Last week a friend who lives around the corner emailed to let us know her family’s dog quite suddenly became gravely ill and was being euthanized that evening. T knows the dog pretty well and my friend kindly thought it would be good to let us know so we could explain to him what was happening.
I had no idea what to say to him. What is the “right” thing? What can his three year old brain process? What do I want to teach him about death? What the hell do I believe about death myself? Or religion, because the two are so intertwined?
Z and I both happen to be baptized Presbyterian, but neither of us have actively practiced religion from about the age of 9 or so on. We feel culturally Christian, and we dig the secular traditions surrounding the celebration of Christmas and Easter. We don’t personally believe that Jesus was the son of God, but we think he was an awesome dude. I mean, let’s be real. He was a loving, long haired, dirty, communist hippie which totally makes him our kind of guy.
I also don’t think I’m a straight up atheist. The idea that there is nothing out there might be logical, but I’m a feelings gal and no matter what my brain says my heart thinks there is something more. I believe we have souls and I don’t think those souls die when we do. I can’t imagine telling my children that if I die while they are young that I won’t still exist on some level to love them and watch over them somehow. My love for them is so strong I do believe it will survive my death. If that is delusional, so be it. It helps me sleep at night. Because as soon as you become a parent mortality becomes stunningly real, your love for your child is so staggering and terrifying you are instantly stripped of the invincibility of your youth.
I guess I’d label myself agnostic. I believe in something, I just don’t know what. Not the paternalistic God of our society, not necessarily a god at all. Just…something, something more.
Organized religion is problematic for me. So much hate is justified by invoking God’s name. So many of the tenets of religious texts are cherry picked to support whatever prejudices a person has developed, while others are discarded because they are inconvenient. So much war has been waged in the name of God, so much hate. I understand there are compelling reasons to belong to a religious organization-the community, a value system that lines up with your own. But for the most part it isn’t for me. Nor is atheism. I’m glad that atheists are feeling more comfortable about speaking out. But a lot of their rhetoric is as dogmatic as that of evangelists and zelots, the whole if-you-had-any-brains-at-all-you’d-believe-exactly-what-I-do jazz. The mean spirited dismissal of people of faith completely turns me off. I guess besides being agnostic I think people should have the freedom to believe whatever helps get them through this life and the courtesy not to be bullied for their beliefs. I also think they shouldn’t use their beliefs to bully others. And that in our multicultural society government and religion should have nothing to do with each other, I firmly believe that the founding fathers would completely agree with me with that one. Ok, climbing off my soapbox now.
So how to approach this charged topic with T? I told him that his doggy friend got very sick and died. I said that means she won’t live around the corner from our house anymore, she is gone and we won’t get to see her again. The place that she went is doggy heaven, and doggy heaven is awesome. She gets to run around and have tons of fun and be not sick at all and she gets to look down and see what we are all doing back here on earth. I said that we will all miss her very much and it was ok to feel sad about not getting to see her again. It’s ok to be sad for a really long time.
Little man is three. In fact, today is his birthday. We think he is wonderful and brilliant and perfect just like every parent is supposed to. But I’m not sure how much of my little speech he understood. It’s the beginning of a conversation that will go on for years. I’m so sorry about the illness and death of our friend’s much loved dog, but I appreciate the reminder to think about how to frame this discussion for our kids. I want to approach this subject thoughtfully for them. I’ve come to the conclusion that I will tell them what I believe, but I will explain that I want them to believe whatever feels right in their hearts and minds. I honestly don’t care if my kids are christian, or atheist, or jewish, or muslim, or buddhist. It’s much more important to me that they are kind, ethical, giving humans who treat others with care. I’m a big fan of the golden rule, and that is how I hope to teach them to live.
One of my favorite people in the world is a person of faith. I got to see him during our big trip down south and we had the opportunity to get to talk for a couple of hours. Religion came up and I said to him that it seemed to me that even though he was religious and I emphatically was not that our values and approaches to child rearing were remarkably similar. And that feels like an important thing to remember.
If you are religious, if you are atheist, if you aren’t sure what you are, I hope I haven’t offended you. Just because we don’t believe the same stuff doesn’t mean I don’t respect you or like you or in a lot of cases love you or your beliefs.
Now how about some birthday pictures? We had a small party for him yesterday afternoon and it was so much fun! Today is his actual birthday. He got presents, we are smoking pork, and this afternoon we are getting some visitors that he adores. He is one lucky duck.