My relationship with God has always been awkward, because I was never really certain as to what I was supposed to be looking for. It’s a signature of the human condition that compels us to define relationships, even those that can prove least definable. And as humans, we want something out of the deal.
When I was young and impressionable, I was seeking answers to the biggest questions the same way most young people of my generation did: By watching movies and listening to music. I had it figured that George Burns was God, John Denver was an Apostle and Ozzy Osbourne was the Antichrist. Looking back now I wish I’d been right. Shit, a God who smoked cigars and had a great sense of humor, an Apostle who sang folk songs and a devil who penned Ironman, one of the greatest rock songs ever? Sold!
When I was a teenager, I negotiated all manner of adversity by by dialing up the high and mighty hotline. It was more about kitsch than catechism. Mix too many adult beverages . . . put in a call. Bend a rule . . or maybe even a law . . put in a call. Get myself in a bind with a girlfriend’s girlfriend . . put in a call. Find out girlfriend or girlfriend’s girlfriend was late . . . put in a series of calls.
Adulthood is where I stopped calling on God because I didn’t feel like dealing with a busy signal. This is how adults survive. When we ain’t listened to in a way we deem appropriate, we look elsewhere: Financial advisors, general practitioners, insurance agents, mechanics, bookies, bartenders and therapists. Mediation comes at a price that we’re more than willing to pay because we’re assured that someone is listening.
Getting married meant churching, for a while, but the arrangement was never a fit for me because I was never much for country clubs. And that’s what church felt like, with all the networking and gossip mongering. I knew I could get more religion out of a bottle of wine or a baseball diamond than a Sunday morning in church.
Of course, it all comes down to faith. And faith is one of those things that isn’t found in a book or a house or a hymn. No doubt, these things can serve to inspire you, but they’ll never make you believe. No, that kind of thing usually makes the scene when we least expect it.
It’s been twenty years since I woke up in a hospital bed after having undergone a thyroidectomy to remove two separate cancerous growths. I remember feeling super groovy, as if Jimi Hendrix had just supplied me with some magical feel goods and chased it with a song. Needless to say, I didn’t give a flip about the tubes that were sticking out of me or the fact that I was sharing a room with a guy who was hacking up a lung. Before I could start doing the math on what came next, I passed out again.
Waking up at night in a hospital room is some truly creepy shit. For most people. But I guess I always had a morbid streak and a genuine curiosity for that kind of thing because I felt nothing but peace. And yes, the primo stock that was running through my veins helped. But it was more than that, because now my brain was working plenty well enough to remember back to that morning. The pastor at the church I’d stop attending had come by before my surgery to talk with me. He was a good man and I was genuine in my warm greeting. We talked for a while, about baseball and kids and steak houses. But I remember one simple exchange.
“Are you scared?”
“No, I’m not. Everything’s cool, it’s really cool,”
“Good, that’s good,” He examined my face as if searching for the lie, and not finding it.
It was as if I had waited all my life to feel the kind of peace I did on that morning. Uncertain as to what came next, and remarkably okay with that. I chatted with the nurses as they rolled me through the corridors until we arrived at a frosty operating room and I was introduced to all the players. And then they were serving me up a tonic to help me sleep and then I cracked a few jokes just to let them know it was paying off handsomely.
Something mystical was riding shotgun with me as I began to tiptoe through the tulips, because that’s when David Gilmour and Roger Waters started doing their thing. As my eyes grew heavy, I could feel the dumbest smile taking hold of my face as I muttered sleepily “Great fucking song . . .”
If there’s more to faith than that? I don’t need it.