Without faith

It is late, and snow is falling. It is very light, and it won’t stick anyway, but neighbors have bought their emergency milk and bread regardless. It’s not like the north where we were buried in snowfall, and I still had to walk to school. I remember the real cold, the brisk and bitter wind, the icicles hanging from the sad-looking houses. I miss winter. I miss the fall there. But I do not miss that town.


I’ve written about many people in my life, and some I’ve written about many times. I’ve written lives over, dreams over, nightmares over. I’ve rewritten songs to beats I could not keep and have cried over a thousand one too many melodies. Too many lyrics. Too many words. Too many thoughts. Millions. Millennia, all swimming in me, as if this moment will never matter, but it still hurts.


There are shadows I grasp at. There are apparitions too heavy to hold. I am a bearer of many observations, and I see things other people have not, cannot, and will never see. I hear radio interference, hissing voices bullying the airwaves. I pick up on pain you never knew you had.

I write so much about banshees. Slick with salt from tears and blood, they shriek in me. There are some whose names I can’t even remember how to spell or how to pronounce but who have broken into this body like viruses in hunger. I have often mused that people touch me for a stake at immortality, thinking, “If I find a way to rot inside her, I will live loudly and forever.”


I carry so many ghost stories; and, much like a Ouija board, I speak through them. A chamber grows for everyone I’ve ever touched or known or seen. My heart is a labyrinth. My heart is a minotaur. It collapses onto itself. It devours itself, much like the ouroboros. It gorges itself on its locked doors and dead ends and grows from the pain of self-destruction. I love you. I will always love you. My heart ensures that love.


Have I carried these hallways throughout all these years? From one life to the next, this network of sorrow and terrible awe. All these tubes and veins and ventricles. Will my heart ever grow too big for the lesser vessels it beats in? Has it grown too big already? Is that why it aches so much?


I reread the poems I’ve written, and I wonder. I wonder what the words will do after this ship I am in has sunk. They will reemerge, I know. I am not famous. I will never be famous. I am not an object of admiration or reverence. But ghost stories endure, because pain endures. We will be object of oblivion someday. A sickly animal will kick up the dead in the dust, and the soil may not remember us—despite our bones nurturing it—but the wounded creature will bleed in newborn grass, and the earth will feel. Because the earth always feels. And it might not remember us, but it will feel our decay, and it will weep. It will rain. Because, I’ve learned, names and faces and identities and memories of situations fade, but suffering remains. Storms will always come. The weather always changes.


I am born to endure. I understand that now. I am no longer concerned with why in an existential sense, but I suppose on stormy days, I will be, scratching at my arms and crying as the thunder rolls on. I do not believe in purpose. It is something I contend with every day. I do not believe in a god or gods. I do not believe in fate. I believe we are the masters of ourselves, and we must learn to be masters of our pain. I believe we assign ourselves a purpose; that our lives are motivated by the actions and thoughts we feed them. We choose who we are, and we choose why we are here. I recognize I am built with passion and presence; I brim with pain. Thus, it only makes sense to me that I am born to endure. The person I am is a person who is full of suffering, and maybe, someday, I will learn to create happiness despite or through it, but for now, my purpose is to live with that pain and force it to propel me, not defeat me.


I was never raised with religion, and while I am thankful to my parents for not forcing it on me, I wish I had found it as a child. Being godless in a universe that desperately needs a protector, a parent, and a fair judge is difficult and almost maddening sometimes. I am not content with my atheism like many other atheists are, but as my mother often says, “faith is a gift I have not been given.”


Although my ethics are rigid, I am adaptable and can adjust my ideas and ideals when I understand they are wrong. This is helpful to the world and I suppose then ultimately to myself, as well, but it feels like it causes harm to me. There is nothing I believe in that comforts me as much as the presence of a god comforts a theist. I do not feel my values protect me, and I do not feel that that should be their purpose. My values exist to promote healing and well-being, but they do not protect, and they do not coddle. They do not forgive, and they do not parent. I am hard as much as I am soft. I am as cynical as I am an idealist. I love people, but I do not like them. I will help people. I will want help. But I will always know in the back of my head that nothing cures the diseases; that nothing and no one, including myself, will save the world.


It is very hard to be alive right now. The political climate is poisonous. Without getting too involved in current affairs, let me just state that Alabama is seriously considering a sexual predator over a feminist, that the sitting president is a malignant narcissist, and that these monsters are being voted in precisely because the classic American Dream is an elaborate shaming of poverty, and shame is a powerful drug.


I am battling my own illnesses, stressors, and health concerns. I fell in the shower today and am still dealing with a strong headache. I’m fatigued. I’m struggling. And the world is falling apart. But I’m also enduring. I am enduring, because that is what I ask of myself; that is the task I’ve assigned myself to, because that is what I have to do to survive. In enduring my pain, I hopefully become stronger. I become wiser. I become a better person than I was, in myself and for the world I serve.


I wish I could pray. I wish I could feel divine light or protected or assuredly destined for a greater purpose than to suffer. I wish I could feel like God’s child or more precisely, that we are all God’s children; but the way I perceive my reality is that life is meant to be painful, and it is what we create from that pain that creates us. I see ourselves as impermanent, aimless, and fleeting. I see no paradise at the end but nothingness or further work in another life. It is a harsh perspective. It is arguably self-damaging. But tirelessly, I smith my love into the ironwork, and for the right reasons. I am not looking to brandish myself onto the world map. I know the cartography changes with time. I am good to my fellow human beings because it is right to be good. I am not good for a reward. I have knelt at my bedside and bowed my head, clapped my hands together and begged for death time and time again, so I have prayed before, but to forces I did not believe in. At night, almost ritualistically, I drag my finger on the wall to write the letters, “let me rest.” I do not know to whom I am talking, but I imagine it is to those same imaginary energies.


I admire people who can strongly believe in a faith and maintain a healthy set of values, and I do firmly believe there are many. The reflection of faith that we see in politics is not to me a true one. After all, any time extremism is involved, there is often a vicious inflexibility and bigotry that takes over. I am somewhat rigid and often critical, but the actions we witness and have witnessed from fundamentalist groups is nothing short of horrifying.


I seem to run on fire, and I seem to run on pain, so maybe there is something beneficial after all that I can’t trust the stars, the dead, or the divine to guide me. I wonder sometimes if the reason I hold onto all of this grief, sorrow, and anger is because it empowers me so much when I reframe it. It’s moments like these in which I feel unconquerable. My veins burn. My heart races. I can hear my pulse. My skin is hot. I can feel the pain screaming in me, but it feels excited. It becomes a surge of epinephrine and dopamine, instead of a thief of serotonin and norepinephrine. I swell with energy and resolve, and I no longer feel like I’m suffocating or worthless.


But these moments are rare. Reframing is difficult. It takes great practice, and it is something I do not implement as often as I should. At the same time, I have to wonder, with the effects it has on me, is it safe? I feel strong, but my insides are violent. It isn’t that I’m violent, but there is a war manifesting itself inside me that is causing the kick in my brain. Is that healthy? Is it better that I stay calm? Am I ever calm? Because when I am not on the verge of invincibility, I am on the verge of death. I am a walking suicide risk, crying or sleeping through a half-life.


But I endure.


I endure for these moments, in which I know I can endure longer; in which I learn more about myself and about the world around me. Maybe someday I will believe in a god. I strongly admire Progressive Christianity as a faith and believe in many of its values. I see how people who have a god in their life find answers whose questions haunt me nightly and hungrily. I see comfort where I have none. I see purpose where I have to create my own. It is difficult. I need help. But for now, I’m who I’ve got, and I have to learn how to make it work, how to keep enduring with faith in only my values, and myself. I suppose that is the missing piece—


I must have faith in myself.


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