As tensions mount in a world ripped apart by terrorism and the ever-increasing shadows of nuclear and chemical warfare, I was reminded over the Easter holidays of a different way of living and thinking.
I was in a car on Saturday, being driven to my lesson by the father of my student, when suddenly we swept past a long line of people who were obviously intent on reaching a common destination. And the weather was not good.. At first, I thought it must be some sort of mini-political demonstration, although these people, many of whom were old and carrying flowers, did not seem as though they were about to overthrow the government.. Maybe a segment of the downtrodden and out-of-luck, shuffling toward the door of a benevolent bread-giver?. Except that they did not appear to be hungry. At least not in the physical sense.
Finally, and still puzzling under the hood of my ignorance, I asked my driver: "Who are they?" He gently reminded me that it was the day before Easter and, as is the tradition in Russia, they were paying their visit to the church.
Of course. Immediately I remembered the long lines of people who used to gather outside the Uffizi Gallery in Firenze back in my Italian days. And of folks waiting in the breadlines of the American Depression — which my grandfather told me about. It must have also been that way during the worst times of Perestroika here in Russia. (My wife has told me a lot of stories about those days, when she was living in Omsk and raising her daughter alone, often with nothing but bread and oil. And sugar.)
When I see people standing thus in line, waiting, waiting…(even Japanese tourists with their sophisticated cameras), I always feel a bit depressed and uneasy, Maybe it's because it reminds me of the way we are sort of ushered and processed through life, especially in such a crowded, shouting world that crunches us in. In some ways, it doesn't matter if we are queueing in front of a church or the Mickey Mouse Pavilion at Disney World. We must wait our turn for the moment we came a thousand miles to find: "There Little Rosie, it's your turn, now down the slicky-slide you go.!! (Click of the camera) There now wasn't that fun??? Now let's move on to the hotdog stand!"
Because everybody deserves their turn to taste the exotic flavor. But first, we must wait. And wait. It fascinates me to think about such things as how many hours of our lives are spent just sitting on the toilet, or how much time the collected number of orgasms the average person has in his/her life would actually consume, and how many hours we spend just waiting at traffic lights. Waiting. Waiting.
Recently, I have been helping a Russian boy who is studying in England wrestle with Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot." Maybe that is why this theme of waiting has imprinted itself on the back of my mind.
When the element of religion is added to this procedure involving the necessity of waiting intermingled with the passion of holy adoration and eternal hope, my sense of unease and melancholy deepens. Part of me wants to join the queue and go with those people to wherever they think they are going. And part of me wishes to mock them and get as far away as possible. Even when my wife and I are together and she feels the need to enter a church and burn a candle, my emotions are devastatingly mixed. On the one hand, I believe that she is an incredible fool. On the other, my love and devotion toward her mounts to a kind of fire when I behold her in these moments of her supplication.
You see, 'God' has never really worked out for me. Oh, I've tried. Yep, I have certainly given God a go. Especially back in America when I lived in Southern Baptist Land. You hear a lot about God in such places. And in Europe when you stand in the wake of the great cathedrals it is hard not to be impressed. Likewise in England, the old stony village chapels, many of them surrounded by the chipped teeth of gravestones representing the dead and bygone. Something wants to wake up in me. And, being essentially a poet rather than a scientist or technophile, I guess my heart is open to the power of suggestion.
But in the end, I walk away empty-handed. Not without spirituality ( I have had that all along !) but certainly without 'religion'. For those of you who have heard of the English poet and artist William Blake, maybe I identify somewhat with him. But if I had to fill out a form, I would call myself simply a 'neo-pagan; Neo because I am not ignorant of the catechism, I just reject it.
For me, it is a personal, not theological, thing. Basically — and I know that religious people will shout me down here — I just hate the way God is always out to lunch when the Innocent are being slaughtered and trampled. I despise how we are supposed to beg forgiveness for a life we never asked for and which is nothing but a nightmare for many (I am one of the lucky ones, I SHOULD be religious), and yet God is always blameless. Somehow, no matter what, we feckless humans are the evil bastards who want retooling and God comes up smelling like a rose. I think I would like God more if I could imagine that he had done some hard traveling too. Basically, I see Jesus as a fiction, a human image that somehow wires Us and God together in the skulls of those people who are too literal-minded to believe in and love an abstraction. Moreover, the older I get — reaching precisely the point where most gaffers like me start reaching out to God because they are afraid of dying, I just stray farther and further. Full of rebellious piss and vinegar and spite.
And yet…and yet, for all of that, I would never call myself an atheist. I have known some of these people, and they seem strangely barren, oddly bereft of inner eventfulness as if their hearts made of cottage cheese and their spirits hardened into chalk. In fact, the true, card-carrying atheist rather intimidates me, because, in my heart of hearts I don't want him to be right. At my seething core, I want God. Even if only so I could grab Him by the lapels and cry out "What the F—!!!".
So the atheists are bloodless reprobates and I am a reprobate who bleeds like a hemophiliac. An unanswered hunger presides in me, but something even more intense simply rejects the simple solution so much embraced by the multitude.
Ah yes, the people waiting in the rain on Saturday. There they were, 'sinners' every last one of them…but they were there because they were humble enough to reach out to something perceived as greater and better than themselves, obeying an old tradition, prepared — as obviously, they were — to stand long hours in the rain just to enter that old bastion of trusted sanctity, light a candle or two and cross themselves once or twice — all this done partially out of an ancient habit, partially out of superstition, and partially out of a reverential and intergalactic fear of oblivion and the abyss — and partly out of a surpassing faith — I felt, in passing, a kind of humility. And a kind of a shame. I felt shame because I could not share their all-redeeming Faith. And Hope.
I wish I could have joined them.
And so I sit tonight, writing this blog. One small, night-riddled billiard ball of a face before a computer screen at 2 am. I should sleep before Thomas (my cat) and the birds of early morning that I give bread too begin making their demands. I will give to them freely what I know to be their needs, as I too need to be nourished according to mine..
The difference between us is that the cat and the birds — eternal enemies — always understand what they are supposed to do. And, in something of the same manner, those people waiting to enter the church, also understood what it was they were supposed to do. And needed to do.
I, on the other hand, understand nothing. Waiting. Waiting for Godot. The night is full of rain and getting colder..
===Eric Richard Le Roy===