By Dana Gornall
It was the end of a long day at work.
It seems like every day at work is a long day. Pushing the glass door forward into a temporary freedom, I spied my tiny, white car in the parking lot when a flicker of movement caught my eye. A piece of paper had been tucked under one of my windshield wipers, the cool October breeze catching the top portion of it; it flapped up and down hitting the glass. Someone had left me a note perhaps, or maybe it was a small flyer advertising a restaurant nearby.
Approaching my car I released the paper from under the black bar and flipped it over. Scanning the words, I read: Jesus, Saves, and Heaven. Someone had left religious material on my car. I turned right and left, looking to see if all of the cars had the flyers, but each windshield was empty—only my car had been deemed lucky to receive biblical material that afternoon.
I chuckled under my breath and stood, trying to decide what to do with it, not wanting to bring it in my car as if it was some sort of cursed bad luck charm. A part of me imagined the gifter was watching somewhere through the windows from inside the building and I didn’t want to give him or her the slightest inkling that I was actually going to read this flyer. After some quick thinking, I slid it on the ground under my car, got in and sped away through the parking lot.
I felt a little guilty for littering, but not for leaving the paper behind. I laughed again to myself, yet also felt irritated. In one way, it felt like that move was personal, since I didn’t see it on any car but mine.
Maybe other cars had it earlier, but those people had already left for the day? Maybe other drivers had found the flyers while taking a break or a lunch? Maybe I hadn’t looked hard enough and there were other flyers? On the other hand, maybe someone was trying to send me a message? Maybe I was being targeted for some reason, but why?
I’m fairly quiet at work.
Introverted by nature, I shy away from crowded break rooms and often duck into empty hallways while looking at my phone or when taking walks on a nice day. I like the silence; it gives my overworked brain some pause, and lets my mind reset—if only for a few minutes during our short, timed breaks. The few conversations I have with people tend to be superficial: talks of the weather (it’s such a nice day!) or the work day (wow, those calls are crazy today). What would make someone want to target me?
Why do I need saving?
I grew up Catholic. I grew up going to church weekly, trying to sit still on the hard, cold wooden benches while incense wafted through the air and the priest stood up at the front, droning on. I often passed the time watching the blades of the ceiling fans spin, or studying people and families. Sometimes I would make up stories in my head about the families—imagining what they did when they went home and where the children went to school.
Sometimes when my boredom hit the brink of every possible thing I could think of or count, I would let my eyes relax into a haze and I swear I could put myself into a trance, somewhat leaving my physical body behind. This was often fun to do, although at times it would freak me out a bit.
The church ritual continued long into adulthood as the man I married was also Catholic and very much into attending regular mass. Weekend after weekend I sat, first busying my own mind and later busying my children’s minds with pens and paper, as they tried to sit still on those hard, cold wooden benches.
I had done the God thing.
I even taught Sunday school for awhile. It just didn’t work for me; it didn’t make sense. To me, God seemed like a cross between Santa Claus and a magic genie with a slight temper if we displeased him.
A friend once asked me about my non-belief. “You’re questioning your faith,” she commented.
“No,” I replied defensively, as if that was a bad thing. “It sure sounds like you are,” she warned. I grew quiet, wanting to argue. Wanting to say that while I wasn’t sure about this whole God thing, I was still a good person—a good girl—so not questioning my faith.
But, I was.
I remember when an idea first crossed my mind that Heaven and Hell could actually be a metaphor for how we live our life in the present moment, I felt like I had stumbled on a piece of reality. Trying to explain that to someone once—that God wasn’t a real thing but more like something we had created to understand the workings of life and death—they looked at me like I was crazy.
I told my yoga teacher that I didn’t think I believed in God. She seemed shocked and said she definitely did—she knew God was real. I wanted to have that confidence in a deity. I wanted to believe I could hand over my worries, my fears, my desires to an omnipotent being so that I didn’t have to shoulder them when things felt tough.
It seemed comforting, but it didn’t feel quite right. It was like a veil had been lifted long ago, while sitting on those cold, hard wooden benches while the priest droned on and I counted the spins in the ceiling fans.
So if I had no God, or at least wasn’t placing any stock in one anytime soon, what was I? Did I fit anywhere on any spiritual level? I had sampled so many avenues already in religion, and it always seemed to sound intriguing at first until something would feel off.
Too much pomp and circumstance, too much emphasis placed on a person or guru, too much requirement for promises and commitments. Like hash marks on a wall, I ticked off one by one as incongruous and unmatched to the things I was looking for in spirituality, until I sat looking at nothing. There was nothing that seemed to fit. It was just an empty wall. Sparse. White. No beginning, no ending. Just emptiness, thoughts and I.
How very zen.
Driving down the toll road headed toward home I thought over and over of that paper left on my windshield. Was my soul in trouble? Did I need saving?
Maybe we all do, somewhat. But I think for me, it can’t be found in scripture or prose. It’s not behind the church’s stained glass windows or among those cold, hard wooden benches. There seems to be no being, omnipotent or not, made of flesh or ether, that fits the bill.
I think for now salvation lies somewhere in that blank, empty wall.
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