Friday, February 16, 2018

In which I am forced out of the closet

This blog has been my closet for two years now.  That is, I mostly don't talk about religion anywhere but here.  I didn't want to make a big statement and offend half my friends, so I have shared my theological questions and opinions here, in the safety of obscurity.  This blog isn't private, but it's read by maybe twenty people and, so far as I know, you're all nice, so I've felt pretty safe being open on here.  It's like having a private conversation in a busy restaurant.  There are other people there, but they don't care about you enough to listen in.

And it's possible to dig through my facebook account enough to find one's way to this blog and then read back through for several months and get posts that mention my beliefs.  I didn't worry about that too much, because I figured nobody cares about me enough to do that kind of digging unless they really like me.

Well, I was wrong.  Somebody did care that much.  Someone, probably ticked off about my criticism of Christendom's treatment of rape victims, found their way here.  He immediately messaged me saying that I owed it to everyone to be public, for fear someone might listen to me or trust me because they thought I was Catholic.  Not that I've claimed to be, but people consider it the default because I went to Christendom, so not making my private views public, in his view, amounted to lying.

And because of all that, he gave me a deadline.  Make an announcement in a group we're both part of, or he'd do it for me.

It got me really upset.  I've had a lot of reasons for keeping my religious beliefs mostly to myself.  I don't want it to be a big thing.  I don't want to make people think badly of my kids or my husband because of me.  I also know that many people take the view that having private opinions is one thing, but making a public statement is formal apostasy and gives scandal.  I never wanted to make that kind of gesture.  It only upsets people, and who am I to "give people a faith crisis," as my words have been accused of doing?  I've warned people off this blog a few times for that reason.  If you find I'm scandalizing you, don't read.  It's fine.  I just didn't want to be accused of throwing my opinions in people's faces.

At the same time, the closet is a smothery place and I've complained about it a bit.  Even just being able to talk about stuff here, and nowhere else, is still pretty isolating.  I comment a lot on Catholic stuff, and while I never claim to be Catholic, people assume and it's hard to walk the line of saying only things a Catholic would believe, without saying things I don't believe.  It's a mental burden to be doing that all the time.  I've been looking forward to maybe being a little braver someday.

But it's different to have that forced on me.  It's sickening to have someone else have that kind of power over me, to decide what I am allowed to keep private and what I am not.  I felt ill about it for a day or so, went back and forth with the guy trying to talk him out of it, but his mind was made up.  So I went ahead and posted to the group, while making clear that I was being forced to do it.  I don't want to now be punished because I insisted on being public about this.  At the same time, I had no interest in stalling for time.  The unpleasantness of people's negative responses would be a lot better than the stress of knowing a person who dislikes me was holding that over my head.

I got a lot of supportive messages over it, so that was nice.  I know most people aren't that cruel.  They might be sad not to share a faith with me anymore, but they also want to condemn that sort of behavior.  They agree it was my right to tell or not tell who I wanted.

But of course, there's plenty of negative feedback as well.  I commented on a friend's post about gun control today and someone, a stranger to me and not a member of the group I posted in, said that no one should believe me because I "publicly" apostasized.  Not that there is a Catholic teaching about gun control, or that I had claimed anything about Catholic teaching, but simply that I existed while not being Catholic.  It bothers me that the information is spreading so much.  I wonder if my blog is going to get a whole bunch of hits all of a sudden, people eager to pick apart my beliefs and condemn me.  To gawk at photos of my kids, sneer at Marko's autism, judge my parenting.  I feel like I'm naked in the middle of my college Commons. 

Anyway, it's hard to write this post now because I feel I'm no longer just talking to you, my online friends, some of whom I've been interacting with for a decade or more.  I'm talking also to enemies, who may or not be reading.  But again, I feel that avoiding talking on here just gives those people more power than they deserve.  I'm not letting them kill my blog.  I'm not the one who has done something to be ashamed of.

Could I get some supportive comments today?  I'd like a reminder that people are reading who like me, or who like what I write, and aren't just here to judge me.  Even the people who are Catholic aren't the Inquisition.  You guys are good people and you're not here to stare .... right?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Glasses and the ship of Theseus

Since Jackie was born, I haven't been seeing very well.  I gave it some time to get better on its own, but it didn't, so I finally went out and got some glasses.

It really should not be a big deal.  They're just glasses.  I even think they look fine, in the abstract.  But my face doesn't look like I'm used to it looking.  It's thrown me into a tailspin of anxiety, which I tried to remedy by putting more blue on my hair and painting my toenails, but of course this made it worse.  I look in the mirror and I don't see me.  I see someone who looks very, very different.

Change is one of the more troubling parts off the human experience.  When I was a kid, I loved it and was always in a hurry for more things to change.  I tried on new outfits, rearranged my room, measured myself against the wall to see if I'd grown another inch.  Then puberty hit and I'm not sure I've ever recovered from the trauma.  In my head, I'm still about ten years old.

External things change all the time.  The house I grew up in is still there, but it's been changed a lot and I can't go there anymore.  My family has four more kids than it had when I was growing up in it, with a whole new set of customs and inside jokes.  The cabin where we spent our honeymoon has been sold.

But that's nothing compared to the amount we ourselves change.  When I go back to a place from long ago, it doesn't matter how little it's changed -- it still looks different from the way it looked when I was there.  My old college campus is ten minutes from me, but I rarely go.  It's just too weird, being there yet feeling so different than I did then.

I sometimes wonder what twelve-year-old me would think if she heard I never built the treehouse that was my number-one dream at the time to build.  Or that I have four kids and only one cat.  What would sixteen-year-old me think if she knew I never got consecrated, that I now detest Regnum Christi?  What would twenty-year-old me think about my not being Catholic anymore?  What would twenty-five-year-old me think about my kids going to public school and getting all their vaccines?  Would all those people be disappointed in me?  And what is the point of making any plans, having any opinions, dreaming any dreams, knowing that my future self might think all that stuff is stupid?

With so much change, it's hard to see what exactly stays the same about me.  I was a bubbly, talkative person at thirteen, and now I dread leaving the house.  I don't look the same, have the same opinions, or see any of the same people.  But when exactly did the change happen?  Old me wasn't abducted by aliens and replaced by new me.  Instead the change was so gradual I didn't even notice most of it.  It's like the Ship of Theseus.  This philosophical parable tells about a ship which undergoes repairs until, over time, there's no part of it that hasn't been replaced.  Is it still the same ship?

I've gotten myself so hung up over this idea that I've been afraid to go to sleep because I'm not sure the version of me that exists tomorrow is really the same as the one I am today.  Does that mean falling asleep is dying?  Sometimes it feels like it is.

Religion helped me with this, when I believed in it.  There was this unchanging soul inside of me that kept everything consistent even after every molecule of my body was replaced.  And I imagined eternity would involve looking back over every moment of my life, being able to savor every sunset and fiery autumn leaf and baby's smile.  I would have all the time in the world to enjoy all those transitory things, because nothing would really be lost.  Sadly, I don't believe that anymore.

I guess it's one of the heartaches that flesh is heir to.  Like losing friends or accepting that we will one day die, it's just a grief we all have to live with.  You don't have to keep obsessing over it, but you can't necessarily escape it either.  It just is.

I recently read a great story about this in which the hero decides not to change.  It's kind of appealing.  At the same time, isn't it rejecting a big part of what makes us human?  We need the ability to change, because nobody gets everything right on the first try.  All of the ideas I once believed and have since discarded, I discarded because I had good reason to think they were wrong.  And I need the ability to do this.

Likewise, when my kids grow older, sad as it is to say goodbye to their baby selves, it's a joy to discover their older selves.  It's something that is supposed to happen.  As they say, "Growing old sucks, but it beats the alternative!"  I wouldn't even want my kids to stay babies forever.  It would be depriving them of a chance to be something new, something they have the potential to become.  Maybe I don't know what that's going to be, any more than they do, but there's no reason to assume that what they are today is better.  Or that what I am today is better than what I will someday be.

I guess the scary part is that, at thirty-one, I worry that I've already peaked, that the rest of my life is going to be glasses and bifocals and hearing aids and sore joints.  My body isn't likely to get any healthier.  Though there's still hope for increased wisdom and more accomplishments.  It's just ... life is so short, and I spent such a lot of it in cults and having babies.  It stresses me out.

I don't really have a tidy takeaway.  I do think that change is a part of what I am -- that imagining a constant self that doesn't change would be like imagining a river without the flowing.  At the same time, it hurts and it's scary.  That's a part of it too.  Like changing seasons, would I really appreciate anything in my life if I knew I would have it the same forever?

Maybe not.  But that's not going to stop me from clinging to things I want to keep.
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