Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Magical Thinking

Magical thinking is defined as the belief that one’s thoughts or actions can influence the course of events in the material world.

When my mom got sick, I tested this very theory. For my entire life, I had been told that prayer moves mountains. This is exactly what magical thinking is. It is the belief that if I pray fervently enough, if I am dedicated enough to my cause, if I stay true to the practice of faith, if I appeal to god enough, god will change the course of the future.

I tested this with every fiber of my being. I was the literal definition of magical thinking. If I accepted any part of reality -- the fact that she had a terminal diagnosis -- I was failing at my task. I was laser-focused on somehow convincing the god of the universe to save her life. In essence, I was trying to save her life. As a result, I felt excruciating pain and anxiety over her impending death, believing that any setback meant I just had to have more faith and try harder. This self-assumed responsibility meant that I wasn't as present as I could have been during the last year of her life.

Without me saying anything else, you can be certain what came next. But, I'll proceed anyway.

Mom died 13 months after diagnosis. It was the Saturday of Easter weekend. Everyone said it was a perfect symbiosis of her devout life and the Savior's. God was calling her home, her work was finished. People found peace in that coincidence.

I didn't see it like that.

God had disregarded the most faith I had ever given him. God took my magical thinking, my whole-body faith, my incessant pleas to save my mother from this fate and ignored it. God even ignored my nights of sheer agony when I parked my car in an empty temple parking lot, looked up at the brilliantly lit building that was his literal house on earth, and screamed with everything I had just for him to hear me. My tears filled up canyons of my grief and fear.

Her death showed me this: God either can't do it for any number of reasons - one being that he's not all powerful, another being that he doesn't exist in the way I was taught, or at all; or he is there, but he won't do it. In this life, I will never truly know the answer to that.

I heard a quote by Walt Whitman years later, after I'd grieved myself into full blown major depression and panic disorder, that said, "These are the days that must happen to you." It spoke the whole truth in just 9 words. This is life. All of it. The love, the joy, the trial, the error, the life, the death, the heart ache, the loss of faith. This is what it means to love. This is what it means to be alive.

I had taken to gardening instead of going to church, and in the process I had witnessed similar things to Walt Whitman. There are rules of nature. There are births, deaths, seasons, years that nothing works, years that are abundant, sometimes because of me, sometimes in spite of me. Everything had a time, and then it ended. There was so much beauty and healing in that realization.

I lost myself and my religion the day I kissed my mother goodbye for the final time. I fell apart in the aftermath not understanding anything because what had happened was not what I was told would. I lost my footing, and had to ultimately climb out of the deepest hole I've ever been in. For a time, I thought I would never be ok again. In the process, I had to completely rebuild myself, but what I found in the breakdown?

A different sort of magic. 

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