I’m an atheist, and I’m pretty sure I always have been. There wasn’t a moment that shattered my faith in God, or an experience that made me question the presence of a greater being. I’ve always been aware of him as a concept, but it was never something that made sense to me. Growing up without a deity wasn’t difficult. I don’t remember any great confusion about the meaning of life, morality or anything else of that nature (at least until after college). The duo of rationality and objectivity got me by just fine.
Except for this one time.
My very first year of public school, 8th grade, was spent in Nova Scotia. I was moderately popular, made some good friends, and attracted my very first girlfriend, Ashley*. When you’re fourteen years old, emotions are fiery creatures that can seldom be contained by patience or parents, and we became very attached. Sadly, at the end of the summer my family moved to Pittsburgh. Moving is seldom easy, but leaving her behind was heartbreaking. I knew I had left her forever, and that eventually life would go on, but for a long time after I made it to Pittsburgh we would stay up all night talking on the phone, writing each other letters. It was nice being missed.
One day I came home from school to find that her mother had called. There had been an accident. Ashley had suffered a bad concussion and was in the hospital. She would be okay. Don’t worry, she’d be okay.
I tried calling her house, but no one picked up. I tried putting on music, but it was just irritating. I tried walking around outside, but it was too windy. I tried watching TV, but it felt like hiding. I tried everything I could think of, but none of it fixed the feeling. She was in the hospital 900 miles away and I was helpless. There wasn’t a single thing in the world I could do to make it better.
I laid on my bed, unable to sleep, staring out the window. The night was clear, the stars bright, and the window framed a perfectly full moon. I realized that I was looking east. Nova Scotia was east. The moon that I saw shining through my window was shining on my ocean town 900 miles away. It was probably shining on the very same hospital that she was in.
It was there, framed in the moonlight, that my moment of madness struck. I don’t remember my thoughts leading up to it, but I remember the moment itself. I turned towards the moon, and in a whisper, said, “I don’t know who I’m saying this to, or what I think will happen, but just make sure she’s okay. I’ll make it up to you, I don’t know how. Just make sure she’s okay.”
The moon offered no reply, just continued to shine through the trees outside my window, making shadows on my bed. I lay there for a moment, unsure what I had just done, what personal boundary I had just crossed. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep.
The next morning I woke up refreshed, though I couldn’t shake a sort of shameful feeling, like I had done something wrong. The feeling you get when you rationalize a questionable action and know you shouldn’t have. Eventually I heard from Ashley; she was fine, if a little medicated, and was resting at home. Even though she was okay, I realized I hadn’t asked a favor of the moon for Ashley’s sake, I had asked for my sake. It was a mental placebo, something that let me medicate the feeling of helplessness. I asked the moon to take care of her, and that was enough to calm me down.
The whole experience unnerves me to this day. I normally pride myself on my grounded mental state, the ability to remain calm and rational in almost any situation. But here I had subconsciously invented a lunar mysticism in order to deal with my girlfriends concussion. Hardly the act of any bastion of mental fortitude.
And there you have it. My one run in with mysticism, God and religion. To say I don’t believe in mysticism is somewhat misleading. The instantaneous relief I felt from helplessness upon asking the moon to take care of Ashley was not only real, it was wonderful. But it was also a falsehood, a mental placebo that I swallowed willingly. Far worse to have been told by my mother, “Just ask the moon nicely, Sam, he’ll make sure Ashley’s okay.”
I’m inclined to say at this point that I don’t mean to disparage anyone’s faith, but, then again, maybe I do.
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