I remember the first time I was informed I would be going to hell. I was about eight years old. My sister and I were riding in the back of my grandmother’s van. She was up front, tsking and clucking over the terrible fact that neither of us had been baptized.
“Such a shame that they’ll be going to hell,” my grandmother’s friend said. Her tone was so matter of fact she could have been talking about eggs going bad. Well, if you leave them out on the counter, of course they’re going to be rotten.
But she wasn’t talking about eggs, she was talking about my soul.
I waited for my grandmother to contradict her, to say something, anything, about how that wasn’t true. We were good kids. Polite kids. Nice kids. But my grandmother just sighed and nodded.
My eyes went wide as I looked to my sister. My lovely sister, Lisa, a few years older and far more firmly grounded in reality than I ever have been, just rolled her eyes and shook her head. Neither one of us would be going to hell, she assured me.
Lucky for me, I believed my sister, but the whole incident never left me. Not because I worried about burning forever in a pit of fire, but about why a woman who knew me, and who I knew loved me--deep down, really loved me--could believe such a thing.
My grandmother would always take us to church when we spent the weekend with her, and I loved to look at the stained glass windows that lined that nave. I was fascinated by the symbols they contained, swords and trumpets, demons and angels. They were beautiful, filled with more symbolism than I could comprehend. I knew there was something big there, something more than the simple linear story they told, something just beyond my understanding.
Even at eight I knew I wasn’t seeing what my grandmother was in that illuminated glass. She saw answers there. She saw a way to live a life. She saw a pathway to redemption. But even when I tried my hardest I couldn’t see what she found there. Reason always battled with belief.
As I grew, my fascination with mythology grew, but I still could never find the kind of absolute truth that my family and friends found in their various religions. As an adult I was able to cobble together an unorthodox patchwork system of spirituality that I hold close to my heart.
But time doesn’t heal some hurts. I know that my grandmother went to her grave believing in her heart that she and I would be separated for all of eternity, but I’d like to believe that the Truth is bigger than our worldly struggles for understanding and sense. I’d like to believe that the Truth is big enough for all of us...and yes, I mean all.