One day, the ground opened up and swallowed me.
Or maybe I took the road of good intentions.
Either way, I found myself in hell.
Tidy concentric rings have given way to total patternless disorder. There is no plan, no purpose, no meaning. Eve’s snake is here, coiled in the knowledge of good and evil, but I’ve eaten those apples and seen people chewing different fruit from the same branch fly planes into buildings secure in the knowledge they’ve ingested.
I can’t stomach good and evil anymore, but hell is prowled by ravenous questions and every bone I could throw these beasts crumbles, made of nothing more substantial than belief.
Hell isn’t even other people anymore, but my pathetic inability to connect with them in a meaningful way. But there is an exit, and I make my first move towards it with the fairytale trick of learning the monster’s name. The pain he inflicts teaches it to me.
If you’re being annihilated, something within you must exist to be destroyed. So I discover, at the cruel boundary of nothingness, the answer to his question. If entropy (and I can feel it) exists and deconstructs, then there must be a force that builds, or everything would be nothing already.
“Chaos and Order exist” I tell him “And I choose Order over you, you nasty devouring worm.”
After Chaos, the next monster in my path is God, and “sore afraid” doesn’t begin to cover it. I lash myself to the mast against the song of everything I want most—a deep and divine love for me personally, a god with a plan, a destiny to discover, a meaning to fulfill. But there’s no singer, only everything there is- and it’s telling a story.
It’s a story that orders and creates, that opposes entropy, that begets duality, and I want to join in, to lend my voice to the telling, to order and create. We are all the stories told by Story itself, and told in its image, we too can spin a yarn- a sophisticated post-modern one or a simple quest story
with monsters and blunt symbolism.
Belief is always a choice. I believe in stories.
I believe in stories that illustrate who we are, that share vulnerability and build shared history.
I believe in unknown stories that play themselves out through me until I catch on and stop, or edit them.
I believe in Story’s power to create reality, to transfer information across generations, to transform pain into meaning, to unify a nation- or divide one.
I believe each life is an equally valuable story told, through which Story- or God,lives out itself in sacred exposition, even when I can’t understand the narrative or decode the symbolism. I have seen brutal stories trumped by the stories people have chosen in response. I believe we can narrate our way out of hell.
The weenies had the nerve, after all work writing the essay, on the submission page, to ask for 600-800 words on the writing process. Here’s mine:
When your homemade belief system can be reduced to “I believe in stories,” you feel a certain obligation to tell what you believe in the form of a story. Ultimately, I wrote the story of the very personal journey I undertook when staying home with my infant son gave me both regular contact with the primal chaos, and time to experience and confront it within myself.
This project challenged me to return along a difficult path, to tell my own story, to re-examine the demons, and to force into at least grudging submission the story of what in the (quite literal) hell I’m doing here. The complete answer was 1564 words too long. There were unwieldy ideas to negotiate around practical corners and a wacky Frankenstein of fantasy, faith and philosophy to pretty up and teach to speak.
I wanted to conclude my story with the happy ending of never having returned to the dark place it describes, but that would have made my story a fiction. Writing is the only way I know to extricate myself from hell, so I return here, to the unstructured uncreated, where materials are truly raw, in order to write new exits– new stories, new understanding, and now, a radio essay.
With every visit, meaninglessness and powerlessness feed on me less (although a devilish invisibility can cling to me even in my stay-at-home mom’s world of checkout lines and soccer games where I swear people look right through me), but every trip in leaves a new exit. Having abandoned all hope and lost all faith, I discover my freedom to create hope and to choose faith.
I can’t tell if this new creation will be useful or even interesting to NPR listeners, but it was helpful for me to write, so thank you for that. Thank you too for the project, the results of which I’m excited to listen to and learn from. But most importantly, thank you for putting the question out there. Sometimes the most powerful thing about a question isn’t its answer.