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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Holiday...

It's Christmas morning. The kids have gone to Mom's new place to have the breakfast that we always had together. I'm alone in the big, fancy house that somehow is the definition of failure and loss. 

I'm supposed to be wildly happy just because it's the 25th of December...but I'm just not feeling it. I don't buy the baby in the manger tale anymore and the news is just as bad today as it is any other day. The world keeps on killing and warring no matter what arbitrary day we pick for a holiday that's supposed to be about peace. 

I haven't heard from anyone much except the generic social media greetings and even more generic paper cards with nothing on them but the same message and signature that went to everyone else on the computer generated list of addresses. I miss my family and I miss my friends.

So many have gone from my life in the last few years. I hear that everyone wonders how I am and where I've gone but in the end, it really doesn't matter to them all that much. Life goes on and I stayed behind. I get it.

But I'll get through it...I always do. I just wonder why doesn't it ever get easier? Sunny days will come again and I'll wear the face I use when I go out. Somewhere inside though, there will always be a dark place. It's a part of who I am. Light and darkness...anger and hope...smiles and terror. The endless nights and short, short days after October will never be my friends.

This time of year will probably always be hard for me. It reeks of sadness and things long gone. I wish it would never happen but I know that in another year, it'll come back around to plague me again. With all its desperate joy, fearful exhilaration and panic-filled bliss. There is nothing here for me.

If only I could feel that retail-driven ecstasy that makes everyone so thrilled with December. If there was only some way I could find fulfillment in a mall or satisfaction with Amazon Prime. I wish I could just give up and give in to the plastic happiness and oppressive euphoria I'm supposed to feel. If I could just forget for a while...

But I can't. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Down For The Count

It's that time of year again. The long nights and short days of winter. And oh yes; the holidays. The season when everyone is expected to be ecstatically happy. I'm not.

And let's just get this out of the way at the outset: I cannot stand Christmas music. I'm a music guy but one more 'Feliz Navidad' or 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree' and I may poke out my own eardrums. Please, make it go away.

Having said that...I'm thinking of just abandoning the whole mess for this year. It makes me decidedly unhappy to be so obligated to be so happy. Sometimes it feels like people are just desperate to out-happy everybody else. The only real satisfaction is to score the hot new trendy thing on Black Friday...to have the best lighting production...the biggest and best of everything. Competition is fierce to have the wittiest Facebook post...the most elaborate celebrations...the most vehement public display of unbounded happiness. That kind of joy is a requirement I just can't meet.

It's loneliness on steroids. It reminds me of how much I miss my friends and family. Of how much has changed. It's like I spent a long time away and everyone moved on while I was gone. I worked really hard to reconnect with people I've missed over the years but I realize they couldn't wait around. Phone calls go unanswered, texts go unread.

I wish I could tell them how hard it is sometimes to open up the window in my world. I wish someone would say, "Hey, haven't seen you in a while. Can I come over?" instead of me calling and sounding desperate. I wish someone would come looking for me someday.

But nobody wants to be around the Scrooge who defies the must-be-happy-at-all-costs season. I'm a third wheel nowadays as well so I spend much time alone...which makes me even more sad; which makes it less likely anyone will spend time with Mr. Gloomy. It feeds on itself and I haven't figured out how to make it stop.

And this along with the colder weather and longer nights leads to self-perpetuating crummy days. I spend the rest of the year trying not to look backwards but the holidays are supposed to be all about traditions. Traditions are memories in fancy suits that trip me in the dark and then laugh when I fall down the stairs. Traditions are another expectation that everything will be as it was and all will be well. More expectations I cannot meet.

So what's Wayward to do? Keep on keeping on I guess and try to slog through another two months until it's all over. There's some doubt that there'll be any time off from work this year anyway so the holidays may be a moot point. The carrier already announced that my train will run as usual on Thanksgiving and I suspect they may do the same thing on Christmas and New Years because the 'stakeholders' (a term I've come to despise but more on that later) and the operating ratio require that we work to create wealth for others at all times, traditions be damned. But I digress...

I really do wish everyone the best this time of year. Nobody should be like this I suppose but as the saying goes, "Somebody has to do it." And that's what I do.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Freedom Ain't Ever Free

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin', don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And, feelin' good was easy, Lord, when she sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me"

Kris Kristofferson (By way of my girl Janis)

Must be the week for songs by Kristofferson. It's raining hard again and it just seems right. Ms. Joplin covered that tune for me a lot of years ago and it's still one that gets right down to where I live. 

I'm still here but Janis burned out back in '70 when her friends left her lonely in a hotel room with nothing and nobody to talk to but heroin and a bottle. I remember listening to her ripping out her voice and pouring out her soul on some scratchy vinyl when I was a kid. Her voice was as raw as a rusty saw blade and she sang like she'd dipped her toes in Hell just long enough to bring the fire back with her. I was only about 12 but something crackled out of the old Wards Airline console, took hold and stayed along for the ride.

All these decades later, and so much further along the road, she still sings it straight to my heart. 

"One day up near Salinas Lord, I let her slip away
She's looking for that home and I hope she finds it" 

A song means something when it works its way into your life over and over again. When it never fades to black like so many other things do, like so many people do...you know it's something that will never stop being your own. And you know it'll always bleed where it touches you. 

So Janis...thanks for the 27 years you gave us. And for that one song you tore out of your heart and tucked in mine. 

I'm still "...waitin' for a train and I's feelin' near as faded as my jeans" after all these long years. Guess maybe that's how it goes.

"Windshield wipers slappin' time..."


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ever After

"Things do not change; we change."
                      Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Thoreau is only partly right; we do change but when we change, we change everything. 

The great big world goes on about its way and never notices the tiny little circles of change around each of us. But in the ever-so-small cloud of our lives, those changes shake us to the very center of what we are. Our story is re-written by the changes all around us and alters who we are.

Everyone lives in a story after all and many stories begin with "Once upon a time..." and end with "happily ever after."

We all wish for our own 'Once upon a time' but 'happily ever after' is only a roll of the dice and a blink of an eye. The changes along the way may turn a bedtime story into a nightmare or a stormy midnight into quiet dawn. The 'ever after' that comes from the hand you dealt may not be so happy after all. Or you might run the table and walk away with pockets full. You never can tell which way the wheel will turn but the story will never be the same afterward.

All of us change and in the doing, change our world and everyone in it. Friends come and go, families drift apart, love fades and becomes memory. Things really do change and we ourselves are the reason.

Maybe the peaceful Walden that Mr. Thoreau looked out across never changed much but the little pond in my coffee cup has been full of tempests for a very long time. Changes in the weather that roar like a sea running heavy before a gale and screaming with the voice of an albatross. Changes in everything.

Someday there will be an 'ever after'...but until then, the dice are still rolling.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Monday Morning Coming Down

As usual, I'm a day late. Sorry Mr. Kristofferson but it feels the same on Monday as that song about a Sunday.

Yesterday was a long one and I wound up getting home late again. Grabbed something to eat and had a beer or two to unwind. I usually just perch at the kitchen table and zone out when I get home. Sometimes that's about all I'm capable of. If I sit still and stare at a sandwich somehow disappearing in front of me, after a while the sound of a locomotive will fade and the floor will stop moving under my feet. It takes some time for all the dirt and diesel smoke from the day to swirl down the drain but eventually it does and nothing is left but a dry toothpaste film on the sink. It's like that a lot when I finally get back from one of these trips. 

I tossed my grip in its parking spot, dumped out my pockets in the junk drawer and went prowling in the fridge. Younger son was here on a break from college so we shot the breeze a little but I was pretty much spent. I hate feeling like I'm only half in the world trying to talk to him. I know I'm mostly incoherent but can't seem to pull it together. I hope he understands. Not too long after nuked leftovers and cool green glass, I slowly made it up the stairs to collapse. 

I should be happy to hit the sheets but lately there's not much rest to be had. Too many things spinning in my head I suppose. I wish they'd whirl around into better dreams but somehow they seem to spin mostly into cobwebs and October chills. I keep on travelling far and wide in my sleep and I wish I was truly home instead. The pillows wind up lost in the shuffle and only daybreak or a crew caller ends the wrestling match. Hence, Monday morning...

I managed to wobble out of bed and only vaguely knew where I was. I spend so much time in crew hotels that sometimes I forget which end of the road I'm on until I run into the wall a couple of times looking for the bathroom. I figured it out after I tripped over the cat and heard the dog barking at his hallucinations. He's getting a tad blind in his old age so he just barks at things behind his eyes instead of out front. I probably do the same thing.

There's a thousand things I need to do in the next day or so but I'm having a hard time getting moving. I'm watching an insanely busy little red squirrel out on the deck raiding what's left of my sunflowers and wishing I had half his energy. I should probably pick off the little stinker before he moves into the house for the winter but I can't seem to bring myself to pop him. He and the chipmunks are racing to strip the seeds off the big flowers and they're fun to watch so I leave them alone. Maybe they'll inspire me. Just keep moving.

But still, it's Monday in the real world and Saturday to me. Days behind everyone again. I missed a birthday party for my Dad on the calendar Saturday this week. What else is new? I've missed so much over the years. I'm mostly a stranger to my own family anymore so they pretty much don't expect me to show up anyway. When you're out of sync most of the time, people just get used to not seeing you after a while. Monday morning again.

Maybe that's why today is kind of gray. The weather is gloomy so that doesn't help. I was hoping for a therapy bike ride today but it just started a cold rain so I guess that's not going to fly either. I need a ride just to clear those cobwebs I spun last night out from between my ears...maybe tomorrow. Fall and I never did get along. 

Monday morning...and I'm coming down.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Political Animal

In response to the political lunacy of this election year...this will hopefully be my only post on the subject. The opinions expressed are solely my own and have no influence or expectation of change on yours. This is a manifesto in a way...it's where I stand on a lot of things. Now you know.

Let's get the big stuff out of the way first. I was pretty much a default Republican for the first part of my life but as time went on, I sort of slid over to the left a ways. Not far Jesse Jackson left but far enough that my measly one vote went pretty much to the Democratic side. It still does and will again this year. Not that I wouldn't consider changing it if there was anything remotely worth changing it to. There is not.

As a note to all the people who spend all day dreaming up horrible things to say about our sitting President...and posting them on my Facebook wall hoping I'll agree...here's your invitation to unfriend me.

I like the guy. I voted for him twice. I've been impressed with Mr. Obama and his First Family for their grace under pressure. With the most ugly, base and unpatriotic display I've ever seen going full tilt for eight years, they never flinched. With the awful things said about him, his wife, his kids and this country, I don't know how he did it. It was good to have a man in the office that actually spoke to me and inspired so many others. I have only respect for him.

Then there's the other side of the fence...

The problem for me is that the Republican side of the world has become a very, very strange place. It's like the church of one of my previous posts...unrecognizable. It's like a mirror with an orange tint that only reflects the things that are darkest in us. Fear, anger, hate, and more fear. Many of my friends are absolute believers in the reflection that looks back at them. That's where they are and I know nothing I can say will change it. They are still my friends but I can't accept that that image is me.

Unlike that face in the mirror, I am not afraid. I don't see conspiracy and evil in everything around me. I believe in a goodness in people that never makes the news or baits clicks. I might be naive and some would say foolish but I simply cannot believe that the entire world has gone as crazy as the CNN comments section. I've met so many truly wonderful people in my life, can there really be so many more who are so extraordinarily awful?

I hold to the hope that most people in the world are basically good instead of the right-wing platform that people (particularly ones who aren't white, old, male, rich or related to one of the above) are inherently bad. Fear drives it all. From guns to women to immigration to foreign policy. Fear, not hope is all they have.

Fear is called patriotism and hate waves a Confederate battle flag from the courthouse steps and laughs.

We have been told for months to be afraid of immigrants when in truth that's what every last one of us Caucasians are. We're warned to be afraid of minorities because...well because they're minorities so why not? What do they have to lose? We should definitely be afraid of OTC (Other Than Christian) religions because they're all trying to kill us right? We should be especially terrified of women and LGBT people because their mission is to pervert fine God-fearing Americans...like the Westboro Baptists or a fair percentage of the Catholic priesthood. Fear is everywhere.

Fear and his pal conspiracy have friends of mine building bunkers and stockpiling weapons and food. It's like "Duck and Cover" all over again except the danger isn't coming over the horizon, it lives down the block. The ever-lurking 'they' are waiting for the right moment to confiscate your guns, poison your food, 'eliminate' millions of us and check to see if we're peeing in the right bathroom. If everyone was armed, we could protect ourselves from it all! Or not.

In spite of all that, I am not afraid in my world without a gun. I don't live under the assumption that I need to be armed at all times to protect myself or my family. I'll likely be in trouble when 'they' unleash the zombie virus and the gangs of roving killers come to take my last ibuprofen but I've lived almost 60 years and never yet met the boogie-man skulking in the corners in a keffiyeh or BLM tee shirt. I've run into some pretty frightening characters in my travels but never really felt the need to shoot one. Maybe I'm just lucky and maybe someday I'll regret not having a weapon, but not today. Someday I'll tell you another story about that.

Conspiracy is the next rung on the fear ladder that I just can't climb. "There's something going on...", "People are saying...", "We've got to do something...", and oh yes; "Benghazi!"
Everything is an inside job; a false flag or a cover-up. The government or somebody else big and invisible runs everything. 'They' are everywhere spying, cheating, murdering, monitoring, controlling. HAARP, chemtrails, Monsanto, Big Oil, 'they' never sleep and you are a pathetic sheep if you don't follow Infowars and late-night AM radio to keep up. Did I mention Benghazi?

Our soldiers are heroic patriots when they serve overseas but we have to be ready to hold them off when they turn into puppets of the tyrannical government. The police are dedicated public servants until you have to defend your rights against the jack-booted thugs. The Feds are our brave and vigilant last line of defense against the terrorist threat but we may have to shoot it out with them when they come to haul you to the FEMA camp under a Walmart in Texas. The irony of those ideas is lost on so many.

And please let's not forget Climate Change. Newsflash...it's real, we did it, we're leaving it to our kids and anyone who doesn't believe it is delusional. End of story. Science isn't a conspiracy.

Don't even get me started on how evolution is an anti-Christian plot and creationism is an equivalent idea either. Same as above...science is facts not beliefs. Evolution is a well-developed theory (look up the definition of theory sometime just for fun) not a hypothesis. If it doesn't work for you, that's fine but calling it a 'war on Christians' makes you look silly. Gravity is a theory proven with the same methods but nobody runs to the school board to burn the books when they fall down in the shower.

Here's another piece of news that sort of follows that slope. The United States is not, never has been and hopefully never will be an exclusively Christian club. As soon as you trot out conspiracies that Christianity is under attack and so we have to defend against other religions or lack thereof, in my estimation you automatically surrender your right to be an American.

The very same founders that wrote your beloved Second Amendment also wrote a couple of really great lines about freedom of religion and speech in the First Amendment. If you're going to rely on a document as indisputable to prove your point, you better be prepared to defend the parts you don't find agreeable as well.

George Washington may have cut down the tree but everyone these days would instead just pick the cherries off it until it died.

And last but not least...SEX! I'm just going to say that I find it absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably intolerable that a bunch of majority white, privileged, geriatric, philandering, multi-marriage, alleged Christians and wannabe Puritans can presume to legislate morality for whole segments of citizens that they obviously fear and despise based on their own twisted set of standards. Clear enough?

 No senator, no congressman, no judge and certainly no clergyman has any business telling anyone what to do and how to behave in their bedroom or doctor's office. Women can take care of their own health without your morality plays thank you and my friends in the LGBT community would be pretty grateful if you quit trying to 'save' them and stay the hell out of the bathroom. Also anyone who buys into one of those insane 'Religious Freedom" bills is instantly off my vote list. Prejudice by any other name is still prejudice no matter how pretty you wrap it and tie the bow.

There's an old saying that the Religious Right...isn't. The truth is a terrible thing sometimes.

So for now that's where I am, at least until there's a Republican candidate that doesn't insult my intelligence every time he speaks like a cheap reality TV show. Or the party gets it's act together and decides there's more to this country than rich old white guys...or maybe, just maybe...there's a sea change and we never have to watch this Hunger Games travesty again.
___________________________________________________

And now onward...As for the Democratic side...there is enough weirdness there to go around as well but at the end of the day, I have to look at it from the point of view of who is going to run this show. I know, I've heard it...you hate her just because she's breathing the same air as you. I got that part. I however am not voting on hate or the lesser of two evils.

In reality (that's a place a certain network hasn't been in a while), she's is not taking your guns or even talking about it (why is it always about the guns?). Anyone who has even superficially read about Prohibition realizes what can happen when you screw around with Constitutional Amendments to legislate moral behavior. She's read it.

She's at least not planning a mass deportation of American citizens because they happen to be Muslim or Hispanic, I haven't heard any fairy tales about walls, religious tests for citizenship, murdering non-combatant families or suing a newspaper because they disagree. I did hear about the emails lest you think I'm ignoring that. Foolish...but criminally foolish? Look at it this way: if the party in control of the legislative branch that ran multiple investigations costing millions of dollars with the intent to discredit her couldn't do it, what more are you going to find...ever. The rest of them are buried somewhere with the orange man's tax returns.

Yep, she lies...like there's a monopoly on that among politicians. She's an insider...true...but at least you can take her out in public without being embarrassed. She, like the current occupant of the White House is well spoken and knowledgeable. I would sleep better at night too knowing the nuclear launch codes were in the hands of someone significantly cooler under pressure than the other candidate.

Lots of people I know are sick of the gridlock and politics as usual but if change is the only thing you're voting for then the change you might get is likely to be like burning down your house because you don't like the color of the kitchen. Effective to be sure but slightly over the top and ultimately a pretty bad idea.

As for the favorite rallying cry of the rabidly conservative..."Benghazi!"...I get that too. The bad news is that people who accept power also accept responsibility...often for other people's lives. The captain of every ship and the pilot in command of every airliner understands this and so too does the officer who orders soldiers into battle knowing some or all may not return. The basement generals of the internet do not.

The people who went to Libya were the best professionals in the business and to say that they didn't understand what they were getting into is an insult to their memory. Foreign service in an unstable post is a dangerous and messy business. Horrible things happened there and again, multiple investigations by a hostile congress were held. She accepted her responsibility as the officer in charge and no criminal or negligent behavior was ever found. Lessons were learned and things changed. That's the way of it. If a leader is to be questioned and second guessed for every decision, there will soon be no leaders, only committees that can spread the blame. We need leaders, not committees.

We also need someone who isn't actively destroying our livelihoods. The Democrats have not floated that miserable "Right To Work" idea anywhere. To me, a union guy, right to work means right to scab. You get all the benefits of union membership but none of the responsibility. If you want to work a non-union job, that's fine but when it's a union shop, join the union and support it with dues if nothing else. Expecting the union to represent you without joining is like crossing a picket line to me. You're using the work and sacrifice of others to benefit the company. Right to work is nothing but union busting with a prettier name just like Religious Freedom laws are discrimination with a fancier label. A certain Republican is in favor of Right to Work laws in all 50 states. I cannot understand why a union member would support that. Oh wait a minute...they're not taking my guns. Yeah that's it.

And there it is...at the end of all this, I'm going to vote Democratic this year. Maybe even across the board just because I can't believe that the Republicans I used to know have trotted out yet another dismal excuse for a candidate. Maybe some year they'll pull it together and show me someone who isn't an embarrassment. Someone who actually has a plan or two. Someone who doesn't ridicule half the population just to get a round of cheers. Someone I could actually put some hope in.

Someone who believes like I do that not only was America great before, but America and all Americans are great right now and can only get better.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Autumn Again

If you feel a chill in the air
It's my spirit hanging somewhere

"Chill In The Air"
Amos Lee

Suddenly the world smells old. I always know what it is. The breeze whispers of autumn slipping down from the north, the days go to sleep early and then the air is old. Fall is here.

The end of the year is always hard. It's like the last notes of a song that you wish would never end. Slowly and quietly, the nights get long. The wind clocks around the compass to take root in colder places and bites at your ears.

It feels like snow sometimes even on warm afternoons. And there's a deep sigh of sleet even on sunny days.

The dark is long and the sun burns cool after the dog days, like a broken fever. There's a shiver nearby waiting to find its way into your bones. It's hiding just around the next corner and the harvest moon is the nightlight it uses to follow you home.

All the leaves flash in bright colors and then fall away as old friends sometimes do. Soon there will be frost and wind like broken glass and so much will be different. 

So very much will be different.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

From the Legend...


Your heritage is a perversion

I am much more than my heritage


Your institutions are important imitations, or imitations of intelligence - and lethal

They are a game which I no longer play


No belief is possible to you because all are disgraced and become evil

I am learning to continue without whispering in the dark


Your people are insane

I am no longer with them


Your sincerity destroys your cause

Then I will laugh


Your are of less value than a system, or a machine, or honor

I choose for that not to be so


Words have no meaning - madness is called affluence

I no longer listen to words which are spoken for their own sake


Why do you continue?

Because I am alive


What future is possible to one such as you?

Motion and change


'From the Legend of Biel'
Mary Stanton



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Losing My Religion (apologies to R.E.M.)

Can I tell you a story? It's about a kid and and a long, twisted and confused journey. It's about how this one kid grew up in a belief and then grew out of it somewhere along the road. It has a lot to say about how things change and how they stay the same; about faith and how it both succeeds and fails. If you want to hear it, read along.

It starts with me as a very young boy. I grew up in the 60's but didn't really live there. Not being old enough to sample the psychedelic side of that legendary decade or absorb its politics and assorted movements, I did soak up a lot of the side effects. Vietnam, the draft, the music, the protests, the chaos, the feel of it all sort of got inside my head and stayed there. It influenced many things now that I look back at them but at the time, it was just the way of the world.

During those years, I went to very old Methodist church with my parents...sometimes under duress because I very much disliked getting scrubbed and polished to go sit through something I didn't really understand. I was a trial to my mom and dad when they tried to get me dressed up for church when I really would rather have been outside getting muddy or sandy. When I did go, I remember sitting through the beginning of the service and then packing off to the basement for Sunday School and hopefully a cookie or two. It was during one of those downstairs lessons that someone said something to me that I'm sure they never intended to do what it did.

They were teaching us about faith and how strong it had to be if you wanted to go to heaven. Who could tell a child what heaven was supposed to be like when they were about seven or eight? Nobody. I didn't then and I still don't have any idea what they were talking about. All I knew was that it was where you were supposed to want to go when you died no matter what. I didn't even know much about what dead meant but I had heard it was bad unless you went to this wonderful place afterwards. But back to the lesson...

I don't even remember the teacher who said it but I do remember very distinctly how they said that if it came down to a time when your faith was questioned by anyone, you had to stand by it no matter what. As an example they said that if someone (they never told us who) gave you the choice to say that you didn't believe in Jesus or else you'd have to watch your parents be killed right in front of you, then that's what you'd have to do that or you'd go to hell. I didn't know what hell was either but I knew it was bad. They told of how in the Bible, people were tortured (another word I only knew was really bad at the time) or eaten by animals or beaten and yet still refused. Those were the good people. People who said they didn't believe were bad.

I was terrified. I couldn't even comprehend my Mom and Dad being hurt and who would want to hurt them anyway? Who was coming to do such horrible things to us? Why would this happen? I had nightmares for weeks after that. Night terrors of awful things. Screaming, awful things that haunted me for days. One little lesson in one little Sunday School class by one person who thought they were doing good put a terrible fear in a small boys heart that lived there for over 50 years.

Time went by as time does and the nightmares faded into the usual boy-stuff of stitched-up knees, broken bicycles, homework and long days of lawn mowing. I sort of drifted around not thinking much about that old lesson. Then one summer, the old country church right behind our house opened back up with a new and very young pastor at the helm and things turned a little different.

There was suddenly youth groups and Bible School and services within walking distance from our back door. It was fun and exciting and it felt good. The Baptists got a hook in my and started reeling in the line. I believed.

I believed so much that one fine day, I waded into a mildly slimy pond in a white shirt and was ecstatically baptized. It was like joining a special club and it truly did make a change in me. I believed that I believed...then. I looked at things differently after that. It was life-altering and it was part of who I became. I don't regret it but at the time, I didn't know what it would do to me.

Years passed and after a while, the shine faded a bit. I kept the faith because it was all I knew. But through it all, I still felt like I was missing something. The faith I kept started to feel like guilt. I think maybe because I was human? I grew and it seemed like everything I did was somehow wrong if I clung to that faith. I prayed because I was supposed to but I didn't get the foot-stomping, rolling-in-the-aisle feeling that everyone said I should from it. It was all about guilt. The endless, promised comfort and happiness were things I couldn't seem to find. And some of the people who professed to be such faithful Christians were in fact, really awful. They were not who I wanted to be or who I wanted to look up to. I remember thinking that something was wrong with me. There turned out to be no joy in it.

The turning point finally came when I went to a service many years later in another little country church. The pastor put on quite a show of hellfire and brimstone on a subject that was pretty close to my heart. I've made some mistakes in my life as have we all but he drilled right into the darkest place where I needed forgiveness the most. He didn't know it but he looked right at me and told me I was going to hell. I couldn't breathe. I was devastated. He took me right back to that Sunday School lesson so long ago when I knew that I could never be what religion wanted me to be. I felt like I'd been kicked in the teeth. Everything I had hung onto for so long turned into grief, guilt and pain. It was one of the worst days of my life.

I think I knew then that something was gone for good. It took more years but at some point, I realized that it was all over. I'd had my crisis of faith and come out the other side. I stopped praying but more importantly, I stopped feeling guilty for everything. A load lifted off my back that had been there for far too long.

And here I am. I've come around to something I never would have expected. A life without the fear of what will happen after that life. I found a place where I no longer worry about what an all-powerful, faceless, capricious and incoherent thing thinks of me. I'm ok with the end of my life being the end of all things. From nothing we come and to nothing we go. My life is meaningful enough without needing it to last for eternity.

I'm not an atheist. I'm just me. I don't care what anyone else believes or why. I just don't have it in me to search and yearn for something that can never be anymore.