This I Believe
As an Italian-American raised working-class Catholic in the 1960s, I’m genetically and socially programmed to believe in God. In spite of its rigid structure, the religion of my youth had a hominess about it — like a big, extended family that was always there for you, whether you wanted it or not. God the Father and Jesus were busy handling world affairs, but you had your own personal guardian angel and a communion of saints to help you out of whatever trouble you might get into. And you could always put in a word with Mary to smooth things over between you and Jesus.
Over the years, like most families, this relationship broke down — eroded by a combination of hard knocks, doubts, and too many 3 a.m.s spent staring into the darkness, begging for a sign of the existence of a personal, caring God. But although I let the phone ring off the hook in those 3 a.m. calls, I never got an answer – not even a prerecorded message assuring me that in spite of an unusually high call volume, mine would eventually be answered.
So over the years, I’ve resorted to my own devices to touch the divine. I found it in the uniquely human realm of creativity — whether it’s figuring out how to play a Mozart piece on the piano, developing a fictional character in a novel, or stirring sautéed garlic and onions into tomato puree.
When you’re creating something, you’re rummaging around in humankind’s collective unconscious with both hands. It’s messy, engrossing, fulfilling work, like making mud pies when you were a kid. Remember feeling the mud between your fingers, patting it into an old pie tin, then sprinkling the top with sugary dry sand? You couldn’t eat it, but it sure looked good.
Similarly, creating art doesn’t always put food on the table, but it satisfies in other ways. It makes and keeps us sane. The more we bury the creative urge under the artificial drive to consume junk media, sex, food, alcohol and material meaninglessness, the more alienated we become – from ourselves, from each other, and from God.
As a writer, I’m fascinated with the phenomenon known as “character possession.” This happens when a writer has developed his fictional characters so thoroughly that they actually end up doing things on their own, sometimes in direct defiance of the writer’s outlines, plot maps and best intentions. Character possession is an ironic analogy for mankind using free will to determine his destiny.
The Socratic quote that says an unexamined life is not worth living speaks to the human drive to create something bigger than ourselves – something that will last, even beyond our human progeny. Besides the solace it brings to us while we’re doing it, creativity – or imitating God – reminds us of where we came from, and leaves an indelible footprint in the sand of the future — truly the only thing we leave behind after we are gone.
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