Birthday Post 4: Being 23 and a Half

This summer, I didn’t write on my 23rd birthday. I was working in the wilderness and a friend and coworker insisted that I take as much of a break as possible. I slept under the Colorado stars and read sections of a high fantasy novel, and the camp coordinators slipped some candy into our provisions as a surprise for me on that camping trip.

In the past six months, though, I’ve regretted that I didn’t reflect on my age in writing. Since I was 13, I’ve made it a point to make each birthday special. I often rose early to greet the sunrise on my birthday, and though I didn’t practice meditation at the time, I meditatively accepted my age and owned it. But this year, I’ve slipped a few times in stasis. I keep almost saying I’m 24 or 22, and wondering why I did that.

Correlation or a self-fulfilling prophecy is possible. My expectation is that writing on my birthday is a consistent thing that helps me establish that age.

I’m conflicted about age and life stages. I want to acknowledge my own epic and mark the miles as I go, but age is so arbitrary. As I continue to study religion and philosophy and self-growth, I’m more and more convinced that ageism is a serious problem in society and the human experience. In my experience, older people are generally condescending, and children are overlooked.

I’m open to be proven wrong about this. I want to be proven wrong, to know that most people don’t think age is a measure of wisdom. When I work with kids, I want to listen and learn, while owning my responsibility as the adult source of stability and safety.

What I do know, though, is that even though birthdays are arbitrary, it’s a chance to reflect, take note, and look ahead. I’m opening myself to cyclical living over linear living, and meeting with myself on a birthday is sacred, just as it would be sacred to meet with the same person in the same place sometimes.

I’m 23 and a half, and it feels very childish, despite how much I hate referring to anything as “childish,” to count half-years. My disinterest in counting each year seems odd. I can count much higher than 23, and I remember finding it a challenge to count as high as I could, first in English and then in a few other languages. In the book Island of the Blue Dolphins, Karana grows tired of counting moons, and instead starts leaving marks four times a year.

It feels like I’m getting tired of counting too quickly. I can count way higher than 23, and I hope you heard that in my 3-year-old voice, at a time when I was content to challenge myself to count as high as I could.

For most people, time seems to go by more quickly as they get older. This is because, in theory, our perspective is lengthening with every passing moment, and a year is always a shorter percentage of our overall life experience. A year is 50% of a two-year-old’s life experience, but by the time you’re five, that has dropped to 20%.

Older people always told me life would get faster and faster, but life has slowed down as I’ve gotten older. The universe is vaster than I ever thought it would be. So the time between birthdays is long. Maybe that’s why I felt good about going back and counting a half-year. It felt like unfinished business after skipping my post when I turned 23. Saying “and a half” was a great way to practice fractions as a child, if nothing else. I still like it.

The God Question

This post was originally published in January 2016. It was re-uploaded in October 2018 as part of the archive restoration project. My follow-up post on the subject is posted here

I read a sentence a few years ago that changed my life. It was in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Living with a Wild God, and it said, “When people run up against something inexplicable, transcendent, and, most of all, ineffable, they often call it ‘God,’ as if that were some sort of explanation.”

That sung true through every bit of my being, and I hated it because I knew it was true, and that it went against everything I’d believed and defended and taught. I kept stubbornly defending “God,” but my theism quickly washed away. I realized that whatever I’d been praying to, learning about, hearing from, and interacting with, couldn’t be described as “God” because that word is overused and it fails to explain anything.

Defining “God” is a ridiculous task and worthless endeavor. The word has come to mean thousands of things to thousands of subgroups of people. Why would I want to seek out a universal definition for that? There isn’t one. I’m not out to please billions of people and find a definition that satisfies them all anyway.

It’s not that I don’t believe in God anymore. The idea of a deity is kind of small compared to what I’ve seen and experienced on planes that are best described as metaphysical. Religion is not necessarily a bad thing, but one of its fundamental influences on human history is that it has oversimplified our ability to describe common experiences. Is “God” a ghost of parental care that we reach out for, whether it exists or not, in times of fear? Is “God” the explanation that fills in the gaps of why physical reality manifests as it does?

Maybe people who believe in god aren’t delusional. Maybe they’re just using a word that they were taught, to describe something that the word does a really poor job of describing. Maybe the word “god” was diluted over time, to the point that it doesn’t have common meaning anymore. It’s become a term that people use to gain power and to hurt others, and it hardly matters whether their intentions are sincere or malignant.

“What is God?” Isn’t a question I bother trying to answer. I’m okay with far more specific questions, though, like “What is beyond what humans experience with our senses?” and “What is dark matter?” and “What is the universe?” These are answerable because they’re not about trying to define a word that already exists. They’re about finding words for what has not yet been described.

To start with the word “God” is backwards and counterproductive. A logical syllogism uses the premises to define the conclusion, but to try and define a word as big as “God” is to look at the conclusion that millions of people have used, and try to see their reasoning for it. I don’t think everyone used the exact same logical premises; people are too lazy and irrational for that. I’d much rather build up my premises than work down from the assumption of the existence of a being with omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence.

As soon as I recognized that I was working backward from an assumed conclusion and looking for the premises, I couldn’t do it ever again.

Part of the task of openness was to admit that to label my connections as “God” was getting in my way. So these days I don’t identify as Christian or with any other religion, I don’t say I believe in God, but I know there’s something out there, perhaps many things. I’m done with describing heaven and hell, as I explained in my series about the afterlife. I’m just remaining open.