The day I asked doctors to stop my father’s treatment, to let him go after a year of suffering, to just make sure he wasn’t in any more pain, a relative of mine said I was godless. I was violating the rules of humanity by not stretching out a dying man’s agony. It didn’t matter that no amount of medicines could ever bring him back.
Two days later, the clock stopped ticking. He had found peace. Presumably, on his onward journey, he would also find God.
But that relative of mine was right. I was godless. I felt it, as clearly as a cold draught of fear flowing through my insides. There was nothing there: no tears, no regrets, no prayer, no faith. There was emptiness, because I had lost a part of my being without finding a replacement.
I went on living, I couldn’t give up. My mother could. Less than two years later, without a fuss, she simply closed her eyes and didn’t open them again. She had become my baby: helpless, dependent, unable to recognise anyone but me, unable to eat unless I fed her. And now she was gone. And my being had taken another blow.
I stared at an abyss, and it stared back at me. I realised that for the past 15 years of my life, I had been inching closer to its edge. Now was a great time to step over it, surely. How could anyone blame me now for not being strong, after 15 years of hell?
What held me back was a blood tie, a baby who needed me more than I needed to run away. And so, without hope, without a clue, without light, from day to day, I pushed ahead, still faithless, still godless. What I lacked in courage, I made up for with routine, with dead habit. I didn’t have peace, but I had numbness, and frozen detachment.
It’s been almost five years since then. Surprise, surprise, it’s also been five years since I wrote anything for this forsaken blog.
Nothing dramatic has happened now to make me write this dreary account, except that a few days ago, I listened, really listened, to the lyrics of Hallelujah, to the soul-clenching, terrible, beautiful, disintegrating poetry of Leonard Cohen. And his bizarre, guttural singing to go with it.
Or perhaps it’s my numbness that is disintegrating. For it no longer matters that I can’t keep the faith every day of my life. It will come when it does, and it will often be cold and broken. It may also be holy, and still be broken. Faith is the crutch I used and discarded. Now, when I no longer need a crutch, it has come back as a companion who walks alongside.
I don’t take this to mean I’m no longer godless. My faith is still, at best, a nebulous realisation that I can allow some warmth back into a frozen ice pond. I argue violently with it often, but I acknowledge its existence. I feel it, as clearly as a cold draught of fear flowing through my insides. But I also, sometimes, feel it as clearly as the salty taste of tears on my lips. I have dared to cry again.
And I have concluded that God is an emotion. As love is an emotion. Or music is an emotion. I just need to reconnect to long suppressed emotions. Note how easily the mention of that mammoth task rolls off my tongue.
Visceral is not a word I’d use loosely, would you? No. Well, I’d use it for what you read below. I’m grateful to Leonard Cohen, for showing me again what true redemption looks like.
“Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the lord
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to ya?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah”
~ Music & Lyrics by Leonard Cohen, 1984