In our family we didn’t believe in anything. Do you believe in god, the other children asked me at recess. I pretended not to hear them. I drew a picture of god in the sky dropping Christmas presents down to Earth. My teacher looked embarrassed, the other children were scornful. Don’t you know, they said, Santa Claus brings the presents? Everybody else went to real churches with steeples and bells, catechisms to learn, bibles to quote. Me, I went to the upstairs meeting room at the Y where we talked about what we didn’t believe.
I ran outside where my body felt alive. I hid between the hedge and the garage and watched ant columns. I followed the ants into the garden, across the grass, up a wall. I was happy to be on a great adventure in the world. My friends and I sat on the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the street and were amazed that we could grind stones into red powder.
But these things were not important. These things were play. I ran back into the house when my mother called, to do the important things, homework, practice the piano, sit down to dinner with my family. And, of course, go to school! I was oblivious. We don’t believe in anything, I bragged.
When I was away at college I lay on the floor, my limbs paralyzed by indecision. What should I do with my life? My friends were smoking dope, having sex. The teachers were arguing over whether or not to allow political slogans on campus. I wanted to do the most important thing on earth but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what I believed.
So I went to class and dissected a clam. I skipped class to watch the sunset. I moved to the country. Isn’t it amazing, I said to my husband, my friends, when I saw the ice on the Hudson River floating both ways. One night at the dinner table, I said, what we need is a ritual, traditions. Mom! shouted my children. We already go on full moon walks. We have family night. But, I asked them, do you know what you believe?
Now I lie on my deck at night counting stars in the black sky. I hear something. A frog croaking? The universe whispering in my ear? And, of course, I know it doesn’t matter that I don’t believe in anything because everyday I get up and do the most important thing in the world. And so today I took my dog for a walk. I watched a snapping turtle bury his head in the mud. I bent down to explore a mystery pile of scat filled with tiny clamshells. I stopped to smell the flowers.
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