Middle-age compels re-assessing, parenthood too, along with any blunt-force diagnosis to either yourself or a loved one – cancer, schizophrenia, ALS, autism, anything. Karen delivered Shannon when we were forty-one, the ingress to middle-age, and twenty months later Shan was labeled autistic, making a profound confluence for re-calibration.
Faith often tops such reflective shufflings. Middle-aged atheists, for instance, even skeptics, often doubt their unbelief as mortality edges in. First newborns, too, are famous for eliciting the sense of a higher power, whereas the suffering induced by a fatal disease or a burdensome mental disorder can shock the faith of even the most devoted, or at least throw into question the character of a heretofore loving God. Rather than any such reversals, though, Shannon’s diagnosis invoked in both Karen and me stark affirmations, ones adumbrated nearly the moment we got together.
“Do you believe in God?,” I’d asked her a couple of days into our brief courtship. Having never asked anyone so directly, I had no idea what prompted the question.
We’d met a couple of years before when I’d come back from Alaska to visit family in Connecticut. Though we were both seeing people at the time, neither relationship materialized, and two years later Karen emailed from New York, where she had lived most of her adult life. Forty year olds have an urgency that the young don’t, and by chance I was scheduled to go to a conference in Maine not long after we started corresponding. We both wanted kids, and with two lifetimes of dating between us knew that at our age such tender-footing likely wouldn’t produce offspring. Having grown intimate by email, we sided with immediacy, and with that decision I probably guessed that all other barriers had collapsed as well.
“Do you believe in God?”
Seated on the ground just off a path, enough moonlight bled through broken cloud cover to glisten the Atlantic’s gentle washings of the dark stones below, while the approaching swells lilted a few moored sailboats. Karen seemed as surprised by the directness of her answer as I had by that of the question’s.
“I do,” she said. “Yes. I do.”
Veiled in struggling moonlight, we sat silent for a while, with only the waves and an occasional halyard clank ruffling the quiet. Born in 1968, each of us grew up in the Northeast, ensconced in the long, braided shadows of Lyell, Darwin, Hubble, and decaying orthodoxy. If belief hadn’t fallen out of fashion within our demographic, admission of it certainly had, and among countless others Karen and I had learned to bury our respective faiths. Within that simple exchange, though, we’d exhumed them, flooding in oxygen, and if I’d been drawn to her before, in the silence following her confession I knew I was with somebody I could love.
“Me too,” I said, reciprocating her disclosure.
Neither of us could readily define what exactly we believed in, only that despite every evidence to the contrary we shared an intuition that a creative force of some kind existed, one that still – bucking even longer odds – laid hands on earthly affairs. This shared hunch would serve as a great stabilizer in the storms to come, ones that unbeknownst to us were just then startling Karen’s womb.