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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Searching For Answers

By Brenton "Sandy" Dickson

Another funeral, and almost all of my parents’ generation were gone. I struggled to get comfortable on the hard, wooden pew as family members and acquaintances remembered the past. But I was thinking more about what happened next.

My religious friends knew where they were headed. Others told me things just end, period. I had trouble with both of these outcomes. They were much too simple.

At the reception, I was searching for sympathy because I had just turned 70. I victimized Betsy’s friend, Jill, who told me I should read Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Eat, Pray, Love. She assured me it would help. My wife, Betsy, had read the book the previous summer but failed to tell me about it because it was a “woman’s book,” whatever that means.

There must have been something wrong with me because I loved it. I found myself gasping after each of the author’s compulsive, self-deprecating, hyperactive, spontaneous passages partly from laughter and partly from exhaustion. Besides, I failed to experience any urge to take up cross-dressing.

However, I had trouble with her time in India. Especially, her desire to connect with her God. I read this part twice. There was a lot of similarity in her quest for spiritual experience with what I was hearing from my oldest son, Brent, a recovering cocaine addict. He had been explaining to me with great enthusiasm, how he reached out to his God to help him through each day.

This was shocking to me because, other than weddings and funerals, I was certain he’d never been inside a church – except when his younger brother and his sister-in-law asked him to be godfather to my oldest grandson.

* * *

As a child, I had limited exposure to religion. My mother tried to ease the family’s conscience with an annual outing to the local Unitarian church on Easter Sunday. I dreaded these. My father didn’t like them either. Every year he would tell my mother, “We aren’t being fair. We are selfishly occupying the seats of those that worship regularly.”

The minister was stern and he frightened me. He spoke in a threatening, droning, loud monotone. I could never understand what he was talking about. I was sure that he was God, or that God was just like him, and I wanted no part of it.

As I grew older, I was confronted with a number of required activities. The most notable of these was military service, since there was still a draft. However, in both high school and college, I was subjected to required attendance in either an established church or alternatively, the school chapel.

My high school and college preachers were uninspiring. I perfected my daydreaming and doodling skills during their sermons. (Unfortunately, I also practiced these in classrooms, where I allowed far too much enlightenment to pass me by.)

By the time I was a sophomore in college, I found ways to escape. I would sit on the chapel’s back stairs reading or doing homework. Then I discovered that the local Catholic Church simultaneously passed out and collected the attendance slips at the end of each service. (Most students attended the college’s non-denominational chapel, where slips were given out at the beginning and collected at the end.)

So, with a number of friends, we timed our return from the ski slopes so as to arrive at the end of the four o’clock service, just in time to receive and sign our “proofs of presence.” I recall one instance when the student monitor who was handing these out, stared quizzically as he looked down at my ski boots and the ice still clinging to the lower creases in my Levi’s.

I was certain I was in trouble, but I quickly realized he had no intention of turning me in. His expression simply signaled that an entity far more significant than the college Dean was watching over all this and would deal with me at a later date.

* * *

I have often wondered if spiritual experience could be explained scientifically. Many academics believe that the brain’s electromagnetic field which transmits radio-like electrical signals to our body parts instructing us to breathe, walk and react also is where all of our conscious and unconscious knowledge is stored.

If this is the case, when our physical body dies and disintegrates or is cremated, why isn’t it possible that our brain’s non-biodegradable and non-flammable electromagnetic field remains behind, continuing to transmit angry or peaceful signals, or perhaps even more? It would explain a lot.

I keep telling myself that my obsession with being over 70 is largely for my own amusement, but maybe there is more to it. Something inside me screaming, “I don’t want to die!”

Perhaps years from now (and I hope it’s many years from now), I will have just returned from plowing into fellow shoppers on my electric shopping cart at the local Walmart. I will look into the bathroom mirror and see that what Betsy calls my ‘you are fortunate you have good facial bone structure’ will be giving way, my cheeks will have puffed up like popovers, large discolored drooping eye bags will have appeared, my chin will have become indistinguishable from my neck, my teeth will be gone, my hair will be falling out, I will be wearing high-powered useless hearing aids, and my eyesight will be failing.

I will be grasping for the towel rack to lower myself on to the pot for another bout of diarrhea. At that point, I will collapse in a heap on the bathroom floor. I will rant, I will rave, I will howl and I will go mad. Or, alternatively, maybe, just perhaps, I will remain standing by the mirror totally consumed with serenity, calmness, and peace. I will smile, because I will at last have comprehended what Brent and Elizabeth Gilbert are talking about. I will have spiritually connected with my God.

This mental exercise, which I have just put myself through, didn’t work. I succeeded in horrifying myself in the first part, but my hypothesized alternative reaction is as foreign to me as it was before I started. Recently, it occurred to me that sex might be a way to find and experience closeness with my higher power. So I did the due diligence and concluded it was not.

* * *

In early April of 2008, I drove to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to hike up Mt. Monadnock. The black flies had not yet made an appearance even though most of the snow had melted. I had made this two-mile climb a number of times before with many different people - my father, my sister and brother-in-law, my sons, and even a great aunt when she was 80 years old.

I scrambled up the final steep rocky trail, through and over ledges to the summit. I was breathing hard. The muscles in my 70-year-old legs were throbbing. Miles and miles of fields, trees and villages unfolded below me. There was a cool crispness in the fresh mountain air, but also a hint of warmth caused by the sun reflecting off the surrounding rocks.

I closed my damp eyes and drifted off into a peaceful and hazy sub-consciousness. I thought back on the numerous times I had been on top of that magical mountain, but this time seemed different. I sensed the presence of others with whom I had made this hike before, many no longer alive.

I was not alone.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Excellent writing--I always look forward to reading your blogs, Sandy. I have no answers or opinions even about what's coming, but I just hope it feels like a good long sleep!

Thanks Sandy, The account of your journey brought smiles to my face, tugged at my heart, and enveloped my soul. Best wishes for the new year.

At times I envy the devout their certainty of what comes next. My journey has been one of running away from that.

I do feel a strange sense of peace when I am all alone communing with nature. I guess that, at those times, I do feel that there is something more.

Great writing, Sandy.

I am inspired by your thoughtfulness. I have some thoughts on the religion issue that I may very well share in here one day. As for aging, well that is a sometimes tired piece of art. Sort of like a painting that has been touched by moisture and the colors are running, but to where?
Love your writing, and happy to learn that you have a blog.

How do I find your blog?

I too love your writing! As in the native American culture nature is where the Spirit is best experienced. I become keenly aware that something much greater than man is responsible for such wondrous sites.


Lyn, Flo, Darlene, Linda, Dani, James, and Mage - Thank you for all your kind comments!

Linda - I don't have a blog. I am a computer dunce, and I wouldn't know what to do with one if I had one! - Sandy

Aw shucks! and I was hoping to have more time with you...

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