“I’m not religious in a typical sense.”
My tattooist paused and looked up at me blankly. That’s when I proceeded with this very story (admittedly, more scrabbled and condensed at the time). You see, this cross isn’t about what I believe. It’s about what I’ve seen.
Religion was never a part of my life growing up. In my early adult years, I actually started to identify as an atheist – the kind that wields their copy of The God Delusion like a razor blade. But my experience volunteering overseas in 2014 forced me to give religion another look.
The experience was eye opening. I saw first-hand how some people have little else but their faith. Leaving me to question: who am I – with all my comforts and privileges – to take that away from them? I met people who truly embodied the positive values and principles that religion encourages – dedicating themselves to serving others and their communities. I saw how faith can transform the way people (particularly those young and misguided) relate to the world, giving them a sense of belonging and the strength to hold on despite everything dragging them down.
My visit to an orphanage in India last year kept this conversation going with my conscience. Although my stay was much shorter, it was even more eye-opening… And heartbreaking. If I didn’t know it before, I now had more than enough reason to believe that the world is far from the place I once thought it was.
Changing countries didn’t change this narrative. I spent one year working for a mental health organsiation in a role that regularly exposed me to the heaviest of stories. I moved on from there – but it wasn’t long into my new job that a co-worker, at a mere 18 years of age, took her own life.
Amongst all of this, I struggled, too. Although lesser in comparison to some of the things I’ve witnessed, I found myself, simply put, with a shattered spirit.
Months later, in the process of still putting the pieces back together, here I am getting this tattoo. Not because I think there is someone up there looking out for me. Neither am I concerned about getting to heaven; I just want to spend my life acting as if it does exist – like a good person. Like the beautiful souls I’ve met.
And regarding all the suffering I’ve seen, I’d like to think there’s a kinder place for those people. There’s a difference between believing in heaven and wanting it to be real. I “have a brain” and I know the science. But anyone with a “heart” would still understand the comfort faith provides and dare not rip that away from those who clutch it so dearly. It’s easy to be critical and condescending when one has never truly felt the cold reality of life.
During my own difficult times, I want to remember what the human spirit is capable of. In addition to staying grounded in times of great uncertainty, one thing that never seizes to amaze me is our ability to give greater meaning – to things like life and all the sadness and suffering it entails… and even to two tiny lines.