You’re buzzing along and suddenly, one day, you look up and realize that you don’t recognize this place. Your parents have moved from their three bedroom house in Rockville to a condo in Potomac (zip code makes all the difference). Your siblings have paired off and procreated.
You’re living in Brooklyn and you’ve blinked and suddenly all your friends are moving away to pursue PhDs and law degrees and you realize that no one lives here anymore. You look in your closet and you realize that you own more shoes than Satan and not a single pair of them are anti-establishment Doc Martens. In fact, the closest you get to anti-establishment are a pair of Rocket Dogs you picked up on sale at DSW at the mall. It suddenly dawns on you that, without you recognizing the change, you are an adult, in your mid (not early) twenties, and you’re going to have to start getting serious about shit.
So you research PhD programs because you’ve always wanted to be a historian and doing programming at a non-profit is just not cutting it; you begin to discuss the M-word (it rhymes with carriage) with your significant other because it seems de rigueur for people in your age bracket; and you finally trash your well-worn collection of middle school papers that you’ve been schlepping from apartment to apartment for the last half decade, ever since your parents determined to sell the family house and move into the aforementioned condo.
Feeling all alone and finally reflecting on the myriad of insecurities that seem to have piled up on your doorstep while you were out at one of those Bryant Park summer movies drinking red wine from a plastic cup, you turn to the one thing that always helped center you in times of trouble (or in times of ennui): God. But something strange has happened here, too. Like your parents, like your friends, like your stability, God has packed up and moved away. You were so certain about God, but you realize that while you were learning other things, you unlearned God.
What do you do now? Is God like the PhD programs and apartment cleaning? Do you go out and try to recapture God, to reconnect with God like you reconnected with all of those random friends from high school whom you barely remember and with whom you now have to have a series of those vapid “remember when” conversations? Are you going to have “remember when” conversations with God?
What does the new, improved, grown up version of yourself do?
You hear all the time about people finding God, but rarely about them losing God. When you declare yourself an atheist, you proclaim that there is no God, but no one talks about the pain of that loss, a pain more deeply felt because it also entails losing those whom you’d consigned to heaven, now no longer extant. It’s the second loss of your mother, whose death was the impetus for your intractable belief in a higher power in the first place. And how do you respond to that loneliness, that loss, without the structures of the religion that had always been there to embrace and comfort you, that had provided a context for your relationship with God, that had given words to your still, silent pleas back when you didn’t have the words yet to ask the right questions or describe what you needed.
Does losing God mean losing religion? If you no longer have God, can you still benefit from the forms and rituals that religion provides? Paralleling your realization about the end of your childhood, once you realize that God is gone, can you retain the benefits that you felt when still in the innocence of youth?
I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that I continue to observe Shabbas, in my way, and to follow the rituals, to attend a shul that allows me to be myself religiously and politically, and to engage with Jews across the spectrum of observance and faith. I figure that, if there’s a God to be found, I’ll be in the right place to find God. And if not, then I’ll just be in the right place for me.
As for Jared Leto, I’m sure he’s out there, somewhere, along with other expunged remnants of my adolescence.