I've never been given much to believe in. I've spent my life hearing about saints and gods and demons and some of it did make an impression. Most of it, though, washed over me. It's the same thing I've always heard, you know? Repent, repent. Come and be saved. Pray this many times a day. Ask forgiveness.
It's the same old thing as every time before.
Once though, when I was about ten and my great-granddad was still alive, he took me to a cathedral and I had to sit through a High Mass. Took about eight hours of my life and I still don't know what the preacher was talking about. The only thing about that trip that stuck with me was the stained-glass window that was right beside my face.
It wasn't the typical stained glass, with the scene of Jesus on the cross in a disjointed mural. Well, it might have been, but the glass was broken and the scene boarded up from behind and taped over so as not to hurt anyone. I remember thinking of how tragic that was. That glass had to have been hundreds of years old and cost untold sums of money, and someone being careless just shattered it. It had happened recently, because there were still a couple of tiny shards left on the floor, apparently unnoticed.
I picked up one of the larger pieces, in the middle of the monsignor's sermon, to see that it was the eye of Mary. A beautiful shade of bluish-grey and framed with long eyelashes and an overdramatically drooping eyebrow, clearly falling in grief, but looking so ridiculous without the rest of her body.
It didn't seem right to keep the Madonna's eye, so I set it on the windowsill and went back to playing with the hard seats and sleeping on my cousin's shoulder.
Not long ago, I went back to that cathedral to see the stained glass window long fixed, and Mary's eye right back where it was supposed to be. It didn't look so ridiculously overdone now, set in context. It was befitting, really. Broken, examined by those who don't get what they're doing, and then fixed by someone who does. Isn't that the entire purpose of religion?
I never mentioned my run-in with the eye of Jesus's mother to anyone, but kept the metaphor to myself, wondering if it was a sign and, if it was, what that sign was supposed to be.
But most of religion and most of the stained glass and loud preachers and soft-spoken priests just passed right over me and I never thought twice about anything except that annoying guy in the back always muttering "amen" and that woman in the second pew snoring away. The things that riled everyone else up just seemed asinine to me. Why should I care about someone who died 1500 years ago, even if they were martyred for a cause? Praying to them never made sense to me; they were dead. And there was nothing I could do to fix it, nothing I could do to ease their past suffering, and nothing they could do to ease mine.
What's done is done.
But every time I try to denounce everything I've been taught, that image of the Virgin's eye keeps coming back to mind. Laughably incorrect when out of context, perfect when in its element. And I have to wonder if I'm simply taking religion out of its element and expecting it to look the way it's supposed to, or if my judgement can be trusted. I've never been able to answer.
It's why I keep coming back to the cathedrals and the churches. It's not because I believe in the cause. It's because I'm trying to complete the picture and put the fragments together in the right way again. I suppose you could say that I believe in believing in the cause. I want to find a way to make it work, to see if it's real or just a picture, to figure out if the eye fits.
I had this dream once, a long time ago, that I was in a stained-glass window, trapped in the same position and watching the same scene unfold without being able to change it or do anything except watch the people come and go. I sat there and watched as a little kid sat down and slept and as an old man listened to the priest with half-closed eyes and as an outspoken woman shouted "amen".
The sleeping kid stayed with me through the dream. He resembled my cousin in a dreamlike way, but really held no significance. All he was doing was catching up on lost sleep during a boring sermon, but it struck me as sad when I woke up that no one had tried to wake him up.
No one had even asked him to listen; maybe he would have heard something that would change his life. Or maybe he would regret sleeping later when his great-grandfather died and he had no memories of the man except sneaking a nap in during Mass.
I wonder if Mary ever slept in church as a kid. Maybe the Pharisees or whoever ran the sermon in those days was just as boring as that priest was when I fell asleep. I wonder if she ever regretted having God's son. It's an awful hard burden to give anyone, but I remember hearing that she was only sixteen.
But maybe that was what set Mary apart from all the other girls. Maybe it was that she didn't regret it because that was what she wanted and that was what she believed. Like a martyr, only she didn't have to die. She just had to love someone whom she knew would. I imagine that must have been the hardest part.
I've never been given much to believe in, and I don't like to fool myself into acting like I have faith in something. All I have is an ambiguous sign and a broken stained-glass window that got fixed years ago.
But maybe, just maybe, that's enough.