Ellie — Almost a year ago, your grandfather and I went to see an off-Broadway play called “The Christians.” It told the story of a minister who’s begun to doubt some of his church’s primary tenets, such as the belief in hell as a place of damnation where non-Christians will suffer for eternity. His change of heart and mind creates deep and painful rifts in his congregation and his own life.
We left the play, walking through the dark, rainy evening. Sometimes, we talk about plays and movies; other times, we say almost nothing. That night, we’d seen an interesting, well-acted play — but it had nothing in it that particularly touched us or made us want to talk.
Essentially, we’d seen a play about people who devoutly believe in the Bible as a source of truth, people whose religion was at the center of their lives. And we weren’t like that. Your grandfather and I grew up in households that were mildly religious (his) and deeply religious (mine). As adults, though, we aren’t religious. We call ourselves agnostics — which, to me, means we’re open to religious beliefs, but not yet convinced by them. (Your grandfather probably has a slightly different, more jaded view of this. Fine. Let him write his own blog.)
But here was a deeply felt play about faith and community and conscience. Just because we didn’t share the characters’ beliefs, just because we weren’t “believers” in a traditional sense, didn’t mean we had no beliefs of our own.
“So what do we believe in?” I asked your grandfather. “I know we have beliefs, lots of them — but what are they?”
We both slowed down to talk. Here’s a re-creation of what we said, combining our two voices. Since I may have a selective memory, I’m using the first-person singular.
I believe in love, kindness and compassion. The world can be cruel and unfair. We have to take the time to treat one another well — for their sake and for our own.
I believe in trying to understand others’ lives and hearts. It’s too easy to live obliviously, wrapped up in our daily existences and concerns. We have to open our own hearts and awareness beyond our own stingy concerns.
I believe in science and in trying to find out what works and why.
I believe in equal rights and opportunities for everybody.
I believe in trying to be a good human being.
I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
I believe in celebrating every chance I get.
I believe enchiladas are the best test of a Tex-Mex restaurant.
I believe in forgiveness and second chances.
I believe in leaving the gun, taking the cannoli, and trying to forget about the third Godfather.
I believe in hard work.
I believe in gelato, most carbohydrates, and margaritas on the rocks with extra salt.
I don’t believe much in certainty. This bumper sticker I once saw pretty much sums it up: “Follow those who seek the truth. Run from those who find it.”
I believe in Willie Nelson.
I believe in dinner parties with freewheeling conversations that everyone contributes to.
I believe in lots of other things, here and there — but I also believe in not carrying on too long and boring people. So, that’s it for now!
Love you, Coco
(Copyright 2016 by Ruth Pennebaker)