I know it’s the holidays and everything, so you’ll have to forgive me, o Lord, for failing to believe in you.
If you indeed created me and my ilk, then you probably have some understanding of the dilemma that led to this impasse. For what was created when I hit the bedpan was a hard-wired little skeptic with a fierce independent streak, who, even though he sought answers to all the usual questions, was rarely if ever satisfied with the result.
As an adult, after careful, lifelong consideration, I have deemed myself constitutionally incapable of belief in anything at all. The meager senses I have been dealt, the ones referred to in science textbooks, anyway, are woefully insufficient to the task of verifying anything I have been told, have seen with my eyes or have read. In lieu of belief, I have substituted suspicion. I have multiple conflicting suspicions about the meaning of life and love, about spirituality, about the alleged existence of God and/or similar disembodied entities, about eternal life, about the paranormal phenomena I have experienced, about the feelings and sensations generated as a result of certain stimuli, about the presumed “interconnectedness” of everything, etc.
Although it would be reasonable to assume so, do not confuse my failure to believe as a refusal to believe. I just don’t think I am smart enough to know any of it, and am withholding judgment in a lame and hopeful attempt to avoid being lured down a wormhole created by someone or something to entrap me, or even worse, to die having believed in a gross falsehood, thus turning my life into a sad joke.
Many traps have sprung up that seemed designed to snare me. I studied the Bible, hard, as a kid, being groomed by a charismatic but overeager Episcopal priest wanting to pass on his legacy. I eventually took away from the great book the same bitter lessons as Samuel Clemens (see “Letters from the Earth,” by Mark Twain). I have been blessed with a family of spiritually activist sisters, forever trying to force down my neck their polyglot “faith” in reincarnation and the meddling of dead people in the affairs of the living.
Indeed, my “luck” sometimes takes an eerie form. Sometime in the 1970s, I found a green plastic kids’ ring in a basket at Fannie’s Restaurant in Latham, N.Y. It had the face of a mullah on it. I used to wear it around. A friend, the aptly-named Jamie Smith, scarfed it away from me one day and used it to make a mold for a solid chrome ring, which he gave to me for my birthday. I dubbed it the “Ayatollah Ring.” I began to wonder if something in the forging process had imbued it with magic or a sense of irony, because one night during the Iranian hostage crisis I got drunk and started rubbing it and mumbling, “Let ’em go, goddammit. I’m sick of this shit hogging my TV.” And the next morning I awoke to find that two of the hostages had indeed been let go. I professed not to believe in the ring as far as I could throw it, but I kept rubbing it anyway. It called an exacta in the seventh race at Belmont in 1982 before disappearing for 25 years in a box I found last month while cleaning my office. I put it to work the next week, passing it across a rub-off Lotto ticket my visiting niece bought at a deli and saying, “Win.” She won 300 bucks.
Because of these and countless other incidents, one side of my brain has led me to suspect that, because I have been implausibly lucky — born into a demographically charmed family living near the epicenter of power, art, knowledge and human endeavor on earth in these times, having more than my fair share of success in love and remarkable progeny, cheating death on multiple occasions, winning at the track, at cards and in casinos, and being able to rise to the top of any situation almost in spite of myself — that I am somehow in the favor of whomever is in charge.
But the other, bigger half of my brain routinely intercedes and cuts off such reverie, as I quite sensibly run through all the reasons my good luck could be just that: dumb luck. I rubbed the crap out of the stupid Ayatollah Ring to facilitate a new liver for my old friend Craze, but he didn’t get one and he’s as dead as I’m going to be sometime before another 57 years goes by.
As far as I know, the lucky hand I’ve been dealt has not been bought with prayer or any particular adherence to a moral code, although I try pretty hard to be a decent, upstanding guy who doesn’t hurt anybody. My internal politics and morals are quite possibly sterner than those of a right-wing evangelist. Not only do I not think abortion is generally a good idea (it should be legal, but avoided if possible), I also don’t condone killing another person for any reason at all. I’ve stolen very few things in my life, and even when a teenager kicked myself for weeks ruing the times I did steal. Neither do I think that running around Tiger-style behind your spouse’s back is going to do wonders for anyone’s mental or emotional health, including your own.
The purported teachings of Jesus, who introduced empathy and unconditional love of all mankind into the human psyche, make perfect sense to me. If he was indeed the son of God, I could accept that — I even did for a little while, before I changed my mind after reading enough of the Bible to plant the seeds of doubt.
The thing that has grown in me over time — slowly, to be sure — is tolerance of the religiosity of others. I no longer laugh as hard as I used to when people like poor former Dutchess County GOP Committee chairwoman Corinne Weber go down in flames. Who am I to tell her Barack Obama isn’t the Antichrist? He certainly looks and acts the part, with that syrupy smooth delivery emanating from that too-handsome visage with the purple vampire lips and voodoo eyes that wouldn’t be out of place in an Anne Rice neck-ripper. I’m not so sure I’m not the Antichrist, for that matter.
So, to Larkin and Ben, the two dead relatives most often referenced by my sisters as trying to help me catch the spirit: hold tight guys. I’ll either see you later or I won’t, and worrying about it now isn’t helping me pay the mortgage.
And as far as you go, Lord, I may not quite believe in you, but I’m through mocking you, at least for this week. Let’s call it a truce. And if I die tomorrow and am transported by intergalactic golf cart to that great Albert Brooks-style Purgatory in the sky to justify my life and await Judgment, don’t be too hard on me. I may not have darkened the door of a church for a while, but if your infinite memory bank can recall, I’ve actually tried to reach out to you a few times, usually when alone in my car at 3 a.m. after another hellish night wrestling with whatever night job I was enduring due to this chronic insomnia you gave me.
Remember? I was the guy driving down Miller Road in Cohoes that night in 1978 or so who winked and blew you a kiss after you may or may not have thrown up that freak Aurora Borealis to make up for putting me through another bad gig at a Ground Round, turning down requests from tables full of nuns for Billy Joel songs.
Yep, that was me. Don’t give up on me just yet. I’m still thinking about it.