I grew up in a household without religion. Our home was full of love and I felt safe. Yet, there was no mention of God in the home where I felt so loved and cared for.
For years I described myself as an atheist, even though I wasn’t quite comfortable with the term. I didn’t prescribe to any organized religion or believe in God in a traditional sense, so I didn’t know what other label to give myself. Spiritual perhaps, but even then, I thought of people who were “spiritual” as new age folk who went to ashrams and spoke of the universe. I wanted to believe in something in a higher power, believe that there was more to the world than what meets the eye but none of the explanations from organized religion resonated with me.
In my early 20s, as I went through university, travelled the world and worked at different jobs, God was not on the forefront of my mind. I believed that people were good and that things usually worked out in the end. I felt safe. I travelled alone. Often. In fact, I preferred travelling along. I would write in my journal about the people I’d met and the places I’d seen. I met new friends at hostels and found out about different parts of the world. I sat alone at restaurants, perfectly happy. Everywhere I travelled, I felt safe. It’s not that bad things never happened, although they rarely did. I had my wallet stolen in Madrid, I was attacked in Havana. But my sense of safety in the world didn’t waver and I believed that even if something bad happened to me, there were good people who would then help me. I believed in people, not in God.
Then when I was 25, a series of events happened that made me question my place in the world. Firstly, my mom got cancer. She had two operations and recovered. A couple months after her recovery, my parents divorced. My dad took the ferry to Vancouver where I was living, took me out for coffee and told me that he had never been happy in his marriage. He said that he didn’t think there had ever been real intimacy and love in my parents’ marriage. He moved out of my childhood home a couple weeks later – a few days after I met the man I am now married to. Over the next few months, I fell deeply in love with my husband and three of my four grandparents passed away. Everything shifted that year. My mom went from someone who provided me with comfort to someone who needed constant comforting. My father rekindled a romance with his college girlfriend and a new energetic, happier side of him emerged that I hadn’t seen before. My view of myself as an extremely lucky person that bad things didn’t happen to changed. I saw myself as one of them, one the rest of the world, the people who bad things happened to. A person who can be a statistic. A person who might not always live a charmed life. A person who bad things could happen to. A person who could misread a broken marriage for a happy, healthy, loving home.
Life has carried on since the year my world shifted. I realized that the problems I had were those of a blessed person, a very lucky person. Most people have far greater tragedies in their lives than their parents’ divorce. Everybody’s grandparents pass away. I found great love with my husband, new friends in a new city as I moved to Toronto for graduate school and work. Trips home were emotionally draining as I tried to navigate the new landscape of my family, or the various different people who were members of my family, but no longer one cohesive whole. I continue to watch my mother struggle and my dad enjoy the new life he had created.
I got married. We pulled off a wedding with two sets of divorced parents and it went remarkably well. My husband and I started talking about having children. We made our bucket list of things we wanted to do before having kids and set a date when I would go off birth control.
One day, while I was walking to work I realized that I wasn’t breathing properly. My breath was shallow and my shoulders were tight. I felt scared. I was just going about my everyday life and I felt scared. When my husband was away, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’d feel my heart racing and worry that I had a heart problem. I put on some music and tried to ignore it and go back to sleep. The times when I couldn’t breathe came more frequently and at strange times. Times when I thought I should be relaxed, I felt scared. I had stopped feeling safe in the world. I still felt loved, yes – I knew my husband loved me deeply, but I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t trust that I could be a good mother. I didn’t think we could afford a house like I grew up in or have the type of job security my parents had during my childhood. I was really worried that I would not be up for the task of being a parent.
So I did what atheists do in situations like this – I went to therapy. I used by benefits and sought help from a secular health professional. And I felt a lot better. But being an atheist doesn’t suit me anymore. I want to believe in more than the goodness of people. I want to believe that the sun coming up in the morning and the magic that my husband and I share and dew on the grass aren’t acts of science. I want to find God. I want to become closer to God. And the only way I know how to do this is by writing.