Welcome to An Examined Life. Occassionally I delude myself into thinking that I understand some part of my life (or life in general) and I thought it might be a hoot to share those thoughts with whomever happens to stumble across this. I hope you find something enjoyable here. If I'm really lucky, I'll make you stop and think for a moment.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Aftermath Part 2: Apology

Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind
I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind

from Last Thing on my Mind
by Tom Paxton

After the fire I went to Jonathan’s apartment three or four times to try and salvage some of his belongings. What seemed like it could be saved I brought to my house and stored in the garage. A bit over a week ago Diane and Ingrid came to my house to go through the boxes. A couple of days later I was out there trying to clean up the video games systems so they could go to Benjamin, who spent a lot of time playing games with Jonathan. I picked up one of the game controllers – something that he held in his hands and took so much joy from – and the paper towel I was using came away black as pitch, black as hell itself.
And I lost it.
I’ve been thinking a lot since then. Those thoughts led to this Aftermath series of postings. In the last one I beat up on God. This time it’s my turn.
I said last time that a big part of my self-concept is that I’m a Dad. I’m starting to think that I’m not very good at it.
One thing that has haunted me is that Jonathan died alone. When he really needed someone, there was no one there – I wasn’t there – for him. I know that’s irrational, but who expects feelings to be rational? If I had known, I would have done anything I could to prevent his death. Still, I feel like I failed him when he needed me most. And I’ve been thinking about other times…
Jonathan loved video games. From the time he was little he was just fascinated by them. When he couldn’t actually be playing video games, he was pretending to be video game characters (mostly Mario). I, however, was concerned about his socialization, so he wasn’t allowed to have them at my house. He did have them at his Mom’s and he had some games on my computer, but he couldn’t have his video games at my house. I finally relented when he was 13. And you know what? The sky didn’t fall and he ended up making some pretty good friends over the years. His socialization skills obviously weren’t deficient.
A similar thing happened with karate. He loved the Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers. He really wanted to learn karate. Some of his “friends” (the reason for the scare quotes is a whole other story) in the neighborhood were taking lessons, but again I was concerned about socialization and I wanted him to wait until he understood that you don’t use your friends as practice targets. We made him play soccer for a few seasons, but it was clear that he really didn’t enjoy it. He started tae kwon do lessons when he was 8. The sky didn’t fall then, either. He was still studying and teaching martial arts when he died.
Last summer Benjamin moved into Jonathan’s old room in my house. I soon realized how poorly the AC system worked in his room; it was sometimes nearly 90 up there when it was around 72 on the main level. It must have been like that when Jonathan lived here, but I was so wrapped up in my marriage that I didn’t know. I really should have.
And then there was the first time Ingrid, Benjamin, and I went to Ocean City. Jonathan had to work and couldn’t go. He went to an ophthalmologist appointment the day we left (we were only going for one night) and the guy sent him to Baltimore to Johns Hopkins. Jonathan sat there for hours alone and his girlfriend called to break up with him while he was there. I really should have gone to be with him.
I could have loved you better, son. I’m sorry.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Aftermath Part 1: The Book of Job

From dictionary.com:

Aftermath: something that results or follows from an event, especially one of a disastrous or unfortunate nature; consequence: the aftermath of war; the aftermath of the flood.

The purpose of this blog was to talk about what I’ve learned in my life and how I got to where I am now. The loss of my son Jonathan has put me in a place I never conceived of being, not even in my worst nightmares. I have felt like I needed to write something for some time, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was that I needed to write. Life, death, the afterlife, God, religion, coping with loss, fatherhood, how to cope while being alone, how to help my son Benjamin – so much has come up in the last three months. I’m still not sure what to write about, but I thought I’d start typing and see what comes out. So, here goes.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Job. Before I go there, though, I need to say a couple of other things. The first is that a big part of my identity is that I consider myself a family man and a Dad. Even as a kid I knew that being a Dad was important to me. I was raised Catholic and when I was confirmed the saint’s name I chose was Joseph, because he was a father. As an adult, my desire for more time with my family (especially at holidays) was a major factor in my decision to leave retail management and go back to school. Being a Dad has always been important to me.

The second thing is that I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about whether God exists or not. I was – as I said above – raised Roman Catholic. I fell away from that through middle school, then returned to the church when I was in high school and was asked to join the folk group at the local Catholic church. I played in that group through high school and into my undergrad years at George Mason. As I went through undergrad I went from unquestioning acceptance that God was up there somewhere, to an appreciation of how Jesus gave the world a personal God (one who could be called Father), to a realization that I had fundamental differences with basic Catholic beliefs (I’ll get into some of those some other time). I came to realize that I could no longer call myself Catholic if being Catholic meant believing those things. It was actually a class on the New Testament (taught by an ordained minister) that provided the last bits of information that led me to decide that I simply do not know whether there’s a God out there. Nonetheless, when I was worried for one of the kids or my wife, a silent plea went out to someone to take care of them.

But now I know this: if there is a God out there, He’s got a hell of a lot to answer for[1].

And I will also say this. I no longer think the Judeo-Christian God is worthy of worship.

Why? Well, for a start check out the section on the Hebrew Bible in chapter 2 of Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined or a somewhat similar list of reasons (atrocities) online here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/atrocity.html. But really, what made me take the final step was the story of Job.

As I said before, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Job. So, this week I pulled the old King James version off the shelf and checked out the Book of Job. It’s been a long time since I last read it and I was reading it with different eyes…

Job was a good, God-fearing man. “Fearing” is actually a pretty good description. He was so afraid of what his God would do – with good reason as it turns out – that he made sacrifices for his children in case they might somehow affront God. Job was a successful man and he had lots of stuff. He also had a wife and ten children.

So, one day God was having a visit with his sons and Satan. God (bragging?) points out Job as a good man to Satan. Satan suggests that Job is only good because God has given him lots of stuff, so God offers Job up as a test and allows Satan to take it all away. Job lost all of his stuff and all ten of his children were killed[2]. Why? For a test. So God could show Satan that his followers love him no matter what. Really? This is how a just, good God acts?

Job was understandably grief-stricken. He’d lived his life trying to be a good man. He was succeeding by all accounts – including God’s (see Job 1:8). Job wanted to know what he had done to deserve such treatment from God, yet he never cursed God for his losses. God’s response when he finally shows up? In a nutshell, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me, so how can you question me like this?” Job ended up apologizing for being such an ungrateful wretch so God gave him back twice as much stuff and ten replacement children. That last bit really set me back and got me thinking. Replacement children? Really?

That is no God I want to worship.

I think Job had a right to expect better from his God. And he had a right to question him. Children have a right to expect certain things from their parents. One big one is that parents should not abuse their children. And what God did to Job was nothing short of abuse and he did it just for bragging rights with Satan. Some of you might be thinking, this only applies if you accept Jesus’ conception of God as a parent. What if you believe God is the ruler of the universe. That makes him a leader and, if you’ve read some of my other writings, you’ll know that I have beliefs about leadership. One of most important of those is that leaders take care of their people. Yes, I never had to send someone to their death at Kmart and some leaders do have to make those kinds of decisions, but such decisons should never be made lightly. Was winning an argument with Satan really enough of a cause to allow the deaths of ten children?

I close for now with the question that Abraham asked God: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? (Gen. 18:25)

[1] Ok, yes, God could also be a She or an It, but the sentence loses something written that way.
[2] I do feel compelled to point out that Job had 7 sons and 3 daughters. They were all at the eldest son’s house when it collapsed, but the verse (Job 1:19) only says “and it fell upon the young men and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” The girls don’t even merit a mention?