My Journey from Atheist to A Better Story, Part 1by David Pinar on Apr. 05, 2013, under Uncategorized
I remember well the advice my father gave me as a child: “if you want to get along with people never discuss politics or religion”. Very good advice. But, I’ve already crossed that line with politics in this blog, so I might as drop the other shoe and venture into religion. Well, in a way; I prefer the word Spirituality over religion. I want to write about my journey from deciding I was an atheist at a rather young age to my decision to believe in a better story. Through that journey I encountered 3 experiences with the “other world”, or Spirit World if you will, that made me realize life is not just some chemical reaction like a fire, that the flame is not extinguish when we draw our last breath – that moment is actually the beginning of another great adventure. I will break the story into three parts.
But first let me explain the meaning of “A Better Story” – it’s borrowed from the book & film “The Life Of Pi”. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film, I highly recommend either and both. I saw the film in theater in early December, in 3D, my first and still my only 3D movie experience as I read that the 3D effects really added to the viewing experience. It did, I was mesmerized by the film. I recently read the book, and it is every bit as mesmerizing and entertaining. It’s a story about a writer with writer’s block, in search of a story. He meets an old man in India who tells him that there with an Indian man in Canada with an amazing story to tell him, and a story that will make him believe in God. The writer finds the man in Canada and the man, Pi, agrees to tell him his story. He grew up in India and his father owned a zoo. One day the father tells the family he has decided they shall move to Canada, and they pack all the animals and family on a Japanese steamer. The ship sinks in a horrific storm in the Pacific, and Pi is the only human survivor in a life boat, with a zebra, orangutan, hyena, and a Bengal tiger. The other animals are soon killed and there is only Pi and the tiger. They manage to survive for months at sea and finally wash up on the Mexican coast. The tiger disappears into the jungle and people rescue Pi and take him to a hospital. Japanese insurance adjusters come to interview him, to find out what happened to the ship, and Pi tells them his story.
Now here comes the part that is a spoiler, if you haven’t read the book or seen the film you may want to skip this part: The insurance men don’t believe Pi, they can’t believe he could survive so long at sea with a tiger. So Pi tells them a different story, that there were several other people who survived with him, but they quarreled and one by one killed each other off until there was only Pi. The insurance men thank him and leave, satisfied with the second story. Pi turns to the writer and asks him which story he prefers. The writer says “The story with the tiger, it’s the better story“. Pi smiles and says “Thank you. And so it is with God“.
I think I have a story that will make you believe. Regardless, I assure you every word is true.
My Journey from Atheist to a Better Story – Part I: My mother says goodbye
I grew up in suburban Columbus Ohio, to a moderately religious family. We were Methodists, and walked to Sunday School and Church every Sunday. I decided at an early age, around 10 or 11, that it was all a bunch of crap. My best friend was Jack, who lived on a farm, and I rode my bike out to the farm regularly. One day were frog gigging (if you don’t know, don’t ask) around the pond when we heard dogs yelping. We turned and one dog was humping away on the female dog beneath him. “Oh shit!” Jack exclaimed, “they’re screwing! Now Jackie’s gonna have more pups we’ll have to find homes for! Mom’s not going to be happy“. I nodded, I had hamsters and had seen the babies that quickly followed this mating thing. But suddenly a light bulb clicked on, and I blurted out “Is that how people have babies too?“, “Of course, stupid” Jack replied. “Where did you think they come from, a stork?” he snickered. I blushed; that’s what my parents had always told me.
Later that night I lay in bed thinking about the day’s discovery. So people are just like other animals, they mate and have babies, that stork bringing babies was just another story they made up. Just like the made up stories about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. I wonder what else they lied about, I thought. And then it struck me: What if God and Jesus and all that stuff in the Bible is just another made up story?
I thought about a lot over the next several months. In school I was at the stage where they started teaching you science, which I especially enjoyed. They taught us about the dinosaurs and woolly mammoths, and other prehistoric creatures. I wondered why they were never mentioned in the Bible. I learned about the solar system and the universe, and wondered how with all those millions of stars and billions of planets God chose only Earth to have life. And in Sunday School they continued to teach me those silly stories of the Bible. I questioned them intensely. “Oh c’mon, how could Noah have possibly have fit 2 of every animal on the planet on a boat? And how did he manage to go to African and get lions and zebras and hippos, and then down to Australia to get kangaroos and kola bears and then up to the arctic to get polar bears? And wouldn’t the lions, tiger and panthers tend to eat the deer, antelope and the sheep?“. That evening my father called me into the living for a “talk”, he had a stern look on his face. “Mr. Marley (my Sunday School teacher) tells me you have a bad attitude and are disrupting the class. What do you have to say for yourself?“. “I think it’s all a bunch of bullshit!” I blurted out. My father looked at me with a surprised look on his face. “What is bullshit?” he asked. “That stuff in the Bible!” I told him. “It’s all a bunch of made up stuff and I don’t believe any of it! I don’t want to go anymore!” We argued back and forth for awhile, and then finally my father told me that if I didn’t want to go to Sunday School and Church anymore he wouldn’t make me. But he told me he thought I was making a big mistake I would one day regret.
I always had the spirit of adventure and the wanderlust, and as soon as I graduated from high school I told my parents I wanted to move out to Colorado and find work, to which they agreed, but reluctantly. I found my way to western Colorado where I took a job as a ranch hand, and then worked on oil drilling rigs. I worked various jobs over the years, always working my way up, and by the early 1980s, in my early 30s, I was living in San Diego, one third owner and co-manager of a bar and restaurant. My mother had developed bone cancer, and I had flown home to visit her in the hospital. She got well enough to go home eventually. But then in the fall of 1982 she took a turn for the worse and returned to the hospital. My dad called me on day and said she was back home, the hospital had said there was nothing more they could do for her, and my mother was adamant that she would not die in a hospital. I told him I would try to visit “soon”. A few days later my Aunt Margaret, who was visiting, called me. She said if I wanted to see my mother one last time I should come very soon, it was a matter of days. I said would do my best. As I recall it was a Monday, and thought I would try to get home by the end of the week. It was really busy at work.
The next morning I was in the bathroom getting ready to shower when suddenly I felt there was someone else in the room. I nervously looked around, and thought Is the front door locked? Yes. And then I felt it as plain as day. Mom was there, in the room with me. “Mom?” I asked. And I heard her, I heard her voice clearly in my mind. “When are you coming home?” she asked. “Soon“, I assured her. “Well, you’d better hurry up!” she said with urgency in her voice. “I will“, I promised.
I finished my shower, with occasional thoughts of How much did I have to drink last night?, and Am I loosing my mind? By the time I’d finished my shower and dressed my mind was made up. I picked up the phone and called my travel agent. (Remember, this was the early 80s and I, like most people, had no idea what a computer was)”I have to get on the next flight to Columbus” I told him. “Whaaat?” he asked, “You mean today?” This morning!” I assured him. He said he’d call me right back. Then I called my partner, Howard, and told him about my experience with my mom and that I was leaving for Ohio today. Howard is such a good man. “Godspeed” was all he said. My travel agent called me back. “There’s a flight leaving in 90 minutes, connecting through Chicago. Can you make it?” he asked. “I’m on my way” I assured him. My flight was late getting into Chicago and I missed my connecting flight to Columbus. I walked up to the gate agent and looked her squarely in the eye and told her “My mother is dying, I HAVE to get to Columbus tonight. Will you please help me?“. She punched her keyboard with a flurry of key stokes, and then looked up at me. “There’s a flight on XXX airlines at Gate XX leaving in 20 minutes. If you run really fast you can make it, I have seat reserved for you“.
I made it, and arrived home late that night. My parents were now retired and had bought a farm about 40 minutes east of Columbus. My Dad hugged me, and led me into her room. She’d been in a coma like state for several days, her breathing was shallow. I sat on the edge of the bed, holding her hand, talking to her in a low voice. I felt sure she knew I was there.
One thing I do really well is sleep. When I’m tired I go to bed, and within a minute or so I’m sound asleep. I wake up around 8 hours later from a deep sleep, the kind of deep sleep that when you first wake up you go through a check list: where am I? What day is it? And I rarely remember having dreamt. But I remember the dream I had that night clearly, over thirty years later. I dreamed my mom was backing out of the driveway in our old house where I grew up, in that big old powder blue Dodge Monaco she loved, our first car with power steering and power brakes. For some reason I didn’t want her to go, and called out to her, pleading with her to not go. She said that she was sorry but she had to go, and backed out of the driveway and then started driving down the street, turned the corner, and disappeared from view. I awoke with a start. The sky outside the window was pale blue with the dawn’s first light. I remembered where I was and why I was there, and walked quickly into my mom’s room. My dad was sitting next to her, with the saddest look I’ve ever seen on his face. He looked up at me and said “She just left us“. I looked at my mom, she seemed like she was in a peaceful sleep but she was not breathing, her mouth was closed with a faint smile. “I came in to check in on her a few minutes ago” my dad told me.” I was sitting next to her, and suddenly she shook her head, like she had heard something. And then she opened her eyes in looked at the corner of the room. Her eyes grew wide, so I turned to see what she was looking at. I could have sworn I saw Aunt Mae and Pops Brooke, looking down at Linda, saying something to her. I looked back at Linda and she was smiling. Then she sighed and closed her eyes, and stopped breathing“.
Aunt Mae was my mother’s mother; my mom was an only child and they were very close. Pops Brooke was my mom’s father, my Grandfather that I never knew, he passed away before I was born. My eyes still moist over when I think of that moment. But not tears of sadness, with tears of fond remembrance. I thought back on the dream I’d just had about my mom leaving, and remembered her telling me in San Diego that I’d better hurry up and make it home. And I who had doubted and questioned so much in my life suddenly had no doubt my Grandfather and Grandma were there to assure my mom everything would be OK, they were there to help guide her on her journey after death.