There's this friend I've never met. She's acerbic, witty, opinionated, emotionally charged. She's a veteran of heartbreaks of an entirely different origin than mine.
"I don't get it," she said yesterday. "Not only do I not 'get it'—it pisses me off when people say there's a god. People who would ask for intervention, who would put more stock in some imagined higher power than in real people. If god's so great, why did Rwanda happen? Why did Hitler happen? Why does random tragedy strike good, honest people when they least expect?"
(acerbic friend: one. God: zero.)
"Bullshit," she continued. "There's no heaven, and no hell. There is only now. As I age, I grow more sure of this, that my life will end when my body expires, that I will live only in memory, that I might support a tree or a berry bush when I'm gone. I find comfort in the continuity of my atoms."
I would only, if ever, subscribe to a god who would value her especially for her questions. I'm not a believer, not a non-believer. The dinosaurs trump any literal interpretation of the bible, but that's not to say the book doesn't have worthy lessons to contemplate. All holy books do. I don't like it when churches condemn, but I don't condemn churches.
"Don't you think there's just too much in the world that can't be explained? Too much mystery to reduce it all to life-as-atoms?" I asked her.
"Nope," she said.
"I was a cynic. Then the morning that Liam died, something was in the room with us—something so profound, I could almost touch it. So I'm left with my own crisis of faith, of sorts. A reformed cynic. I don't recommend the method, but it's left me open to the possibility of a God that's a hell of a lot more complex and more sensible and more sad and more full of love than any religion would ever allow."
"Not to dishonour that night for you, but don't you think that was just your heart?"
"Nope," I said.
That's the truth, but I've always wondered if I'm just a little bit crazed, inventing magic where none exists. If the presence in the room that day was merely the intensity of the moment, then Liam's life was a blip. Then he was just an egg and a sperm that divided and gestated into one of two human babies, and who was betrayed by his mother's placenta, born sick and then died to be turned to ash and set loose on a lake because his parents are sentimental morons, thinking it would somehow make him free to come and go as he pleases.
He did not watch our red canoe weave back through the everglades on that sapphire-sky afternoon. He does not come to me in that special kind of light, sitting behind my eyeballs with his legs crossed, Indian-style. He was not patient and brave. His brain was simply so damaged that he was numb to the ophthalmologist who propped his eyelids open with wire spiders to prod his retinas while Ben screamed throughout the same procedure, as healthy babies do. He was not my resolute protector. He was just a baby we called Liam because that's what popped into my head at finding out we'd need two names, not one.
Dirt, cells, atoms. They rob me of my lost son's grace. They pull me into darkness, hopelessness. They make me feel like a fool, make me doubt the most profound experience of my entire life. An experience I did not manufacture, I'm sure of it. Or did I?
For the six weeks of his life I didn't explicitly pray. I didn't even consider it. Praying is foreign. It's not in my nature, my history or my heart. Faced with dire straits I only thought of prayer as a drowning woman thinks of a lifejacket. Please, please, please let there be some meaning, some light, some redemption, some help, anything.
It was just after dawn, seven o'clock in the morning. I could hear the construction crew in the parking lot below, see the shadow of them passing our window through the curtain, hear their boots as they climbed the scaffolding carrying bagged lunches, tools, coils of wire. And for the first time in my life I spoke aloud to the only god I could conjure. Mother Nature.
I could only give him to her. I asked for her help and gave her permission. There are 43,200 seconds in twelve hours. Liam died that second. The very same moment I asked for him to be freed of that horrible place, that beaten body. Not a moment sooner.
I don't want to look behind the curtain. If I did, it might be empty except for a reflection of myself, of atoms and cells and the electrical impulses of my own desperation. And I'd see that Liam has not passed, as if he's gone somewhere—but that his body and life has ended completely, evaporated into nothingness. That's just too bleak. That's what makes me want to punch something. And I can't live with that rage. Because I have to smile with my eyes as well as my mouth, or my living children will see. And so I subscribe to the magic of souls, chew on the gift given to me on that night. Because I'd rather be a sentimental moron than be consumed entirely by despair. Existing in-between, I find comfort in the continuity of spirits.