Category Archives: Human Nature

The fear of God

My family has never been a religious one. For as long as I can remember, my family has never celebrated anything religion-oriented, not even Christmas (their annual business-gathering-disguised-as-a-Christmas-party notwithstanding). Maybe that was why, at the age of twelve, I decided to become a Roman Catholic, so that I would have some form of belief system. For the first five years after being Confirmed, I attended Mass every single Sunday, took Communion, went for probably more Confessions than were appropriate for someone my age, and read the Bible in both English and Latin. Then when I was 17, my father opened his first restaurant (perfectly timed, no doubt, to begin right after I was done with high school), and I was enslaved to the business, which marked the end of Mass and my days as a good Catholic.

I’ve never really considered myself a ‘religious’ person, but I’ve always harbored the childish notion that God really is watching and listening to everyone, whether they deserve it or not. It is perhaps this notion that lies behind the meaning of ‘the fear of God’. We may want something, but if we want it for the wrong reasons, God would choose not to give it to us. If we get what we want by the wrong means, God would let us have it for a while, and then take it away from us the same way we took it for ourselves. And if we’re waiting for something, but decide to give up waiting because we think we’ve waited long enough, God might decide that we don’t deserve it because we simply lacked the patience and faith.

What is it that keeps us hanging on and holding out for something? Is it our absolute determination to have it, and our unswerving faith that if we are patient enough, it will come to us? Even when we know it’s a lost cause, do we hold on for dear life in the hope that it will all eventually work out for us? Or are we just afraid that God will observe how we handle ourselves during these hard times, and then make the final decision as to who deserves what?

A decade ago, my very first tattoo artist told me, “I’ve learned in my old age that if something doesn’t happen now, it just means that there’s something greater out there waiting to happen soon.” If that were true, then would we still be hanging around to see if what we’ve been waiting for all these months would ever happen to us, or would we just let it go in pursuit of that ‘something greater’? Wouldn’t God then decide that we are undeserving of either one and in the end leave us with nothing? Do we continue, then, to float along in this limbo that we’ve created for ourselves, too afraid to go back, and yet too uncertain to move forward?

A time for scarring

You can't have a rainbow without a little rain

You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain

“There is a time for everything.”

I had lost count of the number of times this was said to me over the past year. It was the argument to end all arguments, the reason that was supposed to justify everything that had gone wrong: it just wasn’t the ‘time’ for it to be put right yet. On the one hand, I was inclined to believe that statement, but on the other hand, I had been raised to believe that nothing would happen unless we took the initiative to make it so.

And now here we are, a little over two weeks into what sometimes feels so surreal as to seem too good to be true. I had spent little more than the past year so deeply embedded in this hole of despair that I had begun to mold myself to it, and now that it’s time to come out of this hole, I find myself afraid, almost unwilling, to do it.

That’s the thing about cuts: some of them simply run too deep, and while the skin and scar tissue can grow over them, the damage is permanent and they never really heal. We desperately want to be able to forget the pain, but we’ve spent so much time behind that wall we built around ourselves that to come out from behind it seems too daunting, leaving ourselves feeling naked, overexposed.

My anger had become an antidote to my unhappiness, and it had reached a point where I didn’t know how not to be angry or unhappy. And every time I’m told to loosen up, let go of the past and be happy now, because it’s ‘the time’ to be happy, I realize just how difficult it is. I realize that I’m terrified of being happy because the last time I knew happiness was right before everything went to hell.

But maybe there is something to be said about there being a time for everything. There may have been a time for things to right themselves, and now may be the time to be happy again. So maybe, one day, the time will come for me to learn to let go of my anger, stop picking at the wounds and let them grow over on their own.

The flames of forgiveness

'Love' by Alexandr Milov, at Burning Man 2015

‘Love’ by Alexandr Milov, at Burning Man 2015

Alexandr Milov was the first Ukranian to receive a grant from Burning Man to create his art, and his piece was recognized as one of the most powerful from last year’s festival. Of his creation, aptly christened Love, Milov wrote: “It demonstrates a conflict between a man and a woman as well as the outer and inner expression of human nature. Their inner selves are executed in the form of transparent children, who are holding out their hands through the grating. As it’s getting dark (night falls) the children start to shine. This shining is a symbol of purity and sincerity that brings people together and gives a chance of making up when the dark time arrives.”

So when I came across it on social media a few days ago, it struck a chord deep within my being, because this is something I live through every single day.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve held the belief that forgiveness, like trust, is something that must be earned. If one is truly sorry for something, one would — or should — apologize, and then go about making right whatever they have done wrong. Then, and only then, can they be forgiven, and trusted again. But if no apology comes, how is forgiveness to follow? If their mistakes were not actually mistakes, but conscious choices, albeit bad ones, made intentionally to produce a desired outcome, why should they be sorry? And if they do apologize, only to repeat their transgressions, what is their apology worth?

Needless to say, I don’t remember ever forgiving anyone for anything.

For the last 13 months, my life has been a series of bad choices made in rapid succession. Every single decision made and subsequent action taken was a conscious one that resulted in more than one heart saved, and more than one heart broken. And every time a choice was made, the list of things I can’t forgive grew longer, to the point where I am now conditioned to prepare myself for the worst and expect history to keep repeating itself. My inability to trust fuels my refusal to forgive because I have never been given a reason to trust that wrongs will be righted and mistakes will be fixed.

Alexandr Milov’s Love tells us to let go of the anger and resentment that solidifies that yawning gap between us caused by our conflicts, and to embrace the forgiving spirit of our inner child when the darkness threatens to consume us. But how do we forgive when we are reminded every day that those bad choices made are the very reason the darkness in our souls exist? How do we let go of the anger and the hatred when they are the only things holding our walls up and protecting our hearts from being broken yet again? How do we put our trust in love when love is what drove us to make these choices in the first place?