167. decathect

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ManWithThistledownHair

“Perhaps I have been wrong to keep so much of my mind from you,” said Mr Norrell, knotting his fingers together. “I am almost certain I have been wrong. But I decided long ago that Great Britain’s best interests were served by absolute silence on these subjects and old habits are hard to break. But surely you see the task before us, Mr Strange? Yours and mine? Magic cannot wait upon the pleasure of a King who no longer cares what happens to England. We must break English magicians of their dependence on him. We must make them forget John Uskglass as completely as he has forgotten us.”

Happy 2013 everyone! Here’s hoping this year is better for everyone than the previous one.

Second, in the past couple of days I’ve had an odd but pleasant series of encounters with old friends I haven’t seen or heard from in a while.

Friday night while picking up a game piece from a local store at one of the malls near my house, I heard someone calling my name. I looked up and saw that it was Dawn, a woman I knew from my old church, the one I’d grown up in from age 10 until leaving it at about age 24. It had been almost six years since our last meeting. She and I were in the choir there for many years, and had done some acting together too. I even directed her daughter as the White Witch in my adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we performed one year.

We exchanged some of the usual pleasantries about the newest developments, and talked about mutual acquaintances we’d bumped into randomly while out and about, as we were doing then. Turns out she’d been following me somewhat on Facebook, so it wasn’t necessary to fill her in on the biggest developments — namely, that I’m gay and an atheist.

“You don’t exactly hide it!” she joked.

And it’s true. I explained, as I do for everyone, that I try to live my journey as publicly as possible to be an advocate for others who feel isolated or powerless. If anyone can benefit from my story and experience and not go through the same struggles, it’s worth it.

The other day, Leah, a friend of mine from London popped on Facebook and we ended up having a delightful conversation along the same lines. I met her at Northwestern College about ten years ago when she was spending a year studying abroad. Why there and not somewhere else? I don’t know, but whatever the reason I’m grateful for the friendship.

In the course of catching up she asked about my dad, and I said I hadn’t talked to him in about a year. I told her a bit about the split with my family, and the reasons, and the struggle that’s been. Though she’s a Christian, she was at a loss to understand how they could refuse to accept me. Hers is a god of love and acceptance rather than one of rules and strict regulations.

It’s funny, there are so many people from that period of my life who I haven’t talked about my sexuality or loss of faith with, either because we’ve drifted apart and lost contact, or because the occasion hasn’t arisen. I suppose, for whatever reason, there’s some hesitation to share who I am now with who I was then.

Just a few months ago, before I started going to therapy, I would’ve found the notion of either friend offering to pray for me offensive. Depending on how spiteful I felt at the moment, the offer might even be thrown back in their face. I don’t believe that there is any evidence that anyone is listening to their prayers, or that they have any tangible effect on the physical world. But the curious thing is that I’ve learned to look past the religious undertones and hear that they are thinking of me when they pray for my immortal soul. Dawn said whenever I popped up on Facebook that she would talk to God about me. How often do we really keep in mind the people we care about, take an interest in their welfare, and go out of our way to be a positive change for them?

The past week or so I’ve been listening to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Part of it is Simon Prebble’s captivating performance, but it’s such a good story. The other night while running some errands I was struck by the above-quoted passage.

“Magic cannot wait upon the pleasure of a King who no longer cares what happens to England,” says Mr Norrell. “We must break English magicians of their dependence on him. We must make them forget John Uskglass as completely as he has forgotten us.”

I realized that this has been my attitude towards God and religion since 2011. We must break people’s dependence on the supernatural. The first flash of my atheism showed itself on 9/11. In watching the towers fall, it suddenly seemed to me that no one was minding the store and that bad things happen solely because of people’s choices, not because some higher power willed anything. In the following years I began to rely more on evidence and reason for my beliefs than on the teachings of thousand-year old religions.

If evidence could be found for the existence of God, I’d gladly consider it. But the more we look at the universe, the more we see the workings of a wholly natural one, processes we’re just beginning to grasp. We don’t need a higher power, and for me that doesn’t lessen its beauty or importance. If anything, it makes every moment I’m alive that much more breathtaking for its transience and ephemeralness.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born.”

To live at all is miracle enough.

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