"What religion are you?" my 13 year-old son Seamus asked me on the way home from Wood's ice cream last night. His mother and I have been divorced since he was six months old. He's grown up a strict Catholic, serving as an alter boy, going on mission in Haiti, and now attending Jesuit High School under his mom's watchful Irish Catholic eye.
"Buddhist," I quipped back as we made the turn down Brayton Point Road for home with Moose Tracks dripping onto our fingers.
"Really?" he asked with great sincerity.
"Nah, I just have read a lot about it and done my share of meditation. So it's the best answer I have at the moment."
He seemed satisfied enough to finish his cone. But the question stayed with me.
This morning I got up at five to take a leak. A cold front had come through overnight. After days of soupy fog and humidity the air had finally turned clear and cool. I glanced out the window (I had insisted when my wife and I designed our beach house six years ago that the toilet have a view for just this kind of a moment). A full moon shined a vibrant white over the Atlantic Ocean. I could see probably 2% of the total sky so the fact that it hung there perfectly in the frame of the window, while I tried to keep my aim into the water, took my breath away.
A couple hours later I walked Penny, our four-month-old yellow lab, down the country lane. She sniffed clumps of grass, chased small birds, and tried to lick a toddler who ambled by. But I was still thinking about Seamus's question and why it had been so hard for me to answer.
I was born a Quaker, 10th generation on my Dad's side going all the way back to Timothy Matlack who supposedly was the scribe who physically wrote out the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately Timothy wasn't much of a Quaker. He got kicked out of meeting for cock fighting and bear baiting along with his participation in the Revolutionary War against the protests of his pacifist relatives.
My parents were hyper-intellectual hippies of a sort. So their Quaker faith was more about protesting the Vietnam War than finding God. At least that's how it seemed to me as a young child. So while I respect what Quakers stand for, I wouldn't call myself a Quaker.
I am more of a Timothy type of Matlack. I became CFO of a big company and then a venture capitalist as my own form of rebellion against my do-good parents. In the process I got myself into a heap of trouble with my own version of bear baiting. I found myself involuntarily on my knees pleading for God's intervention by the time I was thirty.
I'm forty-four now. For the last fourteen years I have spent my fair share of time in meetings. For months I prayed daily, and often by the hour if not the minute, that I not need another drink and that I not make a complete fool of myself and hurt the people I love AGAIN. There were dozens of occasions when I sought out a bathroom stall in the middle of the day to make my requests crystal clear to whatever force might listen.
Walking Penny, I thought of all that and how central a role religion has played in world history and in the bloody massacres going on around the globe at this very instant, in the Middle East and in Africa and even here at home where some nut job showed up at the Holocaust Museum recently to open fire. If all these people, from Muslim to Jew to Christians, are willing to die for their faith why can't I even figure out what I am?
Then I thought of my 4 year-old son Cole. His white blond hair and the way he climbs into bed before my eyes are even open to spew whole paragraphs about Batman without stopping for air. I thought about riding my bike down the huge hill near our house and screaming at the top of my lungs, not caring if anyone hears me. I thought about watching my teenage daughter, who has struggled mightily with her own demons, perform on stage with so much ease and pleasure that it plasters a dumb-ass grin on my face ever time. I thought about making love to my wife, still the most beautiful creature I have ever seen without clothes on. And I thought about that shimmering moon framed out in our bathroom window just for me.
"That's what I am," I thought to myself. "I have no idea what you call that. But I believe in all those things. They are not an accident. They are my religion."
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