Elder Shoemaker was thumbing through his Spanish bible in Seat 22C while repeating verses quietly to himself. Immersed in an indigenous culture in Guatemala for the last two years, he looks nervous in a very clean suit, like he's about to attend his first job interview with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A plaque stating his status within the Church of Latter Day Saints gave a Spanish translation of his beliefs and intentions. He continued to read the text quietly. If he was wearing a turban and reading aloud from the Quran, this story would probably have unfolded in a very different manner.
The flight attendant announced the cabin doors to Delta Flight 1670 with service to Seattle are officially closed. The plane was roughly one third full with entire rows void of passengers. I was lucky the fuselage (one of my favorite words) of the plane was situated perfectly next to my window seat so I could lean comfortably against it in a spot perfectly shaped to my head. I conked out for the next 45 minutes until the pilot announced some information of which the passengers were already aware. Elder Shoemaker became attentive of my eye rubbing and stretching within limited space.
He asked what my tattoos mean. Initially I responded with, "they mean a lot of different things." The first Mormon I've ever had an encounter with pushed a bit harder. I gave him an abridged version of the nine tattoos visible to him on my arms. He looked like I had just shown him fire for the first time, which was dangerous considering we were on an airplane. He asked my name and introduced himself as Elder Shoemaker, even though his first legal name is Jay. The entire time he was asking me a slew of questions about my life, things I've studied, languages I speak, places I've traveled, how many siblings I have, and how old I am, I was curious when he was going to introduce religion to the conversation when he introduced religion to the conversation. He asked if I read the bible. I've never studied the text cover to cover, but from what I hear, it's a fantasy-ridden adventure complete with fables, miracles, and bigotry. He asked if I believe it, and I said no. He asked why I didn't believe in it, and I told him politely, "I think it was a book of fiction that was taken much too seriously."
My personal thoughts on organized religion and their accompanying texts have left me baffled. This confusion left me lost and alone in the past, and attending AA for the last year has made me even more ambivalent to concepts of spirituality, serenity, and other buzzwords often associated with sitting on a hard bench every Sunday morning. I didn't want to get into it with Elder Shoemaker. Like I addressed in my last post, I'm not very militant about my atheism. If someone wants to have a constructive, methodical discussion based on our differing views, I'll entertain sharing my half. But if my views are questioned and prodded, I'm less likely to offer up anything of theological substance. In Row 22 of the 737-800, Elder Shoemaker's views were largely unsolicited, if not forced. It's not like I could leave. I mean I could. But that would mean taking everyone else with me. Elder Shoemaker mentioned he had only met one atheist, and today he's unknowingly met two.
From what I've heard (and now encountered), the Mormons are incredibly friendly with "the word." I'd like to put a Fitbit on a Mormon and see how well they could do in one day by going door to door with said word. It would make a great commercial for a day or two. But atheists don't solicit followers. I imagine it would sound quite mean to approach someone of good Christian faith and say to them, "Hey, your baptism didn't mean shit. We should talk." Elder Shoemaker continued to discuss Our Lord and Savior, which I wanted to correct him with "Your Lord and Savior" many times. But he continued to ask me questions about stand up comedy and writing and stage fright and the ominous future. I didn't get a chance to ask him many questions in return. How many wives do you have? Do they wear those long skirts? Do you get confused with the Amish? Why the suit? Where'd ya get it? Did you leave with a ton of bibles and come back with none? Who was your favorite Little Rascal? Are you aware of the Little Rascals?
I spoke in my meeting last night about being "spiritually stuck" in that I don't buy into a lot of the texts in AA, but that I also want to continue my journey of searching for serenity without buying into certain beliefs. It bothers me when people put extreme faith in a higher power. Again, I know I've mentioned this before. If praying successfully removes your ego, fine. If it's keeping you sober, by all means, go ahead and do it. In the scientific sense of the universe and sequences of events, a metaphysical force did not respond for your wishes for a happier life: you created significance out of events which occurred in a time where you needed some guidance. These words are probably blasphemous to Elder Shoemaker, which is why I respected his boundaries. Smiling and nodding does not come naturally to me, especially when there's a crusade on my ideologies and beliefs.
My dad recently sent me a book, The Dude and the Zen Master. Yes, that Dude. Jeff Lebowski. The book is a dialogue between Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman, the founder of the Zen Peacemakers organization in California. Right now I have a hard time reading the book because I keep imagining Bernie Sanders and The Dude having a conversation Indian-style on the rug that really tied the room together. But it's Bernie Glassman, a sage when it comes to mastering the various stages of zen. There are some who regard The Dude as the embodiment of zen and draw meaning from The Dude's unique style of speaking and acting throughout the movie. Each chapter is titled after a line in the movie. You mean coitus? The Dude is not in. I think it's down there somewhere--let me take another look. Some describe The Dude as a being who is released from attachment and lives in the now, where as Walter is someone who is not free from suffering. Some even went far enough to claim Donnie Kerabatsos was a figment of Walter's imagination, perhaps an old buddy from his time in Vietnam. Glassman describes a master bowler who got so caught up in the practice of bowling, he could no longer bowl. He was too much in his head to bowl. Eventually, he retained his zen and just bowled. I like this approach to the concept of zen because I'm familiar with the 1998 Coen Brothers movie. It reminds me of my drinking days with the White Russians and a friendly bartender, but now the film is offering me a chance to explore a path to spirituality that is consistently lost among 7th traditions, free coffee, and silencing my cell phone.
Why is there pressure to be spiritual? It's almost as if Elder Shoemaker wants me to be lost, so he can prey on my lack of prayer. Why must there be a path? I suppose that's why Buddhism speaks to me somewhat, that there's this notion of nothingness. To choose suffering and not pray for freedom of suffering. Buddhism seems to be a religion you can practice. Mormonism seems to be a religion you are conditioned to regurgitate on door steps and flights home from Los Angeles. I guess the point I'm getting to is that Mormonism and the like is aggressive, where Jews and Buddhists are your dad when he says, "call us if you need anything." The reassurance is there. Maybe I'm lost and I just need to call because I need something. Phone's ringin', Dude.
There's some sort of mysticism surrounding Buddhism I can't put my finger on. Perhaps it's because the religion is wise, ancient, profound. There are temples in which you can practice, meditate, find yourself. The traditions are rooted in ways and paths to enlightenment, to be a better person. Like the Big Book, I feel like Buddhism is essentially teaching you to not be a dick, to be one, centered, aware. Why must we have all these fables rich with allegories and morals and ethics and lessons when it can be stated so simply? Be aware. Don't be a dick.
Elder Shoemaker tells me he could only call home twice a year, and write once a week on Mondays, which is the most cult-like thing he said to me during the last hour of the flight to Seattle. He explained it was to keep him focused on his mission work and to not become distracted with family or outside issues. He even said "gosh dangit" a few times, which was pretty adorable. After the first one butterflied out of his mouth, I held my tongue to make sure I didn't pluck its wings with an f-bomb. We talked about traveling and where we would like to go. He seemed impressed with my knowledge of geography and travel by generic means for someone who is 28. Elder Shoemaker laughed when I told him I sometimes still get carded at R-rated movies, almost as if it was the first joke he had ever heard. I mentioned the Spokane Comedy Club to him as he was heading in that direction, if he wanted to attend in the future. He told me he wasn't allowed to go where there is smoking and alcohol. I'm sure if he became aware of my past, he would suggest the same to me. I later learned this isn't really a rule of Mormonism, but a strong suggestion or self implemented rule to maintain one's faith in Joe Smith.
The plane landed and the cabin began to collect its belongings and phone home to those who were expecting us. Elder Shoemaker zipped up his Spanish version of the Book of Mormon (dum dum dum dum dum) and wished me well to return home. He knew a lot about me. I wondered if I should send him along with some recreational references he can check to make sure I am who I said I am, Liz who lives with her mom and step-dad in West Seattle. I'm sure Elder Shoemaker was a little disappointed in his potential new recruit, but we spoke like adults, he with his opinions and I with mine. Of course I updated Facebook about this event as soon as my phone connected after landing. But it was an experience I had never had before. One time some Mormons came to my house in Minneapolis when I wasn't home and I was PISSED because everyone had these weirdo experiences except me. But now I can say I had one. I'm sure Elder Shoemaker is telling his many children and wives that he possibly met a second atheist on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle the same way I'm telling the internet about my first interaction with a Mormon.
Tonight I'm doing my inventory for Step 10: I'm reflecting on what I did right today (didn't drink, supported my loved ones and their endeavors, went to work and put in extra hours, went to a meeting) and what behavior could use improvement (don't beat myself up, don't read into everything, stay in touch with my family more). I'm supposed to do this every night, and most nights before bed, I follow a few rituals before reading Reddit three inches away from my face until I fall asleep. I didn't drink today, and most of the time, I feel like I finally plateaued into having my drinking under control. I see sobriety and my rudimentary search for spirituality as two things that may converge at some points, but they are two separate entities for the most part. Me being a better person will make me drink less. I don't really crave alcohol anymore even though there are some events or situations that make me uncomfortable. Like I said earlier, I'm trying not to be a dick while also trying to not drink. Sometimes those two things intersect, sometimes they don't.
In the days ahead, I want to do more research on practicing zen. There have definitely been times in my life where I have experienced this sensation without really knowing it. On a nine hour flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, I simply stared at the back of the seat in front of me. I was aware I was lost in my thoughts, but I never put a label on what I was unconsciously practicing. There have been many times where I've definitely "checked out," as in not being present whatsoever. It's strange to think ADHD led me to a place of unintentional zen. For now, I'm going to let The Dude be my guide. I am going to choose not to suffer like Walter while maintaining the obliviousness of Donnie. I'm not sure where Maude fits into all this, but I'm sure I'll find a way to squeeze her female form in here somewhere.