This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Part One)

Last night, I couldn’t sleep because of kidney stones. If you’ve never had them, be happy. They’re about the most painful thing that won’t kill you. “What do you mean I’m not going to die?” That was my reaction the first time I got them. I went to the emergency room, via ambulance because I couldn’t walk although it was only two blocks away. They gave me intravenous morphine for the pain and ran a million tests. When they first brought me in a nurse said, “It’s kidney stones. I’ve had two children and two kidney stones and the pain from the kidney stones was worse.” Finally, fourteen hours and six thousand dollars later, the doctor decided she was right. They sent me home with painkillers and instructions to drink lots of water and get mild exercise. A week and a half and a great deal of pain later, one day it was gone. Poof. You pass the stone. You have a couple of episodes of painful urination, and suddenly you feel fine as if nothing was ever wrong. Anti-climactic is an understatement.

So, I barely slept last night. Not really a big deal. I would have made up for it by staying in bed late, but I’m supposed to meet my mother and sister for a holiday house tour at noon and I needed to do a quick load of laundry unless I want to surprise everyone by viewing Christmas lights in my birthday suit.

Normally, I wouldn’t even bring it up, mainly because it’s not that interesting. I have my little set of petty burdens and you have yours. The pain, happily, has subsided. The reprieve is only temporary and it could come back later today or next year. I made myself a cup of coffee and decided to read some blogs while waiting for the washing machine. Despite the lack of sleep, I was feeling pretty good and was in a good mood. This is no small thing to me because about a year and a half ago I spent about forty-eight hours in a psychiatric institution for suicidal ideation, and since then I take medication for depression. If there’s an upside to getting an official diagnosis, it’s that I finally take my own moods seriously. Doing something that makes me unhappy to make someone else happy, or out of a sense of obligation, was something I did routinely. No more. My sister wrote “ought” on the center of the white board I used to use for reminders, circled it and put a slash through it. “No more ‘oughts.’ ”

So, my own mental peace has finally become precious to me. I still engage with things that disturb it, like we all must, but I no longer feel as if I’m shirking my duty to be a responsible human being when I say, to myself or others, I can’t deal with a particular subject right now. It’s not a moral failing to not be up for any argument at any time. It’s just being human. We need moments of calm. We need moments of pleasure. It can’t be all work and duty unless you want to drive yourself into a depression like I did. If you don’t know, and you probably don’t, I’m a natural-born puritan. I do everything the hard way, or I used to.

This is where the internet, and specifically commenting on other people’s blogs, becomes difficult for me. A couple of days ago, I received a response to a comment I didn’t even recall making. Well, no surprise there, I made it back in March. It was a short, almost off-the-cuff, comment about how I used to call myself an agnostic and now I call myself an atheist. I feel like I have to say the following over and over again, “I’m in my late forties. I don’t see myself as old, but I’m old enough to have some perspective on things. Neither of my parents were believers, nor was the grandparent, my maternal grandfather, who was most influential in my childhood on this subject. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in New Jersey that had a lot of Jews, ie. Christianity wasn’t even culturally dominant in my childhood. The Christians in the neighborhood were divided into many sects and not especially imposing. Add to that a sprinkling of Buddhists, Taoists and people who just didn’t care. I started calling myself an atheist around eight. Starting in my late teens, hitting its greatest intensity during my college years, and then tapering off during my early adulthood, I went through a period of questioning about religion. I started calling myself an agnostic. Eventually I wound up calling myself an atheist again.” That’s a summary. I’ve been writing down my life story in almost painful detail. You can find it under the “memories” link in the header if you need more detail and want to follow along.

A lot of ink has been spilled, and pixels have been darkened, over the atheist versus agnostic question. I just read a nice post on it earlier today over my coffee. It’s not a super-interesting question to me. I’m pretty blasé about the whole debate. Call me an agnostic if you like. Just don’t call me before I’ve had my coffee.

The comment to my comment, that I used to call myself an agnostic and now call myself an atheist, was a long, rambling rant that started with the statement that agnosticism was the only sensible position and continued on about things that had never been mentioned by me or the original poster, whose post was only one sentence long, by the way. For instance, he or she thinks chemistry is a superior science to physics, for reasons that aren’t worth repeating. It also included a complaint that the commenter had been blocked on other blogs. I read the comment, which confused me. I wondered why this person was writing to me. I looked at my original comment and then saw the date from last March. I decided to not respond to the comment. Apparently, my lack of response did not satisfy that person. I got another response to my comment (Remember, this isn’t even my own post.) from the same person. Now, frankly, this is getting weird. My blood pressure rose. I’m sure my face turned red and steam came out of my ears like a cartoon character. So, I responded. Considering the anger I was feeling, I think I was surprisingly civil. Instead of saying what was on my mind, which was “fuck off and die,” my reply was as follows:

Thanks for the caring response, but I think you may be putting more depth into what I said. First, I actually grew up without a religion. My father was most likely to call himself an atheist and my mother an agnostic, but I don’t really see a lot of daylight between them. It’s more a question of emphasis than a difference in belief. As far as I can see, one can be both at the same time. The probability that the Judeo-Christian god, or any other personal god, exists is low enough to be effectively zero. Therefore, I am a-theistic, without god. However, sometimes people discuss the divine in more abstract terms. In fact, I know very few fundamentalists. I grew up in a very boring, suburban, mainstream environment in the U.S., not in that particular subculture. The majority of the people with whom I grew up were Christian, but fundamentalists were a very small percentage. So, most people I know view the Bible metaphorically. The same things goes for most of the Jews I know. When those people tell me that I can’t prove that their very abstract notion of god doesn’t exist, I’m perfectly happy to say that I am not trying to prove that. If they want to call me an agnostic, that’s fine. There are things about which I have no knowledge, therefore I am a-gnostic, without knowledge.

So, I am essentially both. I don’t believe in a personal god who intervenes in the universe and requires regular worship and there are things in the universe beyond my knowledge.

I’m going on fifty, and a lot of other things occupy my mental space. In late adolescence and early adulthood, I thought about these things a lot, but not these days. I rarely ever get into discussions about the existence, or non-existence, of God with people on the internet. The only reason I’m prompted to engage with other people at all is because I believe people should be able to enjoy sex without shame, I believe that contraception should be readily available, I believe that people should be able to enter into romantic unions with anyone they want, including members of the same sex, I believe that that people should be free to control their own bodies and identities, which includes their gender identity, I believe that state funded education should teach mainstream science, I believe they should not promote a particular religious view.

Your views on physics are frankly very ignorant.

I tried ignoring your previous comment because this subject is not of great interest to me. Please do not engage with me about this again. I have zero desire to explain my position to every Tom, Dick and Harry who is vain enough to think he deserves his own extra-special personal explanation. I’m sorry you grew up in a fundamentalist environment. I did not. That is your burden, not mine. I have my own issues, frankly.

I guess my response hid the actually level of anger I was feeling at having my mental peace disturbed by this individual twice in one week, because he had the temerity to respond with something other than, “Sorry to bother you.”

Well, my laundry is done and I need to make myself presentable. I’m just going to throw this up as is and continue it later.

When my sister first moved into her current house, one of her neighbors came over and said, “When someone puts up Christmas lights, we say, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’ “

  1. Oh, you do make me laugh! I think I like you, we are definitely reading from the same page on so many issues. Nice response to that irritating person ;o)

  2. The only reason I’m prompted to engage with other people at all is because I believe people should be able to enjoy sex without shame

    This definitely made me laugh. Your response in this case to two provocations within a week was really polite.
    And if after reading

    I have zero desire to explain my position to every Tom, Dick and Harry who is vain enough to think he deserves his own extra-special personal explanation.

    he still responded to you, then he is a blockhead

  3. Thank you for making my day a little brighter, and leaving a smile on my face.

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