My Covid Conversion
A bedtime story by Michael Hickins
At around one in the morning, two glasses of Grand Marnier in, I was grooving on my Beatles playlist. George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord came on, a tune I have long loved but the words to which I have ignored. I’ve never been religious, and even spirituals leave me cold. But on this night – call it the drink, call it the hour, call it whatever you like -- I was particularly struck by the words, I really want to see you. I really want to be with you. But it takes so long, my Lord.
And I thought, what a beautiful thing – I really want to see you, even if it takes a long time to get there. There’s a yearning for something holy that touched me in the moment, I opened the COVID-19 journal I’ve been keeping since the spring and I wrote:
It’s not about death and heaven. It’s not about abdication of personal responsibility. It’s about tapping into a connection, a power of inspiration, of fellow-feeling, of beauty. It is the antithesis of Puritanism or the illness of modern Western religion/religiosity. It is a source of strength and inspiration. It is a wellspring of beauty and universal connectedness with the timelessness and openness to endless possibility.
It is shocking that anyone would want to shut themselves off from this. It is something benign, creative, maternal and paternal, something greater than us that does not seek to crush us – or elevate us. It is simply available to us. It, not us, is eternal. This thing, God if you want to call it that, is incorporeal, not at all in our image, and doesn’t care what we do. It doesn’t have any expectations. It just is.
It started as a rationalization for why someone as gifted as George Harrison would look to something outside himself for strength and inspiration, but it quickly became an argument with myself about why I didn’t want to look outside myself for strength and inspiration. Has it been ego? Has it been the hypocrisy and murderousness of religion? Religion’s role in preventing the adolescent me from getting laid?
I can’t, at my age, reject everything I’ve ever believed and argued. I have an identity to protect, an ego to manage. My own self-image as an existentialist. Can I allow myself to change my view without betraying who I am and have always been? Can I believe in this creative wellspring while still rejecting religion, God the Father, and the Dictatorship of the Faith-Based?
I can’t remember if it was Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins who argued that agnosticism is an intellectual cop-out. I must respectfully disagree.
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Earlier this spring, during one of the many walks I took with Max along the Croton Reservoir to break up the monotony of his stay-at-home existence, I started telling him stories. Sometimes they were about Dirk Diggler, a rude man who drank too many beers at Spangler’s on Route 9, and who got arrested for driving kooky by Officer Brown.
Other times, when he asked me how come things are the way they are, I would tell him about this dude named God, who some people think created the sky and the waters and the fish – the Genesis story.
Sometimes on our walks he would ask me to tell him the Dirk Diggler story. Sometimes he would ask for the God story. My reward was hearing him sweetly struggle with pronouncing “Dirk Digg-a-ler.”
Tonight, after his bedtime story, he asked me how come dogs can’t talk. I said it was because they don’t have vocal cords like us and don’t have brain circuitry that allows them to formulate words. He asked me why that was. I said that was just the way they were made.
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, you remember the God story about how people –“
He interrupted me -- “but who made God?”
I told him that was a good question, one to which no one really knew the answer.
“But what do you think?” he pressed me.
I paused and thought pretty hard about how I think about it now, and how best to present it to him.
“Well,” I said, “there used to be nothing, a long, long time ago, and then this power came into existence, and it started making things, it filled the universe with stuff and living beings, and each thing it made gave it more power, until finally it made humans, and humans loved it so much that it got even stronger, and the more we loved it, the more stuff it made.
“But that doesn’t answer your question of who made God,” I said.
“It was a volcano,” he said with assurance.
I told him that was probably the best answer I have ever heard.
Michael Hickins is author of The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing, Blomqvist, The What Do You Know Contest, and I Lived in France and So Can You.