Lesson 2-Calm Down-Slow Down
Most people spend more than two years at the Community College. I spent a great deal longer than that. I did take several semesters off and went to school part time during several others. I also went through several moments where I about bagged school completely. One of those moments happened the year I turned 26.
Being 25 was hard for me. I felt very unaccomplished and quite the failure. I was years away from any sort of degree and that frustrated me. I fully expected to be done with the Community college and be well on my way to finishing my undergraduate work at the University. I had also been married for almost three years and while I was still in my mid 20’s that made me feel very old. I felt like everything was moving too quickly and I had no means to slow it down or get some sense of direction and focus. I had just started working at UPS and that job was seeming more and more like something I could do for the rest of my life. It was time I had a career. Time to make a decision.
I was sitting in the College Center, writing in a notebook about my frustrations, how much I hated my life and where it was going, which seemed like no where, when I had an idea. It was not the most clever of ideas, but the more I thought on it the more I liked how it made me feel. My birthday was coming up and I decided that though I was turning 26, I would tell everyone I was 27. While this would make me older than I actually was, I determined to be 27 the following year as well. In my head, this two year stretch would give me more time to finish some things, more time to make myself stable, figure out where I wanted to go and how to get there. It completely calmed me down and most of my anxiety slipped away.
This plan of mine accomplished exactly what I wanted. I was 27 for a very damn long time. I told myself the lie enough that I really did believe it. I was still a year away from starting at the University, but I the courses I took over those two years finally progressed me closer to completion. I also felt younger, though that wouldn’t last long.
Funny enough, I have not had another age crisis like that. The opposite has been the case. I embrace each new decade and half decade. I didn’t fear the end of my 20’s and while I loved being 30 something, I was ready to be 40.
Also during that same time, I had what some call a crisis of faith. I was in a developmental stage where I wanted answers to all sorts of questions and puzzles. Religion was just one of them, but the one that seemed to weigh on me most. A few years before, I had decided that my faith was based on fear. I was always afraid of being punished for my mistakes and for the most part, that kept me obedient and religious. When I was 24 and working for ZCMI (a now defunct company that sold clothes and household goods), I had several conversations in my head about religion and God. There was a great deal of alone time at this job and I had plenty of time to go over things. Education is often blamed when someone leaves their faith behind, and while my studies did play a part, my choice was more a result of growing up and no longer being afraid. In fact, for a decade my favorite thing to tell people was “when I was no longer afraid, I had no use for God.”
I still don’t know where this fear came from. My parents were never the type to hold God’s wrath over my head and I don’t recall any experience where an adult said something or I read something that made me so fearful. I do know that after I decided to not practice any religion any longer, I became very bitter. I blamed religious dogma for most of my troubles and the problems I saw in the world. I felt like I had been duped. The more I thought and the more I read, the less any spiritual thought made sense to me. Any spiritual experience I had in the past, I could explain away. I still struggle with spiritual things and I don’t consider myself a religious person, though I do see why it is important to many others.
My spiteful, hateful self was in full swing the spring of 1995. I was condemning anyone and anything that had to do with God. It all came to a head one warm day in March or April. I was sitting with some friends out on the quad near the fountain at the Community College. A few days before, a street preacher had come to campus and been escorted off because he didn’t have a permit. He was back now, permit in hand and ranting at the top of his lungs to whoever might be about. He had the usual signs about how God hated the sinner and what sins god really got uptight about. The list was so long, it had to be written in very small print. Intellectualism was on the list along with Rock and Roll and Romance fiction. At first I found him humorous, standing there with his hands spread out, shouting to the students, his face so red I joked that he would surely burst a vessel. The longer I sat there, the more I really listened to what he was saying. He talked about God hating all of us for our sins, condemning us to an eternity of fire and pain.
Even in my atheistic state, I found that kind of God particularly incomprehensible. My anger rose, and finally I found myself screaming at this guy, confronting him. It started innocently enough with a question. I asked if instead of hating me, God just hated my sin. Wasn’t his love enough to transcend my faults? He told me flat out, no. God hated ME for my sins. That was the only thing I needed. I berated this guy for a good ten minutes while he tried to talk over me. I can’t even remember most of what I said, but I am sure I was cruel and spiteful and full of indignation and vengeance. This guy was unfortunate enough to stand in as the physical whipping post for all my misguided hatred. And I whipped hard that day.
When I was finally done making a complete ass of myself, I was exhausted, physically and mentally drained. I said goodbye to my friends and went home. I remember being on the verge of tears and just falling asleep.
Over the next few weeks I couldn’t get this nagging feeling of guilt out of my head. I didn’t feel bad for yelling at the preacher and I still think he is completely wrong about the nature of God, if there is one. Instead I felt embarrassed for my own anger. It made less sense the more I thought about it. In time, I decided my atheism was no better than the dogma I was fighting against. I was no better than the Christians I condemned. In fact, I felt worse. My hatred was only hurting me and those around that cared about me. It was time to calm down and evaluate what kind of person I wanted to be.
I don’t claim to have any of it figured out and am no closer to any spiritual understanding. I do know that I think about it a great deal less that I did before. I guess it doesn’t matter as much to me anymore. Perhaps it should and I am always open to any conversation about god or religion. I still don’t believe in any of it, but I am more than willing to let people believe and live however they feel is correct. I only ask the same consideration.