't bother me unless you're bleeding or something is on fire."

We took that as a direct challenge. She threw down the gauntlet. It was our honor we had to defend.

The game of Bomb was simple. Divide the living room into two halves. Push all furniture to the walls and make a low wall of whatever might pass for sandbags in foxholes to approximate the terrifying exhiliaration of impending death. We used down pillows, couch cushions, misappropriated rolls of Bounty towels, and when the going got tough, my sister's mangy stuffed dog, Scroungy.

Then we divided ourselves into teams. John was the bully and always a team captain. Sometimes he chose wiry Donny for maneuverability, sometimes he chose muscular David for sheer ruthlessness. By default and my big mouth, I was the other team captain and got whoever was sniveling that he wasn't picked, for John's team.

A countdown began. If the game was short, we started at twenty. We all counted off solemnly, steadily, chanting 17.....16.....15.....14.... lobbing our ersatz ball at and over the head of each other scrabbling around on our knees because standing was not allowed and other than the count, speaking wasn't either. Grunts and groans were though, and an occasional screams should we nearly brain ourselves on the corner of the coffee table but the game MUST NOT STOP until the count was over and whoever had the bomb on their side was dead replete with as many blowing up sounds as we could muster. I must say we were very good at explosive sound effects. I also recall there was a lot of spitting when we attempted machine gun fire.

Many days my mom would walk into the den and find us strewn around the floor like so many corpses. We even practiced not breathing but she always faked us out by reanimating us with, "Okay, who wants a snack?"

There are no atheists in foxholes, and evidently no Hostess Cupcakes either.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Losing My Religion

There are many people who don't believe in a higher being. I'm not one of them. I look at the world around me and see the touch of a master's hand in what can only be described by my mind as beautiful design. I don't consider myself religious by any means but I do consider myself spiritual insomuch as I believe in God and communicate with Him and am comfortable with that. I don't need to search for answers or to be convinced for or against and respect how you feel about the matter too. You don't have to believe. It's okay. I still respect you and your right to not believe. I even understand the ire, disappointment and bewilderment that onlookers feel when they see those who believe, whether they flourish, flounder or fail. And many of us do fail spectacularly, don't we?

I was 'born' Roman Catholic to a family that had been that way for many generations. I loved the universality of belonging to such a huge 'family' and feeling cared for and I loved (and still do) the ritual and mysticism. I especially love the devotion and unselfishness of the believers. Not so much clergy, although Sister Eileen at St. Mary Star of the Sea was a peach, but I always took issue with authority figures because I've found that power is intoxicating and most don't handle it well, and my personal experiences bore that out.

I don't know what was the catalyst but my mother and grandmother began to go to a tiny pentecostal congregation some nights and before I knew it, my entire family with one exception, me, had converted and embraced their new religion with fervor. For a long time my family seemed drunk with happiness but I was skeptical. I was asked to shed many beliefs in favor of frankly fantastical stories based all on the Bible and subsequent interpretations of spiritual authorities and I was doubtful. I participated in the small church of warm friendly and generous people and I made a half-hearted attempt at saying the Sinners Prayer but I felt nothing much the same as I felt nothing when I was in the Catholic Church. I kept waiting to feel 'something' and was disappointed when I was told by my pastor that my problem was that I was thinking too much. I realized that any God that required me to suspend logic wasn't the God for me and quietly withdrew while remaining cordial to my friends and family within the community.

Thinking for myself, according to many, my parents, religious teachers and the little church was always a problem it seemed. Around the tulmultuous ages of 15-20-ish I decided that I had to choose between God and myself and chose my own desires. The truth was that I felt rejected by God because I felt He didn't care enough for me to give me some huge epiphany or the gift of speaking in tongues as everyone else in my congregation had. I felt left out of God's Club and although they loved me, I was more of an auxilliary member stuck in some sort of limbo because I hadn't cracked the code. I felt like I failed God and them and drifted away but I had friends who kept reaching out and loving me and pulling me in with their love.

A few of those friends were considered rogues within the church because they challenged authority, not with defiance but with their own fervor and zeal. They loved regardless of whether one towed the lined and it exasperated and later enraged those in power because as long as believers did what they were told under the guise of being a good Christian, everyone would be good well-behaved little soldiers. Eventually my friends would literally be barred from entering the church in a shameful display of abuse of power and I stood there and wept because while I was in good standing with the congregation for appearing every Sunday and tithing, I felt spiritually empty, while they were driven out because their passion and spirituality didn't fit well.

My dear friends didn't even use that horrible experience to their advantage as they well could have. Instead, they began to conduct little bible studies in their home on Tuesday nights and had an open house to anyone with an open heart and it was there that I first felt a spiritual awakening.

I am reminded of a little joke about how some churches like to clean a fish before they catch it, because I had been found wanting many times in the little church. I was a smoker then, and refused to wear skirts or dresses at the time because I was very self-conscious then about my weight and I was penalized by not being allowed to teach Sunday School or sing in front of the congregation (until they got choir robes) all of which drove a further wedge into my feelings of rejection and not being up to snuff. Contrast that to the humble little bible group that didn't care what I did as long as I wasn't disruptive. I and subsequently, my spiritual life bloomed under such freedom and acceptance and I had a real thirst and curiosity to know God.

I also realized that my withdrawal from God was a mistake. I had blamed Him (and I do think of Him as a 'him' but am comfortable with other descriptors) for other people's mistakes. The distance between us wasn't because He had rejected me; I was just led to believe I didn't know the magic formula to be favored, but that was human error, on my part and on others I trusted with my spiritual life. Now I see that while we are all on different walks on our spiritual journeys, should we choose to follow them, we owe it to ourselves, to God and to each other to be honest and responsible. What I believe may not be what you believe but if I'm going to believe in God, to put Him in a box and try to define Him for others is dishonest, self-serving and destructive.

The best way that I can show I am any kind of believer is to live my life in a way where others might wonder and seek out answers and desire it for themselves and if they need my input to tell them, this is how I feel and what I think, but you have to think and decide for yourself. Don't let anyone tell you because there are no magic tricks or secret handshakes. There IS love and compassion, forgiveness and gratitude and power and humility and if it seems so simple, it is. If it seems more universal and less religious, it is. Maybe that's the point.