Saturday, April 16, 2016

In Which I Get Braces at Age 45

First of all, can I say how odd it is that I'm 45? I keep thinking I'm mistaken. I must be thinking ahead (as I often do) and I'm really only 44 or 43 or even 42. I liked 42. That was a good age. I think I'm going to stay there.

So I have braces. I've always been missing one of my eye teeth and my other teeth shifted to fill in the gap, making my smile crooked. I was told that it was purely cosmetic and didn't affect my bite, so there was no reason to fix it unless I really wanted to. Surprisingly it was never much of an issue when I was growing up. It bothered me a little, but no one made fun of me and I got used to how I look. I thought it made me unique. I worried about fitting in for a lot of reasons, but my teeth weren't one of them.

In fact, I only remember one time EVER in my entire school career that anyone made fun of me, and it was one of my on-again off-again friends in high school. She was upset with me about something and gave me a piece of her mind, adding under her breath as she turned away, "And you have funny teeth."

I remember thinking, "That's it? That's all you've got?" I found it mildly amusing that she even brought it up.

It wasn't an issue when I was dating, either. My husband certainly didn't mind. But after my divorce I found it was a distinct factor in the 40-something dating pool. One man even brought it up specifically, as his coworker had apparently pointed out the discrepancy in my smile in a selfie I'd sent him. Now this guy was totally infatuated and kept telling me how much he was looking forward to meeting me, but suddenly dropped me like a hot potato. It was the first time that had been brought to my attention specifically as a REASON not to like me. I started wondering how many times it had been a reason before and I just hadn't paid attention. I started to wonder if that was why my photo was never featured on my company's website along with all the other company picnic and End of Year Bash photos, or why I wasn't asked to attend client meetings. A friend commented once, out of the blue, "I think your smile gives you character," meaning she was thinking about it.

I even had someone explain to me why men would hit on me as a "side item" to their main relationship: men notice women with quirky appearances. I couldn't for the life of me understand why I, the most boring, introverted, geeky writer in South Jersey, kept getting asked to sleep with guys who had other relationships. Really?

So I finally broke down and got the damn braces. Part of this is because I think my teeth have shifted more dramatically as I got older and it may end up affecting my bite. Part of it is also because I don't want my appearance to hold me be back professionally. (The men can go fuck themselves. I have my dog and my cat and my son. I don't need a walking penis upsetting my tranquility.)

But I feel really bothered about it all. People keep saying, "Aren't you excited?" I say...

In my new sort-of-buddhist-but-not-really introspective mode, I have to ask "Why?" Is my ego offended by people getting excited about "fixing" what's clearly "wrong" with me? 

A little, I admit. I'm learning to observe these things about myself without judging or getting upset.

But the main reason I'm not excited is I feel like I failed somehow. I've given in to the peer pressure of 21st century physical perfectionism to the tune of about eight grand. When I was going through my divorce, my boss kept telling me how beautiful I am. Like, too much. Like, I know I'm fat and have crooked teeth so what are you getting at? Do you need to reassure me or are you trying to reassure yourself that I won't embarrass you? I decided it was both.

Part of me wants to rip the damn metal out of my mouth and scream, "No, I will not give in to materialism and superficial norms!"

The other part of me is afraid food will drip out of my maloccluded teeth onto my sagging chest when I'm eighty, so I keep them.

But is fear a reason to do anything? (Other than run from a bear, a mugger or an erupting volcano. In those cases fear is a great reason.) I should be proud and happy. I just feel more in debt. This, too, I shall meditate on. I need to find a way to be happy no matter what the circumstances. I need to keep reminding myself that I am NOT my teeth, or my weight, or my fears, or my accomplishments. I am. That is all. And that is all that is needed. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Mind Is Like A Wild Elephant

The Seeker and Shaman Woman were reviewing the events of the day. "Worrying makes my life hell, Shaman Woman," said the Seeker. "Why can't I control my mind?"
"Your mind is like a wild elephant that you must master," said the Shaman as she handed the Seeker his tea. "When you tether the elephant, it flaps its ears, slaps its tail, and tries to run away."
"That's just what my mind does. It runs wild whenever I try to control it," the Seeker said. "What should I do when it runs away, Shaman Woman?"
"Don't scold the elephant for running." answered the Shaman. "Simply grab the chain and pull the elephant back. Again and again the elephant will run away. Again and again you must pull it back. Eventually, the elephant will be tamed when it learns that you are the master.
"Then you will have great power because once tamed, both elephants and minds will work for you.”

~ Author unknown

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Why I'm No Longer a Christian

From the time I was little until about two years ago, I was a passionately born-again Christian. I believed the Bible was truly God's instruction manual and pretty much meant to be interpreted as written on the page.

I knew the Holy Spirit as a living, vital entity who revealed truth to me, imparted wisdom, and worked through the events of my life to weave it into a beautiful tapestry. I believed that even the dark, ugly days would one day reveal themselves as part of a grand design by the Master weaver.  I was the perfect daughter and tried to be the perfect wife, mother, and evangelical ambassador as well. A woman of some education and skill with words, I saw myself as an apologist to intellectuals. I held many deep conversations over the years with people of all faiths (or none) that seemed enriching to all parties, including myself as I gained insight into other perspectives.

Then I got married and divorced. After 15 years of struggle to make a bad marriage work, God had let me down in a big way, or I had let Him down by being too weak to persevere despite the circumstances. I subsequently lost my faith. The majority of people who know me think this is a result of disillusionment from my divorce. They also think I will get over it and "come back to Jesus" eventually.

I am not coming back to Jesus and the divorce wasn't the reason. It was one of the catalysts, but it wasn't the reason.

The Big One, the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, was the church shooting in Charleston, SC last summer. A white man sat for an hour in a prayer meeting before pulling a gun out of his bag and killing nine African Americans, including the pastor, who was a senator and civil rights activist. He pointed the gun first at 87-year-old Susie Jackson, whose nephew tried to reason with him before he pulled the trigger and shot her. A 5-year-old girl survived by pretending to be dead.

Why would an act perpetrated by a crazed racist cause me to disbelieve in God, people ask. Why can't I accept that there are evil people in the world and bad things happen, even to Christians? Why do I blame God for what someone did to innocent Christians who went straight to Heaven anyway?

Because that's not what I'm blaming God for. What I'm blaming God for... or to be more accurate, what I finally realized... is that God doesn't speak to us the way we think He does. For someone who was indoctrinated to believe that God cares personally and specifically about our welfare and can be trusted to tell us everything we need to know in every situation, this was a problem I couldn't wiggle out of or talk around.

When I discussed the tragedy with other Christians and asked why the Holy Spirit didn't warn the people who were sitting there for a whole hour with their killer in a prayer meeting, they said things like, "Maybe they weren't paying close enough attention to Him." Or, "Maybe God didn't want them to know. Maybe it was part of His plan."

Really? Really???

Why would you serve a God who didn't want you to know critical information like the man next to you being about to shoot your grandmother, pastor, and five-year-old daughter? They had an hour to escape. To call the police. To tackle the guy. His gun was in a backpack under his chair. Pastor Clementa Pinckney was a sturdy guy, as was 26-year-old recent college grad Tywanza Sanders. It's not that they weren't listening or paying attention. They were praying, for God's sake. Why didn't the Holy Spirit whisper to even one person about the danger?

Because, I finally realized, the Holy Spirit doesn't whisper to anyone.

My whole life I had struggled with the nagging question of how much of what I attributed to "God" was actually my own subconscious mind. I cast aside doubt in my late teens and twenties, plunging wholeheartedly into a life of faith, but as I grew older I couldn't deny that except for a very few peak experiences, most of what I (and those around me) attributed to Divine Revelation was our own common sense and deepest desires manifesting in the quietness of our prayer time.

No one at that church in Charleston was aware, consciously or subconsciously, that Dylann Roof had a Glock under his chair, so "God" didn't tell them about it.

This realization gave me the courage to finally walk away from the tangled web of rationalizations and delusions that had kept me in Christianity for nearly 40 years. Next to ending my marriage, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done. More than ending my marriage, it was the most liberating thing I'd ever done. I feel like I'm 45 years old and just learning how to be a fully actualized human being.

This doesn't mean, however, that I'm doomed to a life of hopeless materialism. I do struggle with the existential questions of why I'm here and what it all means, but at least I'm struggling in an intellectually honest way.

It also doesn't mean that there is no sacredness or mystery to my life. What I've come to realize is that nothing is sacred or meaningful in itself, but each of us makes it so by investing our energy into it. Jesus was right when he said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Everything sacred and beautiful is in each of us. All we need we already have. We just need to find it, buried deep under all the protective layers we've covered it with, like the sheets of green felt my mom used to lay over the sterling silverware to keep it from tarnishing.

For some people, that sacredness is in Jesus Christ. For me, it's not any more, but that's okay. Jesus and I have parted as friends, but heading down separate paths. We're both going to be just fine.