#12. What Do You Believe In?

A Lot of Stuff

Dear Reader,

It's November and I'm thinking of a half-eaten box of muesli from February. Bought from a fancy organic store, I stuffed it between three packets of chips in the metal cupboard of my PG room. It was supposed to be my midnight healthy-snack. I had it twice, or thrice I think. And then a pandemic happened. I returned to that room four months later only to pack-up, throw away all the half-eaten food and leave. 

For what it's worth, I really did believe that I could be a person who eats muesli at midnight. A person who believes that muesli must always be accompanied by tea. A person who believes that it is a hundred percent okay to eat breakfast food at 2 AM. 

For what it's worth, I did believe in things, quite strongly.

There is a phrase that goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” It tries to imply that in extreme crisis, war, overwhelming situations —  there are no atheists, everyone believes in God.

It is possibly true that when presented with the unimaginable, we tend to go soft on our rational muscles. We lean on to some Big Idea that is perhaps governing us from the sky, or below the earth — wherever you think your God lives. It is the most natural of instincts.

Joan Didion writes, “Of course we would all like to "believe" in something, like to assuage our private guilts in public causes like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course, it is all right to do that; that is how, immemorially, things have gotten done. But I think it is all right only so long as we do not delude ourselves about what we are doing, and why.” 

To be very truthful, I don’t buy God or his books. Not even for a second. I've seen people around me stuck in ever-unfolding crisis spiral down and turn to God. I've observed silently, sometimes from the exact situation they are trapped in. I wondered if it was normal to not feel the need for this supernatural support.

Every time I see a person hold an active relationship with any God, I begin to notice a fundamental difference in how we experience our lives. Not necessarily a difference that holds us apart, just a difference that claims its existence and demands to be acknowledged

How was I to coerce every shred of rational thought and believe in an entity that I thought was hugely problematic? What was it about me that even in the most engulfing sadness and chaos I did not feel like turning to this Big Idea of religion that had rules and prescribed ways of living?

My friend Anshumaan once suggested that they intended on living against the norm at all costs. That if one has to protest, or even make a point the best way to do it is to live anti-institution, anti-establishment, anti-societal norms. I agreed. It explained why I didn't want God in my life. If I thought religion was a patriarchal tool, then my life choices had to denounce it.

One thing I can't denounce though is belief itself — not in some supernatural deity or power, but just belief in its own independent sense. Think of what Julie Delphy says in the movie Before Sunrise —  "If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt."

I suspect I believe in my own non-linear, non-conclusive narrative. I suspect there are things I place bulks of sentimental value in. Here are some of them —  a pen stand made entirely out of newspaper tubes and excessive glue, a bottle of dried pink nail polish, a string of jute rope that was originally tied into a bow on a birthday present, a tiny mirror that was pulled out from a makeup pouch, empty maybelline colossal kajal sticks, an unused and expired liquid lipstick. 

Truthfully speaking, these are things I have never been able to get rid of. I give myself vague reasons to hold on to them. Teju Cole says, “These artist-collectors, in placing one thing next to another, create a third thing—and this third thing, like a subatomic particle produced by a collision of two other particles, carries a charge.”

One summer I sat in front of Thom's bakery and jotted down two pages of notes in a tiny blue notebook. I munched on a chicken puff, dropping flaky bits of it on the grey-colored tank top I was wearing.

The blue notebook still sits in my desk drawer with those two pages of notes. It has another page in between with a Silvya Plath quote scribbled onto it — the first-ever quote of hers that I read. The rest of the pages are blank. I don't use the notebook anymore. But occasionally, I still find myself digging through Silvya Plath poems online when I'm sad, bored, or just exhausted.

My sister and I picked up two souvenir pencils from the Jewish Museum when we were in Berlin — one for each. I was thirteen and did not at that point know what Nazi or Fascism meant. I just knew Hitler was bad. The pencil was bright red, with the Museum's logo and name engraved in white. I used mine for a month. One afternoon, the point broke. If I sharpened it, the logo and text would turn into filings. So I retired the pencil and kept it in a box. 

Three or four years later, when I read about the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and The War, I scurried through my box of things to check if I still had the pencil.

I don't know how I arrived at these objects, or if I can really justify each one's existence and meaning. I don't even know if I can draw a straight connecting line from my dismissal of Faith to my weird obsession with preserving. But I know that I do believe in things. Strongly, like I did in the image of a person eating muesli in a yellow bowl with a steel spoon. 

Maybe the subjects of my belief aren't concrete enough. Maybe they're not worthy of belief at all. But to quote the wonderful Teju Cole again, "What do I believe in? Imagination, gardens, science, poetry, love, and a variety of non-violent consolations. I suspect that in this aggregate all this isn't enough, but that's where I am for now."

Thank you for reading.

Six Impossible Things is a monthly newsletter about art, books, reading, and feelings. You may sign up if you want it delivered to your inbox. You can follow me on Instagram @a_catinthesink