*For longtime readers who were following the "Leaving The Fold" posts about my deconversion, I know I left ya'll hanging back in October. Since then things have "unfolded" enough for me to complete the series (for lack of a better word), which will conclude with new posts on Thursday and Friday. But for any newcomers or those who need to refresh their memory, I've decided to re-post the first three parts, beginning with part one today.
I was already running late. I'd driven nearly an hour to get there, following the rest of my family in my car since I had to go to work later. Unfortunately I got separated from them and made a wrong turn. While the minutes ticked away, my head whipped frantically from side to side as I traveled up and down the streets, squinting my eyes at every store I passed, trying to find the building. Finally, in a palm-to-forehead moment, I looked up and saw the building's name on a place I passed by four or five times.
I wrenched the car door open and briskly walked inside, spotting a familiar face from my hometown guiding me towards the double doors. My thudding, rushed steps grew soft and timid as I made my way up the aisle, the sound of the preacher's voice becoming louder and louder as I slinked into the pew behind my parents and extended family, who all gave quick nods of grateful appreciation. I smiled politely then turned my gaze to my right, to reason I was here. The reason we all were here. My great aunt's closed casket, lying just below the pulpit, accentuated by a beautiful boquet of white flowers.
Her death hadn't been surprising. She hadn't been well for sometime, suffering from dementia that caused her to often talk in circles and make bad decisions such as standing outside of her house and hitching a ride with a total stranger. While she'd lived out of town for most of my life, I'd grown to love her through her trips back home to visit her sister and the rest of our family. She could definitely be a handful--getting her settled into the nursing home once it became clear that she couldn't live by herself anymore required my mother and I tricking her into thinking she was coming there for a visit, then ignoring her angry cries once she got hip to our game--but she was a good person.
The funeral had the usual elements; a reading of her obituary, renditions of "I'll Fly Away" and "Going Up Yonder," heartfelt remembrances by family and friends (those of whom were still living anyway--she was 90 years old), and of course a eulogy/sermon delivered by her pastor. Most of it consisted of him remembering her loyal, faithful service to the church, her acts of kindness towards others and how she now was free of the burdens of her sickness and life in general. Then the inevitable happened: a warning to us that like her, our time on Earth would one day be over, and we better be sure that, like her, we accepted Jesus as our savior and lived lives of service to him.
As I watched everyone nodding their heads in reverent agreement, their barely audible mumurs of approval of his message seeping into my ears, a thought came to my mind: "This is bullshit." And not in an angry, this a-hole just cut me off in traffic or a pissed off, "I can't believe I have to put up with this way." It just came quietly, a moment of clarity both calming as a spring breeze and unsettling as a category five hurricane. Everything seemed to slow down as I came to realization that no one in the church--not the pastor, smiling broadly as he gave us what he thought was the urgent, uncomfortable truth, my family, by turns laughing and comforting one another, the choir members, the funeral director and his staff--knew where my great aunt was, or what happened after she took her last breath, if anything at all happened. There was no way any of them could have any higher, esoteric knowledge than me because we were all human beings with the same, limited capacity. The pastor was simply regurgitating what he'd been taught, and we were the bereaved baby birds lapping it up so it would make something so uncertain and frightening easier to swallow. The sad, hopeful smiles that shined on everyone's faces as we took once last look at her body were proof positive they now felt they had a handle on anything life or death could throw at them.
But for me, the mental placebo had worn off, as it had numerous times over the last year or so. Before I'd always managed to up my dosage, but the unvarnished truth had busted through and broken my high, and I could no longer discard it. I wasn't ready to acknowledge what sobriety would mean though...