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My Uncle's Religion
I straightened my shoulders, staring into the dusty mirror.
“Much better,” Uncle Wang said from his place at the sink. “Be proud of what god gave you.” He buttoned his overcoat and nodded at me. “Time to go.”
It was a solemn day. My grandfather’s funeral had been inevitable since last June, but my father had kept saying he had too much work at the office. It was only when my Uncle had called and firmly told him that they needed to be respectful that I saw him truly cry. As tears rolled down his sunned cheeks, he said, “Fine. Fine.”
Uncle Wang now opened the car door for my younger sisters, and clicked it shut after them. I sat in the front with him and watched the golden hills roll by from my window. My parents would meet us there; they were helping my Gran out at her house.
Too soon we rolled up next to a grey church and got out of the car.
“I don’t wanna go,” My little sister, Jane, said. My uncle knelt down next to her seat and told her quietly that there was nothing to be sad about. Grandfather was in heaven, and he was so much more peaceful without Cancer raging inside of him. I said nothing as Jane wiped her face sloppily and hopped from the sedan.
The church was packed full. It was hard to imagine that my grandfather had been friends with so many people; I had known him as a stubborn homebody. We found my parents and Gran and moved in to the front aisle with them.
The service was slow. The minister sang on and on about what a difference grandfather had made and the greatness of god and the afterlife. I was so emotionally drained by the end that I couldn’t look at him as we passed the casket. My Unlce muttered something under his breath and rested his hand on the wood, and my father just looked helpless as he stared into grandfathers cold, sleeping face.
The parking lot was slowly emptying as we stood at the church entrance. People came to shake hands with my family in a blur. But with every person came a stab of rage, deep in the pit of my stomach. I felt my face turn red as I tried to suppress it, but I couldn’t stem this feeling that something was wrong.
“Henry, are you ok?” My Uncle asked. He sounded worried, and when I looked into his face all I could feel was disgust.
“No.” I heaved. “No I’m not ok.”
“Why? What’s wrong?” My parents were now looking at me, too.
“This service is bull,” I spat. It felt good to feel angry. To see anger flicker on my Uncle’s face, and sadness melt across my father’s. “How can you stand here?” I asked my Uncle, “Saying that everything is ok because God has mercy. How can that minister take grandfather’s life and compare it to God’s creation?”
“Henry,” My mother said warningly.
“Grandfather isn’t going to heaven!” I shouted. “You just use religion as a scape! There is no greater power watching over every single person in the world. WE’RE ON OUR OWN.”
I huffed and glared at them. They stared back.
“We weren’t created for any reason.” I felt tired again. I needed to lie down. “Religion is just a way to give meaning to our pointless lives, and make us feel bigger than we are.”
My Uncle muttered something to my mother, who nodded and ushered my sisters away, a hand gripping my father’s arm. Uncle Wayne watched them walk away to my Gran, who was talking to the minister. “Let’s go to the car,” he said. I followed him, my hand deep in my pockets and my head down.
As we drove I stared out the front window and let the silence pulse in my ears. I had no idea where we were going, but part of me hoped he would kick me out of the car on some country road so we were even. Eventually he turned onto a dirt road and parked under a eucalyptus tree. Wordlessly he got out and I followed. We hiked out through the trees into a golden field, and then climbed a steep hill. It was beautiful at the top. We could see the hazy ocean in the distance and the hills rippling below.
“This,” Uncle Wayne breathed, “is where I lost all faith when I was 25.
“It was shortly after Judith died. I was at a low point and I spent all of my time buried in paperwork or thinking of her. So, one day I decided to come here and then let go of every memory of her. But when I got here I saw this huge cloud shaped like a figure in the sky. And for a second it gave me hope that He was watching over me. But then it made me mad. Because I realized no one would let Judith die. And then I realized how insignificant I was, and how Judith was. So I yelled and yelled at the cloud.” He paused and I stared at him.
“So what are you saying?” I finally asked.
“The point is,” he said, “Is that faith is a powerful thing. And once you’ve lost it, it’s damn scary. But that doesn’t mean you can’t respect another person’s faith. There is no weakness in believing in something. It doesn’t hurt anyone else. And if it makes heartbreak more bearable, then by all means appreciate it.”
We gazed at the ocean in the distance, and I thought of the beauty of its vastness.