A rogue softball smacked my mother upside the head during a mother-daughter game in the early ‘80s. We – mom, dad, sister, me, and Boo Radley the dog – were supposed to head out on vacation after the 9th inning, but instead we – mom with a swelling blue knob next to her eye – headed to the hospital. For some reason I can’t remember – maybe we thought Boo Radley would be stolen? – my mom went into the emergency room and we stayed in the car.
The hospital was in a working class neighborhood, probably peopled by folks similar to those in my small hometown 15 miles south, but for some reason I was nervous. Maybe it was the hormones of an over-emotional junior high school girl, or maybe it was the excitement and exhaustion and lack of dinner. I grew sick to my stomach, imagining big city hoods lurking in the parking lot shadows … until I noticed a sign from above. The sign, painted on the side of a nearby building, said “Jesus Loves You.” Immediately I felt a surge of something I can only describe as a very serene strain of euphoria. I wasn’t worried anymore. Jesus loved me. How could I have forgotten?
At the time, I was 12 or 13 and a Born Again Christian who believed in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. (I also believed that my parents, who were not Born Again Christians, were going to hell, but that’s for another essay.) That night, I physically experienced my faith, reaping a tangible benefit from my intangible belief.
Today I’m 35, and I don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the One and Only. Lots of days I’m not so sure I believe in God. I definitely don’t believe that one religion has the scoop, and I don’t even believe in good and evil, just in a muddled, imperfect humanity capable of acts of both.
Listening to this radio series brought me back to that night, and to all the things I once believed that I don’t believe anymore. I imagine that those who encouraged my adolescent faith would consider me a sad specimen, a sheep fallen prey to the wolves of soulless pop culture or atheistic intellectualism or the like. And reading the last few paragraphs, maybe I sound a little sad, or at least cynical.
The thing is – I’m not. I’m lucky, and I know it. I have a good life – fulfilling work, a young son full of piss and vinegar, a husband who both cracks me up and keeps me sane, wonderful friends, and those same excellent family members that were with me back in the ‘80s – plus one great brother-in-law, minus one great Boo Radley.
But these big, important pieces of my life aren’t the thing that fills the space where faith-based wonder once resided. As I listened to this radio series, I began looking for the intangible what-have-you that exists for everyone in some form. Then I remembered another day, this one just a few years back.
I was in a bagel place. The store was mostly empty, except for a few chowing teenagers and an elderly woman. One of the boys pulled himself away from his group and helped the woman with the heavy glass door. A simple moment, but one requiring that the boy possess an awareness of life outside of his own microcosm, and the willingness to jump into someone else’s. I felt something as I watched, not my junior high euphoria but a definite spark. This small kindness was, in my book, an heroic act, not of the adrenalin-and-danger variety, but an equally important, everyday heroism. that I neither witness nor emulate nearly enough. I was inspired.
I’ve returned to that moment in conversations with others, citing this boy’s nearly automatic response to someone else’s need as exemplary. The boy was just a typical teenager, but in his simple, selfless act, I found something to believe in.
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