When I was a kid, I slept with all arms and legs tightly wrapped in a quilt and never hanging over the edge of the bed. My mother had always told us that if we didn't behave, the boogerman (devil) would pull us through a hole. When my sister and I got bunk beds, I claimed the top and wouldn't take turns. I figured the boogerman would have a hard time reaching me all the way up there.
When we began to question the existence of Santa Claus, my mother told us, "It's not the presents that count. It's the spirit of Christmas." So NOW I had to worry about a ghost flying around my house on Christmas Eve. I no longer wanted presents and just wanted it to stay away.
Boogerman under the floorboards, angels and ghosts in the air and god, well, everywhere watching me every moment--I was a very nervous kid.
But, as soon as I no longer believed in ghosts and the Boogerman and fairies and unicorns, I began to also doubt god. Everybody else I knew seemed to believe, so I felt like there was something wrong with me. So I pretended. For years. And years. And I joined the choir, thinking that would bring me closer since I loved to sing and the music is beautiful. And my Dad was in the choir, and I loved my Dad. He also spent the one day a week that he wasn't at work doing the accounting for the church. If we visited the grandparents on Sunday, he would be up far into the night counting the offering and balancing the books. He was devoted to the church.
But, as soon as I went to college, and didn't have my mother nagging at me, I never set foot in a church except when I was visiting at home and felt obligated. Nevertheless, when I was about to be married, I assumed I would marry at church like everybody else did.
But, our preacher wanted my fiance', who was Jewish, to convert before we married. He said our marriage could never last unless it was built on the same faith. We decided to marry in his town in another state, but his rabbi would not marry us. So we were married by a judge (a friend of my parents who also went to their church) in my parents' living room.
It's been 31 years and two children and one grandchild and our marriage is still strong. We raised our children to value education and to think for themselves. The both have higher degrees and both married scientists, and they are the most caring young people I know--one couple raising a foster child and adopting another, and the other couple volunteering to coach kids and do environmental work in their community.
Now, here is the kicker. My father became very ill and I went to take care of him in his final months. One evening, we were just sitting and reading, and he said, "You don't believe in god, do you?" I just shook my head. And he said, "I don't think I do either."
Unfortunately, I had tears in my eyes and was afraid I would cry if I said anything, so I didn't. I should have. I wanted to have a whole conversation with him. I wished he had had that revelation much much sooner and not just a few days before he died. Because he was still at the fear stage. . .the what-if stage. And I worry that he died afraid, either of the nothing he felt he was heading for, or of offending a god he wasn't sure was there. And, I think he may have been looking back at all the time he spent counting money for a myth instead of spending more time fishing or hiking with the kids. And I am sure he was lamenting the fact that he really never would be reunited with my mother in heaven.
And he may have regretted that, out of the three kids he raised, two are even more devoted to god than he was, and two of his five grand kids are out and out Jesus Freaks.
And, I sat there and didn't say a word because my eyes were brimming over and my throat was choking up and I wanted to be brave for him and not cry during his last days.