Most nights, I let my kids watch the evening news.
This is partly because I want to watch it and they just won’t go away. But also, I like exposing them to death and destruction so they’ll appreciate the fact that I keep them breathing every day.
Earlier this week, a story aired about a speeding drunk driver who crashed into a house and killed a 17-year-old high school honor student as she slept in her bed. The Diva stopped playing some iPhone game that totally drains my battery and watched the television intently.
A few minutes later, she approached me quietly and said, “Mama? Why did that happen? Why did that girl get killed?”
“Well,” I said. “Some man wasn’t being a responsible driver.”
“No, I mean why did she have to die? Why does God let that happen?”
Damn. Good. Question. Pat Robertson? Wanna take this one?
I flew out of my body for a moment and observed how I would look and sound if I said, HONEY, THERE IS NO GOD. GOOD PEOPLE DIE BECAUSE LIFE SUCKS AND THERE’S VERY LITTLE JUSTICE IN THIS WORLD. I imagined the Diva ceasing to brush her teeth and refusing to eat anything besides gummi bears and Cheez-Its for eternity.
Not pretty. So I flew back into my body, swallowed those words, and said some version of this: “Honey, God doesn’t let things happen. There are people who believe that he does, but Daddy and I don’t think so. God doesn’t control life like that. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes bad things happen because people make bad decisions, or sometimes just because it’s the way life is. And we don’t always understand it, and it’s very, very sad.”
“But I thought everything happened for a reason.”
“That’s not exactly true, honey. Not everything happens for a reason. I think when people say that, they mean that it’s important to take what happens and learn to live with it. Find a reason to keep living no matter what happens.”
Then the Tyrant made a mean face at her brother so he dug his nails into her arm and she whacked him in the face with Teddy, and I was all, God? God? If you’re letting this moment happen, can you intervene about now?
It’s difficult for a Catholic girl to entirely erase God from her psyche. God and Jesus and the Virgin Mary and I were once very close. I spoke to them every night growing up as I prayed I would get a horse for Christmas, or for Paul L. to ask me to prom, or that I didn’t actually do what I don’t remember doing but might have done during an alcoholic blackout.
But at some point I stopped praying because it stopped making sense to me. If I had prayed hard enough earlier this week, might God have steered Hurricane Isaac away from my hometown? Do children die of cancer because their parents haven’t been effusive enough in asking God to intervene? That’s just silly.
Hot Firefighter Husband was baptized Catholic, and tells some vague story about a priest giving him a makeshift First Communion on a New England camping trip. Since I’ve known him, though, he has been a fully committed atheist.
I spent too much time with the nuns to call myself an atheist, which is a mortal sin in the world of the God that I don’t think exists. I think I’m more agnostic – meaning I believe it’s impossible to determine whether God exists. And if he does exist, and he is a kind and just being, why would he care about people praying, unless he’s, like, part Kardashian.
I know that approximately one gazillion people will feel faint after reading this, and pray to an invisible creator to save my wretched soul. And I know that I’ve tremendously oversimplified a complex, perplexing theological issue.
But you know what? I don’t care. I do not want my child growing up believing there’s some cloud-dwelling powerful deity who can change her life by pointing a ghostly finger. My family’s GOD is the love and spirit we foster within our little nuclear unit. We draw on that spirit to usher us through this lovely, mysterious life. It softens the world’s harsh edges, and it keeps us from focusing on the fact that GOOD PEOPLE DIE BECAUSE LIFE SUCKS AND THERE’S VERY LITTLE JUSTICE IN THIS WORLD, even though that’s the honest damn truth.