Monday, September 28, 2009

DIM: Did It Myself

For all that I tell you the deepest fears I have in the middle of the night, and the strange and terrible things that happened in my childhood, I don't actually talk much about my day-t0-day life as it is now. Which is sort of odd, that I feel that this stuff is either too personal or uninteresting, yet I post intimate details of my past and my psyche. All that's to say, here's what happened yesterday:

I had a kitchen fire, a cockroach, and a flooded bathroom. And I kicked ass dealing with it.

There's a classic family story of a time when I was in second grade. It was approaching time for us to get in the car for Christian school, when my mom came in the kitchen to find me sitting on a stool, still in my pajamas and still hungry.

"What are you doing?" she asked, frazzled and annoyed.
"I'm waiting for Dave to make me breakfast," I replied. My brother David, who I hadn't asked to make me breakfast, was quick to point this out to my mom, lest he be blamed for my bed-clothed and unfed state.

That story was used to make fun of me (supposedly in a good-natured way) for being irresponsible and for being the baby of the family. But I wasn't "the baby" in the traditional spoiled and adored youngest child way. I was low man on the totem pole - more like the new hire on the job than like a beloved and precious little girl. I was told I was a child of God, but I felt like a burden to my family.

What that story really shows, though, is learned helplessness. I was taught to rely on others, primarily God but also my family, for everything. I know my own religious upbringing was extreme, but I do think even mainstream religious faith has this effect. You're taught that humans are dependent on God for existence, for their afterlife, and for a lot in between (in some faiths, everything in between.) So why try to make your life better through effort and hard work and risk and investment, when you can just pray and sky daddy will make it all better? Of course, sky daddy doesn't, but that's in the post I did just before this one.

If God has a plan for your life, has picked out your future spouse, and knows what career path He wants you to follow, then it makes sense that you should focus on prayer and becoming close to God, and trying your best to emulate his will and his example in the life of Jesus (or at least the version of that example presented in church each Sunday). Your whole goal would be getting on His good side, doing what He wanted, and hoping to get rewarded. And if you want to change God's plan - you want that prettier wife or that better paying non-ministry job or that new secular CD - then the usual secular life approaches, like hitting the dating sites and making up a new resume or just heading to the store and buying a copy of whatever godless music you want - doesn't seem likely to work. (Although it does, just fine.) So instead of trying something tangible and real that would increase your odds of getting what you want, you pray. You ask God to do something that you want, even when it doesn't seem to be what He wants. (And after all, if He's got this Master Plan, what use is your free will or your prayer anyway?)

So let me tell you what my day without prayer was like yesterday. I was planning on making some apple danishes, and set the oven to preheat. I forgot, a week ago, that I put a bowl of popcorn in there to keep it from attracting bugs, but then never went back and ate it. It was a plastic bowl, of course. Fortunately, I've got a really good sense of smell and noticed the problem long before the oven reached 375 or the bowl had melted completed. I turned off the oven, removed the rack - bowl and all, and took it outside to cool. A couple hours later, once everything had stopped being molten lava to the touch, I was able to hammer and knife off all the melted plastic from both oven racks and the heating coil itself, and make my danishes after all. (They were yummy goodness.)

Then, while watching the new episode of Dollhouse (yay!), I spotted a bug. I promise, I'm not actually a gross person, but I live in a relatively low-income apartment complex with 7 other units in my building, paper thin walls, and the Florida bug-loving climate. So, every two weeks like clockwork I spot another roach and call to have the apartment complex pest guys come again. This one was particularly bad though, because it was one of the little cockroaches (which means it has a colony somewhere nearby. A big one might just wander in during the rain but isn't necessarily a sign of more). I spotted it on my desk - on my keyboard tray. Just as I was getting ready to smash that sucker with an overdue phone bill, it crawled into my keyboard. Eeeeeek! So, one vacuum cleaner hose, five minutes of beating my keyboard, one can of duster, and five Lysol wipes later, I'm typing again without my OCD going bonkers.

Last and actually kind of least, my son flooded the bathtub. I was on the phone with my mom and straightening the living room, washing dishes, etc. and forgot to back and check after a couple minutes. My son came out to let me know, after the water was already over the lip of the tub. But I just grabbed a mop and bucket and some Mr. Clean and used it as a chance to scrub up the place.

As a Christian, any one of these small life things would have floored me for a day. I've had a near phobic fear of hot ovens for most of my life. I started baking several years ago as a teen, but would only do it when my mom or sister was home, because I was too afraid of being burned to take the hot tray of cookies or brownies out of the fiery box of heat coiled death. Two Christmases ago an atheist friend of mine, who knew about this fear, gave me a pair of oven mitts. I'd never owned a set. Now I'm still cautious, and I lock my son out of the room or in his high chair while opening and closing it, but I can take things out of the oven myself, which is a really big deal considering I wouldn't for the past twenty years.

And dealing with a bug, instead of freaking out and crying and taking a bath in 1 part bleach to 8 parts water (such a bad idea), I made absolutely sure that sucker was dead, and that there weren't any crumbs in my keyboard to attract any of its buddies. My grandmother had this whole thing about how bugs were a physical symptom of a spiritual, demonic infestation, so when my poorly insulated mobile home used to get bugs a lot, I thought it meant I needed yet another exorcism. (Again, Florida? Is heaven for bugs - and ours are waaaaaay bigger than your Yankee bugs. But they don't give you Lyme disease like deer ticks, so I can deal.) Just killing the damn thing and calling pest control is a lot more effective than crying and praying. I have fewer bugs now than when I thought they were demons, but I think most Christians would agree, I'm a better candidate for demon possession these days than I used to be as a God-fearing church-going Christian.

The flooded bathroom? I don't know. Maybe that one never would have been a big deal. I've long ago given up the fantasy of getting back the deposit on any apartment I have with my son. He's rambunctious and sometimes sloppy. I am too. We're high energy, poor precision kind of people, so the carpet is trashed and he's drawn on every wall and my couch, and it's not like this is the first time this year he's flooded that bathroom. (Once it was by flushing an entire roll of toilet paper. That was much worse than the clean bathwater overflow.) I will say I'm relieved that I became an atheist so early in my son's life. Now when he does something that's against the rules, I don't have to search for some deeper meaning or generational curse or soul tie. I can just, ya know, give him the extra attention or affection he might be needing, or provide safe physical and mental challenges for him. (While I was getting the mop yesterday, he got out and tried to jump into the bathtub from the top of the toilet, so I guess I'll be sitting in with him for the next several baths till we find a better outlet for that beserker dare-devil streak. My ex-husband used to skateboard off rooftops into cardboard dumpsters for fun...)

So, all that is to say: Humanism is right! We are capable of dealing with our lives without divine intervention. Human intervention might be necessary, but God's got nothing to do with my life or my apartment or how I deal with my challenges. Apparently, I deal with them with skill and grace, so I feel much better about myself now than I ever did as a helpless and dependent believer. Whoever says faith gives them strength doesn't know how strong they could feel on their own.