A week or so ago, all of the Narnia books were on sale for $1.99 on Amazon. I have read them at various times over the years. The first time was when a teacher read them aloud to us in elementary school. Her name was Ms. Caridis, and really, I thought she should have been cast as the White Witch. She was a tall, big woman with thin, short hair. She wore a lot of makeup, even given the fact that it was 1983 and “natural” makeup didn’t really exist. She dressed rather dramatically – it was either power pantsuits or caftans. And if you had met her on the street, “elementary school teacher” would not have been your first thought. Or your 17th.
I don’t specifically remember much else about her – my 3rd grade class was a “team” class of 3rd and 4th grade, and she taught the other half – but I remember that I was a little afraid of her.
But I will be thankful forever that she opened the back of the wardrobe doors and showed us all into Narnia.
Of course, as a kid, you don’t really realize how much religious allegory there is in the books. You don’t know that C.S. Lewis was also well-known for his adult writings on Christianity. You don’t think about Aslan being God, or Jesus, or any of those things. The world is what it is. Besides, at 8, I was firmly entrenched in world of religion. In 2nd and 3rd grade, we lived in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while my dad was working on a temporary assignment. I remember those two years as the happiest of my childhood. Instead of being flat and hot, there were hills and mountains. Instead of looking out two narrow ranch-style windows at an ugly-looking bush, I looked out my window and could see for miles. We had a basement, and a flat side-yard, and a little patch of woods in the backyard. The neighborhood was full of kids my age, and even though I was still a dorky fat kid, I also had a best friend and another best friend and some more friends besides that. Our church in Houston was old, and run down; two plaster-covered horrible aberrations of 1960’s architecture with no mystery about them; just functional classrooms and a sanctuary with one sad little stained-glass window and no steeple. The church in Pittsburgh was a CHURCH. It was old and brick and had a steeple and three or four huge buildings and a real sanctuary with a choir loft and a giant pipe organ and lots of places where you could explore and hide.
I of course remember misery from these years as well; there was a horrible boy in my class who had giant eye-boogers and probably grew up to be a serial killer and was just creepy as fuck but he made fun of me non-stop. I remember going on drives with my family and getting so, so lost…the roads in Pennsylvania are not the grids and concentric circles of Houston but the rambly paths of where the mountains are a little flatter. And of course, this was long before GPS and my dad didn’t believe in directions. But I remember feeling safe there. I remember feeling like things were mostly ok there.
When I think about religion and why I have come away from it, it boils down to this: as a child, I believed because belief made me feel good, it made me feel safe, it made me feel like no matter how dorky or fat or buck-toothed or bad at something I was, God didn’t care. It was a place where I could sing. It was a place where I had friends.
It wasn’t until high school that I really became aware that people tended to use religion as a weapon, as a tool of exclusion rather than inclusion. It was then I started to realize that perhaps it was not a place of safety, but just one more place where you come to be judged and are found wanting.
In retrospect, what kept me going back was music. When I sang, I felt something close to touched by the divine; at least then, I felt like I was offering up the best I had and not being found deficient.
When I got to college, in a state where things are perhaps even more conservative, and I discovered that people use religion mainly as a basis to judge, as a basis to exclude, as a basis to hurt rather than help…that I stopped going to church. I haven’t set foot in a church except for weddings in a very, very long time. And sometimes, I feel like there is a hole somewhere in my life. But I’m not sure filling it with Christianity is the right answer. There are so many fundamental things about it that I disagree with. While it has at times empowered women – the temperance movement in the 1800’s that eventually led to the women’s suffrage movement sprung from the church – it has mostly served to oppress women.
The thing is, if I were to believe that some sort of supreme being is behind all of this, behind our world, behind our existence, behind everything that happens, I would not believe that this being had chosen to make me intelligent or outspoken or big and loud and red-headed if those things were liabilities rather than assets – if they were things I was supposed to spend my life fighting against, rather than using them to fight for something more. I do not want to believe in a being that is cruel. I do not want to believe that the whole point of my life is to be a “How Not to Do Things” example. And I think that, more than anything, I choose not to believe because I do not want to give even more power to the existence of evil. I do not want to believe that the way I feel in my life RIGHT NOW, the confused, wandering way, the way that isn’t sure which direction is up or down or sideways and isn’t sure if the tool in her hand is a shovel or a noose. I know that bad has to exist in order for there to be good; that light has to exist in order for there to be dark, that everything is a circle and a wheel and that just as things get bad that they usually get better. But right now, I can’t take any comfort from a story, from a system that still thinks it’s ok to condemn love and condemn people for using their brains to make different choices – that sure, biologically, there are parts of the body meant for procreation but there is an equally important part of the body made for thinking. Who is to say which is the more significant of these?
I am rambling. I am suffering. And I don’t know why, but reading this series again, especially the final book, the one with the most definite religious symbolism of all, the one with the end of the world and the rapture and the reverent and the right, right (I love REM), it’s making me melancholy, it’s making me question my existence, it’s making me wonder exactly what it is the purpose of all this is. Lately, I’ve been going with the “there is no purpose, there is no god, there is no any of it, it’s all a story to make it easier for people who don’t want to accept that really, we’re just here for a minute and gone, that some little piece of us might live on but mostly it’s just pointless. I think the problem is right now that I am in emotional freefall and part of me craves structure and order and some small piece, some small comfort, some small relief from the burden. The music has gone out of my life lately. That’s how I can tell when it’s really bad, when I know that music could make me feel SOMETHING besides dead inside but dealing with the quiet is easier than dealing with the voices telling me that life is good or bad or ugly or beautiful.
The internal soundtrack the last few days has defaulted to the Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan and REM; these are my musical versions of a Hershey bar and a pint of ice cream, of the cheese on the crackers, of the last crumbs in a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. And the songs are not happy songs; they are songs of sorrow. And I guess what I really want, more than anything, right now? Is hope.
I think that is why reading lines like “All the stars were falling: Aslan had called them home” have been my undoing. Because they imply that when something is done, there will be a call; that when one thing is ending, there will be a home for you. I don’t know where that is, anymore.
Song of the Day: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” – REM
Today’s Time Waster: Another of my “happy songs”.
What I’m Craving: Faith. Hope. Clarity.