October 18, 2006

When Tragedy Misses

Driving to work at my new job is a lot easier than when I used to commute fifty miles each way to the city. I don't have to pay tolls, cross bridges, and worry about traffic. No, my new drive is a breezy twenty minute jaunt which includes a stop at my local 7-11 for coffee and a newspaper. But it turns out the danger for getting killed remains the same.
Yesterday I turned my car onto the main highway to begin the first leg of my relatively short journey. I had the radio on, my brain was warming up, and I took notice of the clear sky and warm weather. The traffic light up ahead turned yellow and I slowed my car and stopped when the light turned red. Only, the guy in the pickup truck behind me had a different plan. He didn't brake at all until he was dangerously close to me. His pickup skidded, making a frightening skreetching sound, and he had to cut the wheel and continue jamming on the brakes along the shoulder of the road and into the intersection where he almost collided with another car.
In that brief moment when I stopped, looked in my rearview mirror and watched helplessly as a giant pickup truck nearly knocked my baby Honda across town like a golf ball, it dawned on me just how disposable I was. If he did indeed hit me, I'd have been roasted in a fiery conflagration. Pieces of my charred remains would have rained all over the inersection, and all before I had my coffee.
Needless to say, I was shaken up. The pickup driver pulled his truck over and probably checkd his underwear, and I rolled past him like nothing happened.
My morning ride seemed to take longer. Every turn of the wheel was a risky maneuver, the speed limit became a dare, and why the hell did everyone have to drive so damn fast? The rest of the day went fine and I forgot about my near accident with the inattentive pickup driver. That is until I got home and saw my kids. Like any other day I traipsed in through the front door like Robert Young and my wonderful children clamored around me anxious to tell me about school. I paused, took a deep breath, and stiffened at the sound of squealing tires echoing in my ears.

Mr. Grudge's Self Portrait

Miss Mass For The Right Reasons

Recently, I had a conversation with a man I know and respect who is a former seminarian. He could have been a priest, but the whole celibacy thing was too much of a commitment. Anyway, the subject of religion came up and I began to talk about taking my dad to church the day before. It was during that conversation I informed him that I never wanted to attend mass again.
What sparked that declaration was that during the portion of the mass where the priest directs everyone to "offer each other the sign of peace" I meekly shook the hand of the woman in front of me, gave my father a hug, and continued to mind my own business. You see, my mother died only two weeks before and both me and my dad were having a hard time getting through the mass. My father is deeply religious and he honestly believed he was in the right place at the right time to send some sort of spiritual radio signal to his wife, and I was simply having a hard time dealing with the image I had in my mind of her coffin in front of the alter.
That's when the woman directly behind me stated in a loud voice to the other lady next to her and everyone within ear shot "That man didn't give me peace!" The headline in the paper the next morning should have read "Local Woman Drowned In Holy Water", but I restrained myself.
There were other things about this mass that had me alarmed. I noticed that people like to raise their hands in the air when the pray now, that they actually sing the words to the songs, they pray a little too loudly, and every single person who is able to, receives communion. When I refused to get on line for a wafer (bless me Father for I have sinned, it's been 22 years since my last confession) a woman enthusiastically waved me ahead of her, and she looked disappointed when I told her I wasn't going to receive. I was the only one to put just a dollar into the collection basket while everyone else placed numbered envelopes inside. But, the huge finale was when everyone clapped at the end of the service. Yes, I am not kidding, exaggerating, or making any portion of this up. They clapped. I was dumbfounded.
Since when did Catholics become such holy rollers?
I told the former almost priest that I didn't like going to church because I can't stand dealing with zealots, I didn't like the "charismatic" aspect of modern day Catholicism, don't even mention the pedophile scandals, and I can't stand the fact that the church always has it's hand out for more money because whatever you give is never enough. There are plenty of good reasons why I should go to hell and I don't want it to be because I short changed the collection plate.
After listening patiently, he emphatically stated "That's not the reason to stop going to mass". I had no comeback. For a few long minutes I sat and pondered what he said, not because it was profound, but because it wasn't what I expected him to say, and I didn't think he'd be so passionate about my remarks. He actually cared about my spiritual well being. Because I'm a smart aleck, I asked him what would be a good reason to go to church, and without missing a beat he said "to pray to God." Or, something like that. A plane flew overhead and I really didn't hear him. Still, no matter what he actually said, he made his point.
You don't go to church because you're a fan of priests, you don't get angry at God because people can be rude, greedy, or lose their way morally, spiritually, or criminally. You go to church to be with God. It's that simple.
Since that conversation a few weeks ago, I've had no religious conversion which made me bounce out of bed on Sunday mornings to be the first in line at the church door. I haven't been a particularly nice person, and my problems with the church remain. Yet, I feel something within me which asks why I can't rediscover the unbridled religious fervor I had as a kid before I entered my rebellious, arrogant "I'm an atheist" teenaged years. I'm middle aged, afraid of death, and want to hang onto the notion of an afterlife. Even baking in hell is better than losing everything to nothingness in death.
There has to be a God, there must be a heaven. One day soon I may find my way back to mass. When I'm there, maybe, just maybe, I'll turn around and shake someone's hand.