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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Seligson

Oh God

I need to find out about God. I've put it off long enough. Now, at my age, I need to know. And, as common with so many of my large projects, I’m confused and overwhelmed by the scope of the issue. I mean I need to discover who exactly God is. Or even if I believe in God. That might be nice and comforting. I mean I need to find out if there is a God at all, does she or he or it control an afterlife for me and my loved ones, or is that question ridiculous or completely unknowable.

When I was young I didn’t care. I would get stoned on pot with friends, in the 60s sitting on the floor in my funky Greenwich Village 5th floor walk-up apartment. We’d laugh stupidly and somebody, probably named Bruce, would say, “so what do you think about God”, and nobody would have a good answer. So we’d just ramble on for a bit, and laugh and get bored with the topic.

But we were all in our twenties, so it didn't seem much of an issue. The first time I looked at the question with any depth was when a boyfriend, an Israeli who came to New York from Jerusalem to convince me to marry him, died. He was 32, and he developed stomach cancer. Why did Eli die? So young, amazingly handsome and funny, and a really sweet person. Where was God in all of this? I had no answer of course, but it was the first time I thought about it seriously.

I started reading books about the Holocaust. I didn’t know why; I had no history of the horror in my family. But I was then completely drawn to the subject and read IF THIS IS A MAN by Primo Levi, about the author’s year surviving Auschwitz. And I read the classic timeless memoir, MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Victor Frankl, about his experience in the Nazi death camps. I re-read this about once a year. Even now.

I only realized after I’d read these and several more books on the Holocaust that I was asking myself the timeless question, the unanswerable question. How could God have allowed this nightmare to happen? Does Auschwitz and all the other death camps mean that there is no God, God is a fiction, a myth?

I’m a person who needs an explanation for everything. Everything needs to make sense to me, or I get anxious. I recently read a piece in The New York Times about a ninety-year-old male tortoise in a zoo who impregnated a younger female and she had three teeny babies. Apparently, this is a thrilling and rare phenomenon, one that will have the tortoise research world standing on its head with awe and excitement, enough to make the pages of the NY Times, complete with photos of the parents and babies. Is this God’s doing, a message from her (or him), or merely a miracle of science? I don’t know, or course, or think that I ever will. But this doesn’t make me anxiety-ridden, only interested and amused, maybe awestruck. I don’t need a full-blown coherent explanation for this one, I don’t know why.

What makes me agitated is that Donald Trump lives and thrives and my dear friend Sammy is suffering slowly and horribly from a rare incurable cancer. I’m angry and bitter about this. If I were Sammy I would be pushing constantly, WHY ME? Why not Trump or Putin? Why not any of the sinister autocrats trying to run the world now? WHY ME?

Why does no one have an answer that satisfies me about these inequities, this question that apparently has no reply? A rabbi friend of mine says that God doesn’t control the actions of humans, that we’re responsible for who we are and what we do. God is watching, according to my friend, but not intervening. Well then, if that’s so, what is God’s job? What’s the point of God?

Did humans create or invent God because life is too terrifying and mysterious unless we have this force to believe in, a gigantic presence that makes the worst circumstances bearable? I can buy that one. I could even argue that the invention of God is a positive and comforting thing to get us all through those dark nights of life.

My husband Tom has had many of what he calls psychic experiences in his life, which I have not. It’s made him open to wisdom which, he says, science can’t explain. Like the time he was with a group of people in his home and suddenly he had a wrenching headache. He left the room, lay down on the couch and suddenly saw Miss Souri, the woman who was his beloved caretaker from birth until age seven. In this moment, his headache disappeared, and she told him he was doing fine, and his life would continue happily. These moments had a deep effect on him, had him believe in what he calls “energy fields” that can exist outside our normal realms of reality. But he still doesn’t know what to make of God.

OK. But now I really need to know, with my rapidly advancing age and cranky knees, what happens afterwards, after I die? I think about that all the time, at least several times a week. More if I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. Sometimes, when I’m relaxed in bed, I envision being with all the people I’ve loved in my life, people who have died. We’re not in our bodies of course, but in some other state, maybe this indescribable “energy field”. Everything is stress-free, happy and simple. We laugh together and dance. Sometimes I believe this, sometimes I think it’s utter nonsense and when this life is over, it’s finished, done. There’s nothing else. The mystery of creation is just that, the eternal mystery.

Then I look at my dog – God spelled backwards of course – and I know she doesn’t think of these things, or worry about her afterlife. Then I look outside my door at the endless ocean which hopefully will survive long after I depart. Then I ask more friends what they believe about God and either they’re in the same investigating boat that I am, or their responses don’t satisfy me. Then I have a lovely pasta dinner and don’t think any more that day about this, the most monumental of all of life’s questions.

Check out my recent memoir MY MOTHER WOULD HATE THIS BOOK. It is now available in hardcover, paperback & eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore.

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