2016: A Love Letter

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Yeah. I know. 2016 sucked… except it didn’t. Not for us. For us, honestly, it was utterly amazing and magical. I can’t even begin to do it justice in one post but I’m going to try…

It started in late 2015, when we watched the new Cosmos series. It blew us away. We just fell in love with the science, the way of seeing the world. It turned Steve atheist for good, in a way that surprised me. It solidified so much of what I had felt for years and it turns out I felt the same as he did. We were transformed. We discussed all kinds of things we had never discussed before, even in all our years of endless conversation. We took an online physics class together. We started reading science and atheism nonfiction and were instantly mesmerized. We started listening to podcasts and religious and philosophical debates. And always, always talking to each other. It’s been fantastic.

This was also the year of the election. And, sadly at first, we found ourselves disagreeing. In some ways, we had veered off into opposite extremes and I was particularly stubborn about seeing the other side of things. We had a lot of uncomfortable silences when we tried to discuss politics – until we both got so frustrated with that reality (ESPECIALLY me) that we created a new one. We researched, we talked, we became willing to change our minds. And Steve shifted and changed and I shifted and changed, hardcore, and we met in the middle, where we remain, agreeing on everything. Through critical thinking, reason, and logic, we agree on everything. It’s incredible.

But the atheism and critical thinking brought something fearful as well, at least for me: the reality of mortality. I realized that not believing in a god meant facing finality. Not believing in god, while alive, is freeing and beautiful. But not believing in god or something after, while facing death… it’s been tough to comprehend and incorporate into my thinking. It’s terrifying.

I struggled for a good five months before I, with Steve’s help, was finally able to turn that fear into something useful, to grasp the reality of that and – instead of panicking or worrying about it – use it to value every single day that I have to be alive. Stop focusing on the things that really will not matter in the end: no more negativity, no more daily anger, no more low body esteem. And, most importantly, I have finally, truly given in to vulnerability – in every way, but with no one more than Steve.

I love him now more than ever. We are entwined and in love to such a deep degree, there really is no way to describe it. For the first time in almost 23 years, I love COMPLETELY, without fear, and with total raw openness. And all because of the atheist discovery. I mean, if I know this is all I have with Steve, there is NO holding back. No fear. No putting up walls. This is it. And so we are crazy for each other. Absolutely madly, deeply in love. After so long together. It’s indescribable.

And in the end, that is what this year has been most of all – an emotional and spiritual and intellectual renaissance with my best friend, the person I love the most in this universe. I only hope I get to spend the rest of my time in this universe – and hopefully other universes – with this person. The one with the best heart, best words, best love. Best.

I’m sad to say goodbye to this year. We will always remember 2016 as the year of transformation. Of something immense. No words I could write here would suffice. But I had to try to put it down anyway.

So much love.

Something Beautiful

Why are we so quick to see the ugly when we stand before the beautiful? Why have we declared that those who are different from us are separate from us? Why do we stand before the light only to turn and face the darkness?

Far back to the earliest moments of human memory, we’ve broken ourselves into small tribes of inclusion, only so that we can treat others with exclusion. We told ourselves that we were right. That we were superior. And that god was on our side.

So many sacred scriptures, rites, edicts, and doctrines are bathed in the blood of tribes, each one warring against the other, each one declaring divine right, each prepared to take their divisions, their bigotry, their fear, and their hatred to the grave. And, tragically, many do so.

Thousands and thousands of groups, religions, cultures, races and nations, each declaring that it’s us versus them, each building their temples, monuments, and messages upon the human tragedy of ignorance, division, and hate.

It’s such a waste, to look at all others, and hope to only see ourselves. To stand upon the claims of primitive times and primitive minds, declaring that times and minds should never change. And holding in contempt the very people we should be holding in our arms.Ignorance. Fear. Hatred. We teach it to our children. They teach it to their children, who teach it to their children. We cloak it in the shroud of righteousness. We speak it in the name of justice. And we claim it in the name of god.

And we could be so. much. better.

I have witnessed the power of hatred, but I discovered a much grander and better world beyond. I see your face… and it is beautiful. I hear your voice… and it is beautiful. I know that you are different than me… and it is beautiful. And I am proud to stand beside you like a brother. I AM your brother. We are links in the human chain – alive at this moment for a brief, priceless chance to breathe the air, to feel the sun upon our faces. To speak the very best words for the very best reasons. To pursue the best ideas and achieve the greatest dreams. To unite instead of divide. To heal instead of harm. And to share together the preciousness of life.

Wouldn’t it be something if those were the things we taught to our children? To look at someone who’s different – wonderfully different – and see something beautiful?

Credit and thanks to The Thinking Atheist.

Not for Nothing

It came out of nowhere, on my drive to work. I’m not sure what I was thinking about that brought it on. But suddenly, I had this extremely clear understanding of the finality of death. That I will cease to exist. That I will no longer be able to think or learn or be. That I will end and there will be no more consciousness. There will be nothing else. And I won’t even know it. There will be no “I” to know anything.

Here, a few hours later, I feel like I can’t put it into the right words. But my understanding of it was so vivid in that moment, so concrete, it felt like a solid weight in the middle of my chest.

A mixture of dread, panic, and sadness washed over me, a heightened blend of emotions so intense, that once it had flowed through my body, it left me tingling and cold, and I found myself taking large breaths and telling myself to calm down.

I immediately thought about people of belief, those who think that we have an afterlife to look forward to, and I know that is one of the fundamental reasons that religion was invented (along with needing purpose, along with explanation of scientific phenomena that couldn’t be explained at the time). Fear of death is so immense that people need faith as armor against it.

I thought about my atheism, how that doesn’t logically include an afterlife and yet, to alleviate the terror of nothingness, I have always held a belief in “something beyond death” because I refuse to accept that it all just ends. That I will think no more. That I will never see Steve again. That I will be alone and gone and unknowing. I cannot accept it.

I thought about how I am not even remotely the first person to have that kind of moment of realization. I know it must be very human and very common. I pondered how those moments shape people’s philosophies, even subconsciously. Most people turn to faith. For those who don’t, there is a choice: let the unknown turn you apathetic or turn you kind; become a nihilist or a humanist.

It’s easy to understand the temptation of the former. After I watched Cosmos last year, I felt like I could see the big picture of human evolution, anthropology, sociology, science, and theism. My eyes were opened. As a result, nothing else seemed particularly important anymore. The current state of the world, politics, the division of countries and peoples and belief systems – all of that becomes insignificant when viewed through the lens of science and realism. What are countries and peoples anyway? We are all one humanity, floating on a tiny speck in a vast sea.

Indeed, after having all these thoughts on my drive in today, I took one look at the negative news of the world this morning online and thought “it doesn’t matter, it’s not even worth getting riled up.” And it’s not. So, on one hand, this is a positive perspective. It makes me understand that life is far too short, that all the things I stress over, seemingly big and small, out in the world or in my own life, don’t really matter. This is good for my well-being.

On the other hand, it would be easy to take that feeling and run with it in a very negative direction. It would be easy to focus on the idea that, if I can see the big picture, and see how silly all these petty differences are, that everything is meaningless – that life, that people, are meaningless. Anarchy and chaos and living only for oneself is fine because what does it matter.

What does it matter? I don’t know. I don’t believe I will be judged upon my death. I don’t believe that what I do in this lifetime will change what happens to me after, which could be absolutely nothing. But I choose the other path anyway. Because kindness and love and compassion move me. They are the instincts that bring me to tears. They make my heart swell. And somewhere in my gut, in my deepest heart, I know there is a reason for that. Maybe that is my version of faith.

Far too many deep thoughts for so early in the day. After I got to work, all I wanted to do was turn right back around and go home, wrap my arms around Steve, and cherish every single second of every single day we have to spend together in this existence – especially because I have no idea if this is all we have. I hope it isn’t. Either way, I am going to do my very best to stay awake, live the life I want, be fully me and fully present, and love as hard as I can. Because the alternative is not an alternative. All that love can’t be for nothing.

Evolution Versus

Vendor table at Cabela’s yesterday. This was mostly a hands-on teaching tool for kids, sponsored by the Texas State Rifle Association in conjunction with Texas Dept. of Parks and Wildlife. These gentlemen were extremely knowledgeable about every animal on that table and they were eager to share that knowledge.

The man sitting down spent about 10 minutes with us. He explained the difference between wild hog, domesticated pig, and javelina. Then he picked up the alligator skull and hand and started talking to us about their opposing thumbs, why they only have claws on three digits, how the female of the species can determine the number of eggs she needs to lay and how many males and females are needed to best populate for the year, and how she can actually decide what sex the eggs will be by positioning the eggs and altering the water temperature.

After telling us all this, and us responding with genuine enthusiasm at having learned something new, he leaned over and said

“Isn’t that amazing? That she knows how to do all that? I mean, how can you not believe that is the work of some kind of divine guidance?”

I smiled and Steve smiled and we didn’t really respond. And I suspect maybe he felt the vibe shift in the smallest way, and so he finished up with us and moved on to the young boys approaching the table behind us.

And as I walked away, I remarked to Steve that I can’t help but find it deeply fascinating that he can tell us all that and find it to be proof of god and we hear all that and find it to be proof of evolution and science and nothing more. And that kind of stuff doesn’t annoy me or offend me. It fascinates me.

I also mentioned to Steve that although he may not remember me saying so, I used to believe the same thing for a similar reason. What I mean is, 13 years ago, when I took anatomy and physiology in college, I spent some time looking at cells and tissues through a microscope. And when I saw how organized and patterned everything in the human body is, down to the tiniest level, I thought at the time that it was proof of some kind of higher power. Truly, I wondered how anyone could believe otherwise when they saw the layers of beauty and order in our physical creation.

Funny what 13 years can change. At 40, I don’t believe any of that anymore. I am extremely content as an atheist. But I don’t look back on my prior beliefs with disdain at ALL. I allow for other views and I also allow for the possibility that I may be totally wrong. I find it genuinely interesting and intriguing that other people see the world and their journey through this life and beyond it in an entirely different way than I do. May I always be so open.

Dad Dreams

I haven’t talked a lot about my dad here, except to mention that he died (and that he died “of cigarettes and food”), that he was a piano player and singer for a living (mostly), and that we were close. I think that’s about all. I haven’t really said a lot more about our relationship, I don’t think.

But close doesn’t really cover it. We were the extreme of close. We “got” each other on a whole other level, something deep-seated and spiritual. So, when he died very suddenly in 2003, obviously I was devastated.

I started dreaming about him only a few weeks later. I don’t mean dreams where he appeared alongside other friends and family, which were “just dreams.” I mean dreams like… no one will ever convince me they weren’t him visiting me.

I wrote all of them down over the years because I never wanted to forget them. In each of them, there were two common elements. One was that we were alone. The other was that we were very physically close at some point in the dream, about to hug or, in fact, hugging tight, or him touch my arm or head or vice versa. I had another one this morning that felt like that. Only me and him, very quiet, very simple. Maybe he was saying hello.

If you don’t want to read these I will totally understand. I’ve always wanted to put them down online somewhere though. Don’t know why, but I do.

  1. Late April 2003, only a few weeks after he died: Apartment in Texas we lived in when I was a teenager. I walked into the kitchen to see my dad sitting there. He was on the phone with my mom. I knew she was trying to tell him he was dead, but I also knew I needed to be the one to tell him. I grabbed the phone away from him and hung it up. He looked at me with a quizzical expression. I told him, “you’re dead.” He looked at me for a moment and then he sort of nodded and smiled. Then he got up and started cooking dinner. He was leaning against the counter and I walked over to him and said, “But it’s okay! We can still talk like this,” but as I was saying those words, he started to literally fade and disappear before my eyes. He never spoke. Woke up crying.
  2. May 24, 2003 (my 28th birthday): Saw him standing outside my current apartment. Walked over to him and gave him a big tight hug. I said, “I’m so glad you’re here! I really wanted to see you for my birthday.” Like the first dream, he didn’t speak. I pulled away from the hug and looked up at him and he had a very empty expression on his face, but almost sad. I said, “But you’re not really here, are you?” Then I woke up. Cried.
  3. September 2003: I was walking through a mall and came upon this store near the end of the building where the entrance led into people going to this dining room area on the right and a dimly lit bar/lounge on the left. I looked in there and saw my dad playing the piano and singing a tune. I entered the room and when I looked around, I saw these two old black guys at the bar, and many people at these little tables, just listening to my dad. Somehow, though it sounds ridiculous, I knew they were all dead musicians. They all were staring at me, but smiling, and they knew I was his daughter. I sat at a table near the piano and my dad finished his set and came over to me. We started talking and he told me that the last few years of his life, he had been in so much physical pain (because of his back and other physical problems) that he sometimes wished he would die. He said he was alright and he told me that all the people in there were like him (confirming what I had assumed) and that God had given him a chance to hang out and play music again and he was having a lot of fun. I don’t remember if he said anything else. A woman came over to the table and asked him to play again and everyone kind of half applauded and whistled and encouraged him to get back to the piano. He went back and sat down to play and he looked at me and started “My Favorite Year.” Because he knew how much I loved that one. Woke up still hearing him singing. I LOVED THIS ONE.
  4. March 31, 2005 (my mom’s birthday): (This was a very bizarre series of dreams sort of about him and his dead best friend. It culminated in this one.) I sort of half woke up and I was telling myself, no no don’t wake up, I want to keep seeing my dad. Two seconds later I dozed off again and without any preface, my dad and I were falling off a mountaintop SO high I can’t describe it. It was white everywhere, snowtop peaks, snowing everywhere. As we were falling, I was looking up at him and we were just staring at each other and I felt so much love for him and so painfully face to face close that it was almost embarrassing. He looked sad, or at least not smiling (same expression really as the one he had in my birthday dream from 2003), and I started to cry. He wrapped me up in his arms and hugged me. I could feel the material of his shirt against the left side of my face and the warmth of his chest against my tears. and we just kept falling. And then, almost as if someone had asked me out loud what was so great about my dad, I remember closing my eyes and feeling him hugging me and thinking – and saying in my head – “you could ask him anything and he always had an answer.” We hugged for what seemed like a long time before I woke up. Only 15 minutes had passed since the first time I opened my eyes.
  5. November 17, 2005: My dad and I were driving in what seemed like his old car, the beat up station wagon he used to have in Dallas, but we were driving around a city at night through busy streets and lots of lights and buildings. I don’t have a lot to go on but I really think it was New York City and it felt old, like we were in the 1960’s – HIS New York City. Anyway, I said to him, “do you ever go see mom?” He kind of faltered for a minute, got a sort of melancholy look on his face and said “she’s not really as open to it.” Then I said “how do I know these dreams are real, that you’re really here?” He kind of grinned and said, “well, you can’t record it or tape it or document it in any way, so there’s no proof.” He half turned to me and smiled and said, “but what do you think?” And I smiled, that smile I would get when he was teaching me a lesson or imparting some wisdom where I always felt kind of silly for even asking the question, and I said, “I believe it’s real.” Woke up.
  6. January 2010: We were on an old ship, almost entirely wooden. I remember being with Steve and walking through many rooms and hallways and floors. Then I opened this one door and walked outside onto a deck. The sun was very bright. I couldn’t really see water, just a vast yellow white light to my left, infinite shining light. Above me was the bottom of a wooden staircase leading to the upper open deck. My dad came over to me and hugged me. And he said in my ear: “You know there’s a higher power out there if you would just pull your head out of your ass about it.”

If you’ve read this far I appreciate it. I still find them very moving and love finally getting to share them. However, if you know me, you know there is also one glaring question here:

  • Fact 1: after 10 (well, really 20) years of soul searching, 5 good years reading massive portions of religious texts from the five “big” religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism), and culling amazingly beautiful lessons from them all, I have called myself atheist for at least a few years now. I am not a smug atheist, mind you, can’t stand the type. I leave room for doubts and questions. But still. Atheist.
  • Fact 2: I believe these dreams are really my dad visiting me, which means his spirit and his being exist somewhere beyond this life, which means he would already know what is out there waiting for us… wouldn’t he?
  • Fact 3: He mentions “god” and “a higher power” in these dreams.
  • Fact 2 + Fact 3 = Fact 1 contradicted… right?

I don’t know how to reconcile that. It has occurred to me that maybe they don’t contradict, that words can just be words, that what I DO believe – that we are all part of some greater spiritual ocean and interconnected with one another and the universe – is what he is calling “god.” And early 2010, when he was telling me to pull my head out of my ass, was not that long before I finally got sober. So maybe he was just nudging me.

Interesting to ponder, regardless.