Written for a class; rife with religious themes and all of their ups and downs. Life is a journey, eh?
I am seven years old. I am sitting, as I do every Wednesday morning, in chapel with my classmates. I am in my Sunday best, and try to avoid scuffing my shiny black shoes on the hardwood floor. We are singing a beautiful song whose words I always half-remember, shifting my eyes quickly between the pages of the hymnal and the stained glass window at the altar. Before the window hangs a cross, long, plain and wooden, and it is on this familiar symbol that my attention is fixed.
The lyrics are just words, a memory game for our young minds. Then suddenly, without warning or reason, the song flies to the cross and at the same time fills me with a joy I have never experienced and cannot hope to comprehend. It's Jesus, I think to myself. I sing so loudly that the boys in the row in front of me laugh, but I do not care. What do they understand of enlightenment? When we line up and leave the church, I am practically skipping. My body has been filled with light and music and glowing pastel butterflies, and I will never be alone again.
Years pass in suspended animation, quick flashes of irregularity amidst white polos and blue slacks, reading during recess, and volleyball games our school always wins.
I am thirteen years old. I am standing with my grandmother and mother in a large store filled with tall glass display cases. I flit between each one, making sure to look fascinated with everything, because Grandma has come a long way for this and it's a very special moment for her, I'm sure.
"Which one did you like better again?" she asks in her warm, cracked smoker's voice, gesturing to two separate rings.
"That one is gorgeous," I say, "But I'm not sure I like that it's fake."
"It's not fake," my mother says with a laugh in her voice. "It's just manmade. And you could get the matching earrings, too."
I look at them, hoping for a hint, but the decision is entirely mine.
"I think I'll get that one, then."
My new ring is slim and gold, with elegant sweeps leading to the gem in the center, flanked by two tiny diamonds. The deep blue jewel is not actually a sapphire, but that's alright because it shines as if were on fire inside and I cannot tear my eyes away. When I wear it to my Confirmation and first communion, it feels warm and weightless on my finger.
I am fourteen years old. My life is a whirl of change and after school activity until it is all I can do to catch my breath. Who knew that the world had so many people in it? Someone brings a camera to lunch that day, and decides that we should make a star with our fingers, an impromptu shot against the dirty brown table. I smile at this and agree that the idea is cute. No one needs to know how secretly proud I am to be involved in such a casually personal symbol of friendship.
The shot is, of course, adorable. The hands are different shades, and the voices laughing and demanding the camera are unique.
"Pretty ring. Sapphire?" someone asks.
By this point I'm running out of ways to explain how it's not really fake. Later that day, the inherent metaphors are also starting to bother me, so I quietly search for one that better fits my faith. I'm not too upset that I can't find one, though, because now the ring is caught as a thing of beauty in a picture of a star made with friends.
I am fifteen years old. The world is a mess. I lay on my best friend's bed, head buried in my arms as I do my best not to cry in front of her.
"It's not as bad as you think," she pleads. "That class has made you crazy."
"Maybe. But before it, I didn't know anything at all."
Months of struggling with dates, battles, presidents, and a heavy book bag are nothing. The five books I use for this one class are trivial compared to what I find inside of them. War. Hatred. Hypocrisy. Tyranny. Brother against brother, god against god. Priest against man, with God as the sinister shadow in the background, egging them on to conquer, to kill, to rip, tear, take –
"I just want to do something," I say, and my voice cracks.
She runs her hand up and down my back.
"We will. Let's just finish school first."
She tells me she loves me, and I reply in kind.
I am sixteen years old. As I fold my hands to take communion, my mother remarks that I am not wearing my ring. I tell her that I took it off for a Cross Country meet last week and keep forgetting to put it back on. This is only halfway true. It sits in a box in my room now, held firmly in place by steel threads of anger and irony. I try to listen to the sermon, but the back of my mind catches tripwires in the words and eventually I give up entirely.
I put the ring back on when I get home. It feels much heavier now.
I am seventeen years old. My friend and I have dragged cushy patio chairs out to the middle of his backyard, and now we sit in the cool summer night air and point out which clouds are shaped like countries, and what their political alignments should be in their nimbostratus form. It is drizzling lightly, and we are sure that we will be covered in bug bites by the next morning, but right now the night is perfect against our skin.
Complex words resonate pleasantly in the darkness. Lutheranism. Transcendentalism. Existentialism. Agnosticism. Deism. Atheism. Pastafarianism. My friend laughs and tells me he loves me, and I reply in kind.
When I get home, I put my ring back in its box. This time I kiss it, and tell it that it may not be forever.
We do not bow to God that night, but secretly I invite him in for coffee.
I am still seventeen years old, and the four of us are driving back from a trip to the zoo. My friend's car has the mythical ability to make everyone inside of it swear generously, and its current passengers are no exception. They're making fun of my shirt but it's really my friend's shirt so it doesn't count, and even if it did no one would be bothered. And we're singing with the radio and laughing so hard at something I can't remember that I think of one of us starts crying, and I realize, isn't this more important?
Laughing and swearing, learning Russian and reading Nietzsche, seeing Paris and rocking orphans to sleep in Haiti. Day of Silence and writing about her hand on their hair, cartoons and ratty sandals and linking arms as we run down the hill, and isn't that more important?
I am seventeen years old. This week is Spirit Week at school. Yesterday my best friend dressed as Alexander Hamilton in superhero form. I was torn between pretending I didn't know her and laughing so hard I couldn't breathe.
Life springs from faith springs from life. Isn't that more important?