My mother preferred the term agnostic. “You just can’t know for sure,” was her line. But my father had no doubt. He was a proud atheist. “Make them prove it to you, Lucy. You’ll see. They can’t!” That was the end of the subject.
The “them,” of course, was a large chunk of the country and most of our neighborhood in Seattle, and it was painful for me at a certain age not to be one of “them.” When I was twelve many of my friends were getting ready for confirmation at the local Episcopal Church. I had no idea what that meant, and I’m not sure they knew either, but they had new white dresses and were anticipating receiving a bible, I imagined with gold-edged pages. Every Monday after school they went to the church to prepare for this exciting event. Their parents picked them up and they bounced into the car and drove off, leaving me in a wake of not belonging.
I fretted about this for awhile, screwed up my courage, and asked my parents, “Why can’t I be confirmed, too? Everyone is doing it. I feel left out.”
“That’s for people who belong to that church…” my mother began. “And for people who believe in God,” my father finished. I knew that we did not fit in either category.
“But can’t we just join that church, just for this year, so I can get confirmed, too?
And then we could stop going after that?” I built my case, but to no avail. This was the day I learned a new word, hypocrisy. They couldn’t pretend about something so important, my parents explained. But if I really wanted to be a member of that church and get confirmed, they would drive me, drop me off and pick me up every Sunday and take me to the practice sessions, too.
“But I want us all to go. I want to be a family that goes to church.” I knew it was futile – another word I learned that day. They wouldn’t budge. I was angry. It would be so easy to go through the motions.
So why didn’t I take them up on their offer? I could have joined the church, been dropped off and picked up, and earned my white dress and bible. Or, maybe my friend Dotty’s parents could have adopted me just for a few months of Sundays and I could have hopped in the backseat with her and belonged, just temporarily.
I remember struggling with the dilemma, a battle between my desire to belong and my budding sense of morality. In the end I saw that pursuing the confirmation would be pretending I was someone I wasn’t, and that once I took that step it could be a very slippery slope of dishonesty with myself and others.
I also remember taking solace in the fact that in just four years I would be sixteen and could drive myself to any church I wanted, maybe lots of them, and see what I thought. In the meantime, I was learning how to make honest and moral decisions from my parents, and that was much more valuable than a white dress and bible with gold edges.