I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am to my parents for how I was raised. Given no one really knows going into parenthood how to raise children, my parents certainly did an exceptional job. As I go off into the world on my own and as each day passes, I appreciate them more and more.
As any “typical American” I attended church growing up, but not in the same sense perhaps as the vast majority. Instead, I grew up in a church that never told me what to believe, the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Every Sunday when I was little, my dad would religiously take us to church and there of course I was opened up to the world of religion. Through Religious Education class (RE), I learned about the world’s religions, creation stories, and most importantly, perhaps, tolerance. As a child, the inherent nature to be questioning was encouraged in church. My dad recalls an instance when I asked, “Where does God live?” Though at the time, I was too young and had no real idea of what an omnipotent being was, my dad didn’t tell me up in the sky above the clouds in heaven. Instead he told me that is something we each have to find out for ourselves.
Its human nature for children to look up to their parents for guidance, I grew up having absolutely no authority to look up to for answers other than myself in the spiritual world. As a child, I felt frustrated and often confused. My friends who surrounded me would ask me what my religion was, and my response would be Unitarian Universalist. The next question immediately following was always, “Do you believe in God?” I would answer yes, not out of true belief, but out of fear. Fear of what they would think and how they would treat me if I didn’t tell them I believed. Just in the way they posed the question made me really think about if it really was wrong to not believe in God.
When I learned of Heaven and Hell, I hated it. I couldn’t possibly send people to a burning, torturous turmoil. I would cry about it sometimes at night because I couldn’t believe that people would go to church every Sunday and send ME to Hell for not believing. I couldn’t understand why people would want to believe in such a horrible place. So, before I perhaps rejected God, I rejected Hell.
Another time in RE class we were given the assignment to draw God. All of us kids drew the same picture, basically an old man in a gown with a long beard in the sky. Then, our teacher asked why we all drew the same picture. I mean, why didn’t we draw a woman? In my mind, I had no explanation for why I thought of God looking like that and living in the clouds. I realized no one had ever explicitly told me that was what God looked like. Don’t get me wrong, the intention of RE class isn’t to breed atheists, but it was definitely teaching us to think and question.
Even as a child, I had always looked to science first for answers. I read a huge amount of books as encouraged by my mother. I remember going to the library all the time and my mom telling me to pick science books. I didn’t read a lot of actual novels besides Nancy Drew, but definitely read all about weather, dinosaurs, animals, and the human body. As I progressed further in school and read more, I began to reason that science has the answers and if not yet, soon. As if you couldn’t tell where I was going with this, I learned about evolution. I’m not sure when exactly, but I remember in 5th grade we had a lesson about it and my teacher said he didn’t believe in evolution. I remember my response to this was shock because it seemed only natural to accept it since I had faith in science if you will. As I’ve grown older, I have become very interested in the politics of evolution in schools. The topic of separation of church and state in general has always been interesting to me, I think I get it from my dad.
The rejection of a God was realized in middle school. I think I was in 6th grade at the time and my older brother had become very ill. He was in the hospital for more than a month I think and he just couldn’t keep food down. I wasn’t all that close with my brother, and a lot of it had to do with him being autistic. He had always been rather distant from my little sister and I and so I wasn’t sure how to interact with him. Nonetheless, I still loved him and had never been more scared in my life. My parents always told me that it wasn’t my job to worry about him, which I knew, but I couldn’t help it. I could tell my parents were scared too.
During the time he was sick we would have to drive back and forth to Indy where my brother was at Riley’s Children’s Hospital. One of my parents was always at his side when he was in the hospital. I just know we were there a lot because I still remember plugging my ears so I wouldn’t have to hear my brother scream in pain when they had to draw blood for tests. My grandparents even drove up from Kansas to help watch my sister and I so my parents would be at least a little less stressed.
Things with my brother changed when he became sick because he feared death. We all feared that the worst was going to happen. We couldn’t help it because he had been in the hospital for so long and no one knew what was going on. Every time I would see my brother, he wanted to hug me and he would say he loved me. Despite the seemingly grave situation, we would joke that all of the sudden he had become so nice. I mean you know how teenage boys are, refusing to show affection in order to seem tough, in that sense he was normal. My brother would laugh and say he would be nice from then on.
Of course all my friends at school knew my brother was sick because I had cried about it in school (If you can’t tell I’m a huge crybaby…sheesh). My friends told their parents and sometimes they would give me rides home from school because I stayed after school for extracurricular activities. Always on the car ride over, they would say they were praying for him. I would say thank you. They were showing their concern and trying to help after all, but I couldn’t help but wonder if praying really had anything to do with if he would get better or not.
To be continued...