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The Struggle Continues

By Klym ~

I posted an article recently stating my intention to "come out" as a nonbeliever on my 60th birthday. I also talked about my pending retirement from 37 years as an educator--teacher/school counselor/mental health professional. I was both excited and anxious at the same time about the many significant life events happening in a short span of time. I'm happy to report that turning 60 was wonderful---no problem there. I officially retired yesterday and I welcomed it and happily embraced this new chapter of my life. I surprisingly felt no anxiety at all---only relief that I can finally REST and do whatever my heart desires for whatever time I have left on this planet. But, coming out as a non-believer?? I just haven't found the courage to do that yet. Let me explain.

A week ago, my husband and I made the extremely difficult decision to euthanize one of our pets. I'll call this pet Buddy.

I have always been a dog person---I have always owned a dog except for the few years I was away at college. I have put down three other dogs before Buddy, and it was never easy. It was always heartbreaking. But the decision to end Buddy's life was almost too much to bear.

Buddy suffered from congestive heart failure, liver disease, and a thyroid deficiency. However, he never complained. He was the most lovable and animated pet I have ever had the pleasure of owning. He loved everybody and everybody loved him. He talked!! Seriously, he had a way of clacking his teeth together that was hilarious. He would do this when he was excited and happy, which was most of the time. I don't believe in angels, but if I did, then Buddy was an angel in a fur coat for sure!!

Anyway, Buddy's heart failure caused him to retain fluid to the point that he would barely be able to move or breathe. We had his belly drained three times trying to save him. The first two times, he bounced back with renewed vigor and seemed to be getting some better. The third time, he did not recover. He stopped eating and refused to take his medicine, which he had always loved because I wrapped it in yummy pill pockets that he found delicious. When he refused those delectable treats, and had no interest in his food, we knew it was time to end his suffering.

To say we were distraught would be the understatement of the century. Buddy was so swollen up and in so much pain that I took a day off work, made the appointment with the vet, and called my cousin to take me to the vet's office to do the deed. (My husband had to work.)

Buddy was a celebrity at our local Petsmart. The groomers there loved him and all the vet's assistants cooed and baby-talked to him every time he visited them. He is the only dog I know that loved to go to the doctor! So, when I walked into the Petsmart carrying him, everyone gathered around to tell him goodbye.

I took a seat on a bench to wait for the dreaded appointment. A cashier I did not know noticed Buddy and me sitting there---me with tears running down my face. She came over, put her arms around me, and began telling me how sorry she was for mine and Buddy's pain. She petted Buddy and kissed him and told him that Jesus was waiting for him and that once he crossed the Rainbow Bridge, he would be well again and could romp and play in heaven. She told him Jesus would take care of him. Then, she asked me if she could pray for us.

OH MY GOSH---what could I say? I was at my most vulnerable and I did not want to have a theological debate in the middle of Petsmart while my precious Buddy sat struggling to breathe in my lap. So, I said OK. And she prayed---she prayed in Jesus' name that God would give me strength and courage and that Buddy would be healed in heaven. Then she talked to me about her mother recently being in hospice and how hard it was to give her up. By then, I was ready for her to go away. I had not asked her to come over and at that point I just wanted to be left alone. I'll give her credit though---she did not preach at me or try to save my soul. I honestly believe she cared and wanted to comfort me. But dang it---why did she have to bring her Christian god into the situation? And why couldn't I just blurt out that I'm a nonbeliever? Aaaauuuuggghhhh......

Fast forward to yesterday---my last day at work. One of my colleagues---a school counselor from another campus in the district---wanted to take me to lunch to celebrate my retirement. She said she had a small gift for me. So, we met at a local cafe and she handed me a festive gift sack. I knew from working with her for many years that she was a strong Christian---a kind and loving woman for whom I have a great deal of respect. I reach into the gift sack and---OH MY GOSH---pull out a lovely book of daily Christian devotionals for women!! What could I say? Should I just blurt out that I am an atheist and tell her to keep the book?

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. Not so much because she might think less of me---but because it would be such a shock to her and obviously hurtful if I rejected her gift. So, I once again, in less than a week's time, pretended that I was a believer. Well, maybe not a believer, but at least a nice person. I thanked her for the book and told her how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

When I left the restaurant, I chastised myself. I told myself that I should be ashamed for pretending to be something that I am not. But, damn it, in the religious culture where I live, if you are a kind and compassionate person, people just ASSUME that you must be a Christian. Trying to come out as a nonbeliever is like attempting to swim upriver in a strong, swift current. It's hard. It's almost impossible. What more can I say?

I have thought alot about these two events. I have come to realize that there ARE Christians in the world who really do try to love their neighbor as themselves. Who are liberal and non-judgemental. There are Christians who don't preach at you and who don't behave like assholes. I tried this morning to read some of the devotionals in the book that my colleague gave me---I thought perhaps it would be some comfort since I am still deeply grieving the loss of my sweet Buddy. Nope, not happenin'---I found the devotionals to be trite and meaningless, encouraging me to let go and let God. Can't do that either, because I no longer believe in a god of any kind and it's like reading a fairy tale.

I still think that Christianity is a sick and twisted religion and I want no part of it. I don't want kids being raised to think hell is real and that they are born in sin and worthless from birth. I don't want anyone to believe it's acceptable for a human being to be sacrificed so that they can go to an imaginary heaven. The basic premise of christianity makes me sick.

I have to admit, though, that the thought of seeing Buddy again in an afterlife is a nice thought. My husband and I talked about this before Buddy died, but neither one of us knows what happens after death. Heaven is wishful thinking in my opinion. Buddy was a fabulous companion for the 12 and a half years he was here on earth. He taught me alot about living in the moment and enjoying each day as it comes. He will live on in my heart and mind---that I DO KNOW. And that is enough for me.

The only people that know I'm a non-believer are my Unitarian Universalist church friends. I can grieve Buddy with them without hearing trite platitudes or being prayed over. I can be my true, authentic self in their company. I can say the same for all of you on this website. Thank goodness I can come here and write down my feelings and know that you all will understand.

As for coming out to the rest of the world---I can't predict when or if that will ever happen. It's more difficult than I imagined it would be. If Buddy were here, he would understand. I could talk to him and he would "talk" back, and all would be right with the world!