Like anyone raised in the Catholic faith, I grew up with love for (and fear of) God, with a crushing weight of guilt (Jesus bled to death on a literal cross for us? How do I possibly make that up to him??) and big, broad ideas about good and evil. As I’ve grown older, those ideas have hardened, shaped themselves into my personal philosophies.
The sunny and optimistic outlook of everyone has the capacity for good became a more cynical some people are motivated to help others and others are motivated to help themselves became we are individuals shaped by our families, societies, countries, incomes, neighborhoods, teachers, books, movies, choices, and we are constantly changing like melting mercury, a community of memories and decisions coexisting in a single, simple husk of a human body and reduced to 140 characters on a regular basis.
My latest philosophy on humanity is a mouthful, to say the least. And tomorrow it’ll probably be different, and hopefully a little slimmed down. I feel like most of getting older is just seeing more of the world and either being inspired by it or letting it wither you. Every social interaction begets a change to our personal philosophies. A stranger holding the door for you warms your heart, and a homeless man peeing into a Nesquik bottle over an abused trash can in a subway station turns your stomach. One second, the world is wonderful and bright. And then it just kind of…sucks.
Faith often informs philosophy. Or maybe it’s the other way around. All I know is that I went to church every Sunday for 19 years and then I didn’t. Somewhere along the way my questions exceeded my answers. I was doubting the usual suspects: God, fate, and myself. My belief in heaven and hell wasn’t as unshakable as it once was. In fact, it was pretty nonexistent. I became obsessed with death and what happens to us when our hearts stopped beating. What if there is no after? What if the end really just ends? I was haunted by the things science can’t quantify. Oblivion. Legacy. Holy ghosts.
I started praying to God less and less. Prayers felt more like soliloquies to an empty audience. A good recap of the day, maybe, but it felt self-serving when I couldn’t sense a connection on the other end.
In my last semester of college I had to perform a monologue in front of my acting class. I chose something that was a little funny and a little lonely. It was from the perspective of a girl who was trying to pray to God for the first time.
Dear God. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Dear God. Wait, am I supposed to kneeling? Oh God – I mean, dear God.
Okay, well number one, I have a problem with the ‘God’ word. It sounds too much like Santa Claus or…Daddy. Would it be okay if I change the words? Is that allowed? I just feel like I’m asking to talk to the person in charge, and isn’t God a deeper thing than that?
-Mia, “Wonderland” by Brooke Berman
I could go on. The basic gist is that she feels lost and is reaching out to God as a last resort. It’s bumbling and awkward and feels like the worst kind of first date, where you don’t even know if you like the person but you’re oversharing anyway.
It felt honest.
Presenting and performing for other people was never my strong suit. Whatever it was – speaking for a group project, reciting poetry in my sophomore English class, auditioning for the school musical – made my palms itchy and slick with sweat. My whole body would shake like an angry radiator and my hands forgot how to be still. I usually erased the whole experience as soon as I returned to my seat, my brain gladly depositing the memory into its mental trash bin.
But by the time I was acting out my monologue for my class, I felt like I’d earned my confidence. I’d suffered through the community college Speech class. I’d pushed myself through every uncomfortable barrier of social behavior time and again. I’d weighed the value of a better grade against my fear of public speaking and grades won out. I could do this.
And I did. I performed it again and again, through practice sessions. My confidence grew with every class we tried it in. I was proud of myself. I was doing it! Acting! Not for real, but for a grade. Not for an audience, but for me. After the last class before the final my professor took me aside and gently said, “Where did the nervousness go? Why is Mia more confident in her prayer now?”
Well, because I was more confident. My anxiety in presenting had been willed away, or at least, quieted. I told my professor that the more I practiced it, the better I felt when I was acting.
“But what about Mia? You’ve grown, but that character hasn’t. She’s still nervous. Try using that in your final.”
On the day of the final I biked to class in a thunderstorm. Even after removing my rain jacket I was soaked to the bone, dripping like a wet rat all over the hallway. I tried to pat myself dry in the bathroom but it was fruitless. Then I was called in.
I started the monologue standing. I loosely sigh, “Dear God. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I wasn’t me and these weren’t my words. I was Mia.
But it was a little of me, too.
“Dear God. Wait…am I supposed to kneeling?”
Hesitantly, humbly, I knelt to the ground. It was cold. I had a hole in my still wet pants and my knee rested on the bare floor of the classroom. Before, twenty students would stare at me while I practiced for them. But the final was one-on-one. I was looking at my professor and looking at no one. My hands were in front of me, clasped together.
I closed my eyes. For the first time in two years, I tried to reach out to God. Like, really try. Like the old days. And it made me feel small. Shaky and small.
“Okay, well number one, I have a problem with the ‘God’ word…” I delved into the monologue. My lips reciting the words I’d memorized for months, while my thoughts were forming a prayer of their own. While Mia was asking how to address God, I was asking questions too. Why are you farther away now? Why can’t I just believe in you anymore? What if you don’t exist at all? What’s the point of us, of anything, if you aren’t watching over? Are we really just organisms forming and decaying over the course of thousands of centuries, with no clear goal?
Have you stopped talking to me, or have I stopped listening?
The last line of the monologue is Mia asking, “Was that okay?”
I opened my eyes and asked that question, addressing it towards the open air, the author of the monologue, my patient professor, my absent faith.
I wish I could say I’m closer to feeling like I know the questions to those answers than I was in that classroom in May, kneeling in rain-soaked clothes before my teacher. And sometimes I have been, but mostly I haven’t. I still feel lost.
But it was a moment. And it felt big. If not a confirmation in faith, then closer examination of it.
It felt like a start towards something. Which is better than nothing, yeah?