Finding Faith (Part 2)

a in school

It’s both common and accepted for people of faith to change their religions. When former Buddhists become Christian, lapsed Catholics find solace in Zen or nice Jewish boys convert for shiksas, the only ones appalled are their blood relatives. The world still spins no matter who’s worshipped.

It was no different in my atheist family. Whenever someone tried to embrace an ideology, my clan gathered for an intervention. With no less fervor than trying to stop an opioid addict, they were relentless in their disdain.

It happened when Aunt Sandy was in love (this time with a previously Jewish man who embraced Aesthetic Realism). My aunt praised AR’s founder, Eli Siegal at our Sunday dinners as if she had found her personal messiah. She brought me copies of his books with key points underlined like this _________ or above like this ******. Although I liked some of Siegal’s poems, his belief hadn’t attracted me. After Sandy and her boyfriend broke up, Aesthetic Realism stopped attracting her too.

We had third cousins, Joe and Consuela, who were Lutheran and Roman Catholic. Joe, who rarely attended church asked that their first child be raised in his faith. Consuela reluctantly agreed. Before their precious boy was two, he contracted meningitis and died. Throughout the long winter our family wept with them. A year later at a Sunday dinner at Grandma Rose’s, the couple announced they were pregnant again. Consuela, not a pretty woman, in part to a malformed black mole over her top lip, seemed to turn fiendish as she announced that this baby would be raised Catholic, since clearly God was angered by her change of faith. The dinner chatter quieted. The gazes of all the diners turned down at their plates as no one would dispute the mother who had buried her child. But I looked directly at my poor cousin Joe who lost his son and the comfort of his faith simultaneously. I knew very little about Lutheranism and even less about Roman Catholic doctrine, but I did believe that no God would murder a baby because of his religion. Grandma Rose must have been right all along: The masses are asses.

It would take seven years to get me to a church. By then I was a chubby (and slightly surly) teenager in prep school. One morning the door to study hall ushered in the two most beautiful people I had ever seen. Daughter of a Brazilian diplomat and his former model wife; Isabelle had blue-green eyes and lush ebony curls. Her brother Luiz, tall and slender owned a beach tan and a ready smile. I was smitten by them both. Befriending Isabelle would put me solidly among the cool kids as well as keep me in the same sphere as her brother, with whom I was absolutely besotted. I latched on to Izzy like a fungus.

They were Evangelical Protestants whose house of worship was a rented office space filled with folding chairs and few worshippers. I didn’t care. I wasn’t there for fellowship or faith. I took 3 subway trains to Manhattan on Sunday mornings to meet them at their church and truthfully, I would have been just as eager to be in a bowling alley or atop a garbage heap to be near Luiz. I don’t know if the elders or pastor knew what was in my heart or if it mattered, but they convinced me to be baptized. I was a fervent church goer for nine months until Isabelle and Luiz’ father was transferred to Paris.

I wouldn’t re-enter another church, other than for weddings and funerals, until four decades had passed.