The summer before my junior year, we lived on the last block of North Arlington, a mile-long boulevard tucked into the backside of the San Pablo hills. North Arlington wove its way uphill where it ended as a dirt road. Beyond the dirt road a cow pasture extended along oak studded hills and valleys seemingly without end. Our house sat on the dirt road between a lady who shared her home with maybe half a dozen Collies and a family who believed that Jesus walked out of his grave like a ghost. Sometimes I visited the daughter at the Jesus house. We sat on the front porch and talked.
Lise was nice enough, but she had some strange ideas. Whatever we started out talking about, our conversations always ended up about Jesus. “He died and rose again.” “You mean he actually lived after he died?” “Exactly.” Did she think I was stupid? “I’m Jewish,” I informed her. “So is Jesus,” she said as matter-of-factly as if he lived down the street.
I couldn’t reason with her, so after awhile I avoided her. Why did I need religion? I had friends and had kissed a boy. Yet, deep in undefined places, I felt unsettled. Especially recently, since home had become a place of unrest.
My parents argued a lot that year, often in hushed tones as I tossed restlessly in bed. The tension and their secrecy disturbed me. I didn’t like being around either of them; I didn’t like feeling pulled between my parents as if I had to choose between them. So, I avoided home whenever possible. When I wasn’t at school or with my friends, I spent time in the cow pasture where, like the woods on 162nd street, I found a peaceful refuge.
One quiet April afternoon, I walked to the cow pasture with my German Shepherd. From under a favorite oak tree, I watched King search a nearby gully for a rock to gnaw (already the tips of his canine teeth were chipped off from his obsessive love for chewing rocks). His intensity struck me and I laughed. Dogs are so simple. Give them a rock and they’re happy.
A slight breeze parted the leaves and I looked up through them at a brilliant blue sky. At that moment, an awareness of something beyond my natural senses aroused a feeling within me as gentle as the unseen breeze that rustled the leaves. I wanted to believe that someone was up there. And so, for the first time in my life, I talked to God.
“I don’t believe in you,” I said, “but if you exist, would you please be patient with me?”
God would have to be patient with me because I floundered for a few years.