The other day, Savannah, my daughter, asked me, “Daddy, what is the thing you’re best at ?”
That’s a tough question to ask; it sort of staggered me, as 34 years of life rushed to my head, realizing I work at a job that is a good job, but doesn’t exactly stoke the fires of life for me. The only thing I could think of to say was “I like to think I tell a pretty good story.” It’s a frightening, naked question to have to give an answer for; I may be fooling myself, but thought I’d tell one now.
When I was a teenager (14,15) my parents forced me to go to church; it was awful. I had to sit in a youth program with a lot of other kids my age and older. None of them talked to me; interacted with me; I mostly just sat in the back and tried to avoid being noticed. It was the most unwelcoming environment I could remember being in. Around that same time, a friend of mine from our martial arts class invited my cousins and I to try our hands playing a game called Dungeons and Dragons; I’d heard of it; had a reputation for being something only the truly nerdy did. I was pretty darn nerdy but even I didn’t think I was on that level. But, my cousins were into it so I went over and we spent a day building characters, equipping them with different costumes, weapons and backstories. It was one of the most fun, exciting days I had had in a long time. It was a vocal chance to be something I wasn’t; act in a different way than I could day to day and do it around people I was comfortable with. Problem was, the games were going on to be on Sundays.
My dad was not exactly happy about it. All he knew was a common misconception that it was somehow tied to devil-worshipping; I never saw any evidence, of any worshipping of any kind while I played. It was in stark contrast to the place he wanted me to be at every Sunday and in my head, it was a complete contrast to where I wanted to be. In the holy house of God, I felt alone, ugly, and isolated; in the harsh cruel world of supposed devil-worshipping, I felt free, energetic and happy. I’d pick that anytime. It was always a fight; if I could go that week; if he felt I should be at church; It was never easy.
It was at that point where I started looking at my relationship with God. Even If I’d ever had one. My grandma had made me go to church as a kid, and that wasn’t so bad; she’d read us fables and stories designed to teach lessons about the Bible from this blue book when I was a kid; some of them were downright scary as they had the literal figure of the Devil appearing and trying to influence kids. Around that time, I’d started having this reoccurring dream; I had it once every few weeks but it was exact; to the detail, the same every time I had it
I was standing in a street, the sun was up, bright, shining on every corner, people were milling around, happy, enjoying their day. Off in the distance, a visage of a face appeared; to me, it seemed odd but everyone around continued with their day and paid no notice. It was the face of God, or what I perceive it to be; same as you see in Bible Vacation School; a bearded white guy with long hair. Then, the sky starts darkening; the sun starts evaporating like water. His face turns angry; it turns to look right at me. His eyes light up purple, a dark purple, and heat, or energy, just pours from his eyes and mouth like he’s screaming; everything around me is distenegrated, destroyed, blown up and the energy is headed right for me. Then I wake up.
I never told anyone about this dream, until one day, on a phone call to my aunt Melissa, she asked me about church and if I liked it and out it poured. She talked through the whole thing with me; explained that she thought it meant something; it reminded her of Revelations and she urged me to read those chapters of the Bible. After telling her about these dreams, she took something that sort of haunted my thoughts sometimes and totally made me feel okay about it. Sadly, she’s no longer with us, and we often like to over-embellish how great a person was that’s no longer with us; for me to say she was a warm, supportive, caring, amazing person isn’t even scratching the surface and I’m not doing her justice at all.
Another great thing about Melissa; she loved movies; she was film-obsessed. She recommended a movie to me called Contact; I’d seen the previews; looked like another in the long line of alien invasion movies from the late 90’s. I gave it a spin one night, when I wasn’t feeling good and had a stack of movies to watch. I remember I started it about 1 am that night. What I found was a movie that wasn’t just about aliens; it was about faith. Not just faith in aliens existing, or faith in other life out there, but about faith period. Because if aliens or extraterrestrial life could exist, couldn’t God, or another supreme being belong in that same category? Jodie Foster’s character ,Ellie Arroway, is a die-hard scientist; if she can’t prove it, it isn’t real. When her father dies of a heart attack when she’s 9, a preacher tells her he’s sorry and we can’t always understand God’s plan; all she thinks is she should have left medicine downstairs so she could get to it faster. From that point, just believing in God blindly does her no good so she doesn’t. When she relates this point of view to a friend of her, Palmer Joss, a religious theorist, he asks her if she loved her dad; she says of course; he says “Prove it.” You could certainly point to any number of actions, phone calls, letters, etc. to show how much you care or love someone, but to actually “prove” what your love to them is, would be almost impossible, in that regards.
The critics reviews aren’t stellar for this film; just check Rotten Tomatoes. But, if you hinge your thoughts and beliefs on critics, you’re living the wrong kind of life. This movie struck a chord with me , but I couldn’t place my finger on it. I watched a film with a character who isn’t sure of anything, if anything’s out there or not, if she should believe or not, if she should have faith or not; it perfectly encapsulated exactly how I felt. I just re-watched it today and while the music feels a little over the top corny, the expressions she makes as an unsure character, someone who has been alone since a young age, that loneliness inside this massive universe comes across and it’s a feeling I think everyone can share at one time or another.
There’s no denouement or twist to this story; it’s just an unresolved tale of one boy (grown now into a man) who didn’t (and still doesn’t) know what to believe or how to interpret or what makes sense of this world; but this boy always has, and still does, pray. Strange, I know. Who, what do I pray to? Even I don’t know; I don’t name it; but when a friend, or family member, or someone out in the world I hear about, needs a thought, a good word sent out into the universe, that’s when I pray. I don’t use it for myself; because I am not claimed to have this magical “faith” so I shouldn’t try to reap the benefits; but I do believe something, maybe it’s an alien race, maybe it’s a supreme power, hell maybe it’s Galactus, has the power to influence infinitesimal microbes and the winds of change, maybe they listen to me; maybe they don’t. But, I guess that’s what faith is; when someone needs it, I’ll still pray.