When I was in grade 7, I drifted by a cultural documentary on PBS. The clouds of my tweenaged despair parted. I was enlightened. I knew for sure what I had to be.
I was Buddhist.
In my sheltered cultural rearing, literally the weirdest “not Catholic” religion I could fathom was Buddhism. It was the only non-Christian religion I had ever heard of. It seemed like the strangest thing I could’ve chosen. That’s how white my hometown was. It stunted what I thought was possible. With further investigation much later in my life, I’m disappointed that “snake handling Pentecostal” wasn’t an option.
My entire knowledge of Buddhism was contained in that roughly 45 minutes of television. I was sure I could be a good and practicing Buddhist from the information I had gleaned that afternoon. This was my small rebellion; I wanted to stop taking part in school masses. I didn’t get up for communion and one of my classmates, a boy named Kevin who had an unfortunate cowlick, immediately questioned me. I was a Buddhist, I told him, and wasn’t interested in Catholic school or masses anymore. I didn’t take communion that day. I sat cross-legged on the floor of my Catholic elementary school gymnasium as I had on the first Friday of every month of the school year for the previous 8 years. I sat “Indian-style” and tried to look serene. Kevin called me a weirdo.
Because of the PBS documentary, I knew Buddhists meditated. I didn’t know what that was and I approximated what it looked like by sitting with my head tilted slightly back and my eyes closed. I thought it might have something to do with yoga, but I wasn’t sure. I knew that my mum had done yoga, and my preschool teacher/next-door-neighbour had done yoga. I was sure my mum wasn’t Buddhist, but I’m still not sure about Mrs. Gillespie. This didn’t change what I thought I knew about Buddhism.
Being A Buddhist would’ve made me special and different, and because there wasn’t anything really special or different about me I had to find a way to stand out. I knew that Catholic school was not teaching what I wanted or needed and I was not in an environment to question. I wasn’t with people who even knew there were questions available to ask. I also knew that I could trust no one in my life with the questions I had. I would face ridicule at best or face harsh punishment at worst for questioning strict adherence to Catholicism. Or rather, strict adherence to the knowledge I *was* Catholic, there was a god in heaven, and I was going to hell if I didn’t toe that line. My people could pick and choose their dogma as needed. I believe the term is “Cafeteria Catholicism”. To say I was Buddhist would make me something that no one I knew was.
I would say that I lost interest, but I never had any. My peers teased me for being strange and told me to shut up. They weren’t interested in the existential crises of a 12 year-old girl. I’m certain that they didn’t know that existential crises were possible for anyone.
Today, I’m a non-believer and I identify as “Well, atheist is just the easiest way to make sure others know that I’m not questioning or waffling or on the fence about anything.” My defined moral and philosophical beliefs are a mashup of the places I have been, the people I have known, life experience, books read, paths explored and common wisdom examined and reexamined. I don’t believe in god, but the internet and the Montreal Canadiens are my coexisting religions. The internet has brought me all the answers I ever needed and I’m a lapsed Habs fan right now. I know they’ll have me back when the tides turn and I wish them no ill-will or harm in the meantime.
I have no idea where this life of mine will end up or how it will change, morph, or hold the status quo but I’m almost for certain that a faith in spiritual or supernatural will never be the way that I reach enlightenment or fully atone for the things I’ve done. I’ve always been impossible to wrangle into a box or expect to follow a predefined script. This started when I was young and has been the cause of and the solution to most of my problems.