I included it in the last post, one dedicated to animal-themed projects, because I love Silas House and I love my dogs. I appreciate that of all the noble concepts he could have so eloquently explored - some element of faith or friendship or tradition or love - he chose a theme seemingly mundane. While many of us consider our pets "family" and understand the reciprocal devotion nurtured in these relationships, if given the opportunity to tell the literary world about our "core values that guide [our] daily lives," I doubt many of us would go with "dogs make us better people." No, we'd probably try to tug heartstrings with moving soliloquies about things that seem more "literary worldish." We'd use a bunch of adjectives. We'd employ emotional catharsis to relay passion. We'd likely make the stoics and skeptics among us gag.
And I offer that last little pleasant prediction because I myself have felt it. Sometimes when I hear people talk about their certainties and beliefs, I secretly scoff. And while aware of my figurative eye rolls, I have never really thought too much about the motivating rationale until the past few days. So, while I included the House essay because of a very literal and obvious connection to the last post's dog theme, it has (somewhat frustratingly) sparked a much different philosophical conversation in my head. I have been forced to consider, "What do I believe or believe in?"
The answer I've come up with: very little.
And I want to say up front that I don't think what follows puts me on some intellectual or analytical pedestal. While doubt is sometimes a product of open-mindedness, science, or research, it can also be a sign of weakness, selfishness, or lack of resolve. In fact, I associate some of my own skepticism with these obviously less noble motivations. I certainly wish I could, in good conscience, espouse lofty (yet entirely authentic) faith in more than I do. When it comes down to it, however, I take neither pride in, nor feel guilty about, my conclusions on the four basic categories below (categories that seem to be the "go-to"s when discussing belief/faith). It simply is what it is.
I pray, but to whom or what, I don't know. I don't believe that things happen for a reason and I take very little comfort in notions of "divine paths" or "destiny." I would never suggest that I have an understanding of heaven or hell or that I know who might end up in either. I know kind people who are atheists and kind people who are devout Christians; I don't think either kindness trumps the other. I don't have any real sense of what faith means to me.
I have complete trust in only two people. I know what to expect from them. I think they have a strong grasp of their own core values and feel fairly confident that if I were to ask them questions today, I would get the same answers I would get if I ask them those same questions in ten years. I feel like they know, and appreciate, the me that I like. This isn't to suggest that I don't respect, or even love, other people in my life; I simply don't find a sense of comfort and stability in those relationships.
I can come across as confident...and sometimes I actually feel that way. Speaking my mind about things that matter to me is not a problem. I consider myself a moral person with good intentions. Nevertheless, my issues with stability in others are the same issues I have with myself. I worry I don't have the resolve to stick with/to things for the "long haul;" I'm always dreaming of other possibilities or pondering what I could - or should - be doing. I have little confidence that the things I want now will be the same things I'll want in 5, 10 or 20 years. I crave a sense of settledness, and yet fight against it with everything I have.
While some people do affect us in profound ways, often both indescribable and unexpected, I don't really believe in soul mates. I think we can love a variety of people in completely different ways and occasionally at overlapping times. I don't think "love is enough" or that "love conquers all." I think sometimes those who would be best for each other can't be together because of circumstances beyond their control. I don't think things necessarily "work out in the end." I think we can miss and regret and mourn someone for an infinite amount of time. Does love exist? Of course. And do some people have what most would classify as "true love"? Sure. Will we all have it? No.
What I do believe in...
*Dogs DO make us better people. Whatever my understanding of faith is, I have more of it in my animals than I do in anything else in my life. I know Charley will scratch my nose when I try to put the leash on her in the morning because she's so excited to go out. I know Lucy and Willie would protect me at all costs. I know Lightning is not going to kick me when I'm cleaning the stall while he eats breakfast. I know which blanket DC likes to use as a bed and which of my shoulders Wendell prefers to sit on while he loudly gives himself a bath. I know they all make my life better. I know they make me less selfish. I know they know I love them.
*the Avett Brothers. This sounds dumb considering I doubt my faith in a higher power, in others, and myself. I don't care; it's the truth. I see my life in their songs. I feel more alive when I'm at their concerts than I do at just about any other time. They inspire me to be more honest because they make me think about how I really feel.
*the influence of books/art/synchronized dance and the power of collective joy.
*the legacy of my father and my desire to lead a life that he would be proud of.
*the possibility that one day I'll have faith in more.
I also believe that sometimes we have to fake it...for our own sanity, so as to not put others in weird positions, to keep or regain perspective, and/or because wallowing never fixed anything. I saw this on a friend's Facebook or Pinterest page a couple of weeks ago and although neither an uncommon nor particularly witty cliché, it was a affecting slap in the face when I needed it most.