I call it A Writer’s Blog---a place where I can have my say. So why have I been sitting on this piece for weeks, wondering if it belongs here? Why the reluctance? Whether we admit it or not, October people have spent a lifetime creating their answers to these questions. Heck, I’ve written a whole story about them. There is no reason to be so timid. So here goes nothing.
As you might imagine, writing about the October years is different than writing about the April and May years we like to remember. For one thing our October expectations are probably more realistic than those youthful visions of how we hoped our life would play out. Most of us have moved beyond those adolescent dreams. Though we like to revisit our memory-laden Aprils and Mays from time to time, by October we have hopefully developed the inner resources (some will call them “spiritual” resources) to deal with what life has sent our way.
Still, it is the most conventional bit of wisdom for a writer---whether you’re blogging or writing a novel. When it comes to matters of religion and the spiritual tread softly. The odds of offending are just too high. Yet, though I certainly don’t want to offend, I do want to my October stories to reflect the real world---and for me the real world includes matters of the soul.
You see, along the way my peers and I have learned there are times when the October psyche needs reinforcement. For me to ignore that inconvenient fact for the sake of literary correctness overlooks a basic truth about the people who populate my stories.
Having reached their sixties and seventies, those October friends of mine have experienced the “spiritual” first hand. More than that, they have hopefully created their own ways of integrating those impulses into an acceptable life-view. That integration can take many forms. It is after all a very personal thing. Yet, whatever answers we construct for ourselves, everyone faces those “matters of the soul.” In that case, why would I shy away from something so central to whom we have become?
As we’ve moved across life's calendar we have learned to rely on our own personal ways of dealing with those spiritual questions. How else could we have made it this far? In the nine Tanner Chronicles stories I have written I have touched on a wide range of October trials---hurtful times of overwhelming loneliness and isolation, the emptiness of a life-partner lost or a retirement gone wrong, a promising future turned sour by a failing economy, and the nearly indescribable pain of dementia forcing its way into a long and loving relationship. Every one of those incidents is more than simply a life-experience dilemma---it is a deeply spiritual challenge.
As a staunch advocate of October Bold and October Becoming I view our October spirituality as the place where “Belief” and “Becoming” come together. By now we can see how our spiritual "beliefs," in whatever form they take, impact our unique and very-personal “becoming.”
And how can Belief and Becoming be blended together in an October story? How about a brief example? It’s from a story I call Becoming. Maria Ruiz is a middle-aged caretaker, a life-long captive of the God she was taught as a child to fear---the one who promises harsh judgement for every failing, and dire consequences for long-ago transgressions.
Carl Postell, on the other hand, is left to counter Maria’s unyielding faith with little more than his own stumbling intuition of a God who sends us off to “become” who we are meant to be. Not surprisingly, the common ground Maria and Carl seek often seems out of reach.
“The other day you asked me if I believed in God,” I said. “Well, just so you know, I do. But the God that I can imagine is nothing like the God you talk about.” With that I started toward the porch, ready to check in on Dad before I left.
Before I reached the back door Maria’s question was loud and demanding behind me. “How is it different, Carl?” she asked. “What makes your God different than mine?”
“Look, I’m not sure I can explain. I’m not exactly a church-kind-of-guy, you know. Let’s just say we have very different ideas and let it go at that. Okay?”
For a moment I was remembering a time when I had been “a church-kind-of-guy.” When our children were young Sandra had insisted that we be in church every Sunday---certain that the kids would benefit from Sunday School and seeing their parents in church. It was not the kids’ favorite thing, or mine---but for several years we were there most every Sunday. Strangely, Sandra’s religious logic had grown more flexible over time, allowing us to “outgrow” church as the kids got older. By the time Trish was twelve or thirteen Sunday morning had reverted to its original status as a well-earned sleep-in-day.
Now, looking back at Maria leaning against the backyard fence I was laughing to myself, aware of the startling irony. That nice lady was struggling with the deepest of faith questions---concerns that had apparently haunted her for decades. Yet, in the very depths of her seeking, she was asking me of all people to elaborate on my notion of God. She deserved so much more than I had to offer.
Right then I should have turned away and kept moving. Instead I paused long enough to say, “Maria, there’s nothing about what I believe that would help you. It’s just too different.”
“That’s what I’m asking. How is it different?”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked, knowing that I was not at all sure, She nodded her affirmative, so I took a deep breath and threw caution to the wind.
“Okay, here’s the deal. You talk about a God who has rules for every step you take---and who comes down hard on you when you break those rules. Your God is a tyrant. The God that makes sense to me is one who gives everyone the freedom to be themselves.
By then my unfamiliar role as a spiritual advisor was growing more uncomfortable by the second. “The God I understand gives every single thing that It creates all that it needs to become whatever it’s supposed to be. And then It sends that creation off to become that ‘something.' That’s true for a tree, a flower, or an animal. They use what they’ve been given to become what they’re meant to be. And I believe that it’s the same way for people.
“That’s what I think we’re doing here,” I continued---hoping Maria was still listening. “We’re ‘becoming.’ A part of our job is to learn what it is we’re supposed to be---that might be a caregiver like you, a storyteller like me, or anything else. There's no end to the possibilities. But I'm certain that once we've figured out what we're meant to be, we’ll have everything we need to become that person." I paused to read her reaction. She was giving me few clues so I added, “And I guess that’s about it.”
“That’s all? That's what God is like to you?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” I shrugged, knowing there was at least one more piece I ought to be including. How would she accept that? “Except for one last thing,” I said. “Something that seems to be very different than the God you know.”
“Like I said before, we have choices in the matter. We get to do the choosing. We can even decide not to be the person we’re intended to become. We all do that sometimes. But when that happens---when we mess up---I don’t believe that God gives up on us. The God I can imagine doesn’t forget about us, or get mad at us, or punish us because we took a wrong turn. He, or She, knows that everyone does that from time to time. Most of all, God is ready to help us when we try again.
“It seems to me that’s important.” I was ready to end this. “Because even when we get off track, and we all do, what I call God is always ready to help us. We’re surrounded by Him, or Her, or It. The people who care about us, who lend a hand even when they don’t have to---they're God’s way of helping us.
“Anyway, that’s how God looks to me. But I don’t see how any of that can help you. Not if you can’t imagine a God who forgives the times you’ve gone wrong. I wish you could do that, because Dad and I would really like to see you smiling again.”