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The Shattered Rose

September 20, 2010

leaf graphicRose Colored Glasses

“It’s getting late, let’s go,” my best friend, Adriana, exclaimed. It was Sunday morning and she grinned as she grabbed my hand and pulled me through the doorway of the small home that I shared with my mother and stepfather. I heard the heavy wooden door thud, solidly, against the old frame as we hopped off of the porch and into the bright September morning. We squeezed, awkwardly, past the entrance gate. The hinge had, long ago, given way and the gate swayed, jerkily, scraping the dirt packed ground beneath. I braced myself from the wind as we chatted near the curb. It was cooler now that summer had passed and, underneath our windbreakers, we were dressed for church.

“Hey! Let’s go to the store,” I suggested. It was 8:40 a.m. and we had plenty of time to get snacks before the church van came at 9:00 a.m. to whisk us to Sunday School. Sunday School was followed by Morning Church Services where we listened to announcements, music, the sermon and then, more music. “Ugh. I only have enough for the collection plate,” Adriana said sadly as she stared into her patent leather purse.

Our parents were hard working, but money wasn’t readily available for frivolity. We did fine with what we had.
“Come on, girl! You know I don’t mind treating,” I rolled my eyes, she smiled and we kept walking. I meant it.
Church was always more fun with snacks and neither of us minded treating the other when one’s cash was low. The neighborhood was quiet which was normal for a Sunday morning. Everyone we knew were either getting ready for church or recovering from partying the night before.

“Hey Charlie,” we called in unison as we picked up the pace. As usual, the old man was drunk. He stared at us with dead eyes. We did not want to incite any real conversation so we avoided eye contact. He ignored us, for once, and began an intense conversation with no one that we could see. We giggled and pressed on. He had been a fixture outside of the store for many years, just like the old rusted lamps, which we believed, he slept under. They sagged against the chipped and fading beige paint. Inside, we walked around the store. Our church shoes clacked in discordance to the annoyance of the Korean shopkeeper. We, each, grabbed every flavor of, nutritionally bankrupt, candy and at least a small bag of plain potato chips. After paying, we made our way back out into the neighborhood.

We headed to my house where we inspected each other. When we were satisfied with our appearance, we fell silent and began to scout for the church van. I fidgeted as we waited. I was always nervous before church. You never knew who would get the “Holy Ghost” and start “shouting” all over the place. Sometimes, even the children would shout. For me, that’s when things really got interesting. As a standard, it was customary for us kids to trust each other more than we trusted adults; especially adults that we did not know. Surely if my peers could feel the “Holy Ghost,” then the “Holy Ghost” must be real, right? Secretly, and unbeknown to me, I was a cynic.

When we finally arrived for Sunday School, the youth of the church filed into the tiny basement. We discussed bible stories, the choir and upcoming trips. Lastly, we were asked to read our favorite line from the bible. It was a boon to be the first to recite: “Jesus wept.” It was the shorter of the scriptures and we were all too shy to read long passages. I looked over at Adriana. She rolled her eyes and grinned at me. We never discussed it, but I’d always suspected her feelings were reminiscent of my own. Even though our parents never went to church, they had always made sure to instill in us the importance of having a personal relationship with God and to uphold the Ten Commandments. We were Baptist or Christian, I was never quite sure of the difference, if one existed. We were only taught that going to church would get us a spot in heaven, which is where, it seemed, everyone wanted to be.

After Sunday School, we went upstairs to join the adults for regular “church.” I watched the old ushers as sweat poured down their wrinkled faces. They walked back and forth and up and down the neat rows of church pews. Their jobs were to pass out the Sunday bulletins and assist people to and from their seats. Most of all they would throw looks of annoyance around as they checked to see if any of us children were asleep. I stared fascinated every Sunday as the preacher poured sweat and spit as if his life depended on it. The ladies and, half asleep, gentlemen would all nod and yell, “Hallelujah!” when prompted by the minister’s dramatic pauses. It was all a spectacle and you would have to be there to feel the vibrations of it all. It certainly filled your heart with something, and I often left glad that I had come.

As I grew older, I began to notice that my parents weren’t as religious as they liked me to think. I never, once, saw my mother reading the bible. Sometimes she prayed, but it was sporadic and seemed selfish when she did. Whenever I went to church, it was always Adriana and I. When Adriana couldn’t come, I went alone. As life got busier, I started to go to church less and less. By that time, the youth ranks in my church had become, noticeably, thinner. I began to note other things. There were whispers of affairs among church members. I witnessed ladies smoking in the parking lot. Many things were not as I was taught that they should be. Were my rose-colored glasses being muddied to reveal the things that were there all along or was the congregation degrading right before my eyes?

Soon, spirituality was no longer a priority, nor a concern, for me. My aspirations as a young adult were to transform my circumstances as soon as humanly possible. I was a confident teen and my mother had instilled in me strength of character and the knowledge that I could do absolutely anything that I put my mind to. I did not want my life to be stunted in light of my economic limitations. At 18 years old, a lot of my peers were either mothers already, pregnant or on drugs. In fact, at 18, Adriana was herself, already a mother. Her son was just a year older than my little brother. My mother had gotten pregnant with my brother, Anthony, when I was a sophomore in high school and Adriana had gotten pregnant when we were both freshmen. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t knock young motherhood. More importantly, I desired freedom. My mother, out of concern for my future, had the boot of love on my neck and I was suffocating. I knew, from her, that I had more opportunities than she, and that being a mother at a young age had a tendency to change a person’s life and their plans, drastically. In fact, I took such heed to my mother’s advice that, I think, I may have waited too long to have children at all!

With the support of my family, I found myself enlisting in the United States Navy. On the dotted line, I identified as a Christian. My dog tags confirmed the same. I partied hard and spread my wings. I incurred responsibility on my own terms. Eventually, I revisited my thoughts on religion. I sought the old familiar feelings of awe and wonderment. I found neither. What I discovered was spirituality through the eyes of someone who had experienced some of life. I realized that as a girl, I had worn rose colored glasses, indeed. There were so many appalling things going on under the roof of every church I considered, that I decided to praise and worship alone. As I began to read the bible, I noted inconsistencies and contradictions, one after another. I began to doubt the words and the messenger of those words. I searched frantically on the internet, browsing constantly for a confirmation of my faith; however, I only found things that affirmed my doubts. I wasn’t the only one. I found myself at book stores and libraries searching for books on spirituality and religion. There was a fountain of information and, from it, I drank thirstily.

During my self-studies, I communicated with my mother often. While I was gaining enlightenment, my mother was going through a similar transition, only in the opposite direction. She seemed happier and I soon understood why. She had become a born-again Christian and the fire of Jesus was lighting her life. Surely, the woman who had instructed me to question everything and everyone could see that her new way of thinking was against all she had taught me! I shared with her my doubts and she assured me that all I needed was “a mustard seed.” A mustard seed, you understood, was a religious person’s condescending approach to invoke a person’s faith. To be exact: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Ultimately, it was my mother’s happiness that mattered, to me, the most. Our conversations became infrequent and when we spoke, the topic of spirituality was avoided. The person I loved most in this world had become someone that I could no longer share my life and thoughts with. In my experience, when you identify as an agnostic or atheist, religious adults put up an impenetrable wall of faith and apply their own rose colored glasses, voluntarily. We all wear them at some point and for many reasons. Any conversation or debate, contrary to what they have been taught, is stopped dead in its tracks. In that situation, perhaps, I would react in the same manner. In this one, I felt like I was losing my mother, my best friend. As it were, life went on.

Several years later, I had come to distrust most religions and I no longer believed in the supernatural. If I was forced to provide a label, I identified myself as an atheist. Nonetheless, I was still a student. It became an obsession and, to this day, I still absorb everything I can about religion and people and the affect of each on the other. As for my mother, the most comfortable situation is one where we pretend that I am not godless and aware of it. In fact, I’m certain that she considers me a back-sliding Christian that will one day grasp that mustard seed. As for me, I’m happy with whom I have become and I respect all people who seek and need religions. Regardless of their promotion of proselytizing, misogyny and separatism, I believe that there are people with good intentions in religion. In the end, it is our differences that make us unique and interesting.

i. Matthew 13:31-32, English Standard Version, Bible


From → Memoirs

  1. Latrese, your memoir has run through my mind all day! The analogies you used make your paper extremely memorable to me. Having a similar religious background and then coming to the same conclusion on religious values as you did, I like this because I can relate to this as a reader. I know you had second thoughts about the subject you chose, but after reading it, I’m glad you still chose to write about it. Great job!

  2. So much of your memoir reminds me of what I had to deal with as a young man, I just was lucky enough that my mom never be came a raging christian devotee, just a tree worshiping hippie. You paper was a visceral experience I might as well have had on 3D glasses to go along with the rose colored ones you described. I really enjoyed reading it. Only thing I can say about it is more please!


  3. Latrese,
    You memoir paper is very well written. I am glad you followed your thoughts and feelings. I love the image of the rose colored glasses you used. I was certainly able to see where you were coming through. Your story also reminded me of myself a little bit. My mom is muslim, and my sister and I were raised to believe that we are Muslim, but I never had the opportunity to learn about my religion and I am looking forward to that one day.

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