I went to the ocean by myself today, because my wife is awesome and agreed to put the free beach parking sticker on my car this year, mainly because when we go together we usually take my car, but also so that I can go on occasion on my days off. I spent a lot of time in the water, because no one else was there to entertain me. The current was not strong, small waves, a good day for floating.
So I floated.
For about an hour I floated on my back, eyes closed, taking in deep breaths and holding them, ears submerged, hoping to eavesdrop on some passing dolphins. I took turns in imagining myself as a slice of wet bread floating on the surface or just imagining myself as water, for a while at least, then I remembered my decision not to have shoulder surgery and opt for physical therapy instead, of which I have not informed my doctor yet, so I thought I could do some shoulder exercises while I floated there, and I did range-of-motion and some snow angel swimming strokes and amused myself with the difference between where I thought I would be and where I was when I opened my eyes.
Later on I realized since I was holding my breath and closing my eyes anyway I could float face-down, and I did this for about an hour as well, drifting like a corpse in the surf, a little closer to shore this time so I could drag my fingers in the submerged sand, and it occurred to me that this is probably the sensation of birds, who can be buoyed by air, this weightlessness, this rejection of gravity, my body physically incapable of remaining in contact with the soil just by my selection of a certain posture and the will of the fluid surrounding me. Sucked away from the earth, I grabbed handfuls of sediment, to no avail. It reminded me of a book I read in elementary school called Dr. Gravity, in which a doctor invents a potion or treatment that causes those under its influence to rise hundreds of feet in the air and remain there. The whole town moves there, up to the clouds, the houses, everything, and at first everything is blissful, but before long people just stop caring. They lose any drive or ambition and are content with literally just floating along.
It occurred to me that if anyone were looking on they might think me dead. I imagined a confrontation with a concerned citizen with quick reactions seeing my white bread body bobbing in the surf and rushing out Baywatch-style to wrench me away from Poseidon’s grasp, only to discover angrily that I remained as yet among the living. I imagined apologizing instinctively for worrying them. But even in my imagined scenario I knew I wasn’t really sorry. Just wait ten seconds before you get your Jordans all salty and maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and why are you wearing your Jordans to the beach in the first place, really that one’s on you.
But I couldn’t imagine not apologizing. I knew I would. I had no remorse in my heart for playing in the ocean the way I felt like playing. But I would apologize for it if anyone took offense. Some would say this is just good etiquette. I tend to think it’s more indicative of the tragic flaw of America.
I’m not religious anymore, but when I was I was Catholic. One of the tenets of Catholicism is the forgiveness of sins, which is possible through a ritual involving confessing those sins to a priest and receiving a certain sentence, usually an accumulation of prayers to recite plus a promise to God not to repeat the sin, and perhaps a recommendation for behavioral modification for assistance in helping you avoid the sin in the future. This is what made me question my faith in the first place. I didn’t like the idea that I had to tell my sins to someone else, even a representative of God, in order to receive forgiveness. Two main reasons for this, which combined to thump my guilty conscience into submission and get me to back slowly away from Catholicism and religion altogether: First, I was more than aware that priests were just regular people with a collar. My first confession, I told Father Sam about my temper, about how I would get mad at my sisters when we played games and sometimes I yelled and said mean things or hit them or ran to my room and cried if I lost, which I believe came out of my mouth as “Sometimes I get mad at my sisters when we play games.” To which Father Sam raised his eyebrows and said, “That’s it?” We were face to face in the rectory. Alone, but highly visible to each other. I wasn’t prepared for that. On TV you always have a protective screen to at least shield the priest from the hot breathy vapors of your sins, if not add a certain anonymity to the whole affair. He assigned me a certain number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys and I had to admit I didn’t know the Hail Mary, at which he somehow rolled his eyes without moving them and switched all the prayers to Our Fathers.
So Father Sam couldn’t turn off his personality even while standing in as the representative for God. That’s fine. Still my favorite priest ever. In high school the priests at my Catholic school tended not to have much of a personality, for starters, and what’s more, listening to their sermons, I felt more adequately adult, more mature and intelligent, more savvy, more relevant than they were. Like if we’d ever have found ourselves eating at the same restaurant together, I would’ve felt compelled to order for them. Which isn’t to say I felt advanced, or beyond my years. But they all seemed very behind on life, stuck in place from the day they started bible study. And I was supposed to tell them my sins? How would they even understand the ways that I could sin?
Second reason: they said I had to confess even if I was pleased with my performance since my last confession. If I had modified my behavior to rectify past sinfulness and hadn’t acquired any new bad habits since, to my knowledge, this was no good enough. They said to think of something. We are not perfect creatures. We all sin. You just have to find it, even if it’s a small one. To which I thought, That’s bullshit, and no I did not count that cursing, because I’ve never believed language arts to be sinful. You want me to go in there and make something up? Not that they were wrong, because I certainly could have found something to confess in the month’s time between confessions, but also hypothetically I was right. It was possible, in fact it was more than possible not to sin for a certain amount of time, if you put your mind to it. Just because I never did that didn’t make its possibility any less true.
Still though, on the whole, I think I prefer the Catholic model to the other varying offshoots of Christianity, all of which I know very little about but I put into two categories in my head, either diluted Catholicism, or Catholicism Plus. With Catholics, if done correct, you have to ask for forgiveness. It’s not automatic. You have to admit your misdeeds, to another human person who will judge you whether they reveal their judgment of you or not (maybe that’s what the screen’s for), and who will judge you more harshly the next time if you don’t shape up. That’s deterrent number one. Number two, the sentencing. Saying a prayer fifty times in a row actually really sucks, and that’s assuming the priest doesn’t come up with more creative punishments or methods of making amends.
How that translates into other forms of Christianity, I can’t say, but I know how it shows up culturally. We prioritize the apology over the admission of the crime. From a very early age. At least in Catholic confessionals, they make you identify the sin. But in the hasty conveyance of morality to our toddlers, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase, in fast food restaurants, in malls and grocery stores, “It doesn’t matter. Say you’re sorry.”
I don’t know enough about other forms of Christianity to be specific, but I bring it up because of Easter and Christmas, and all the church signs I see that try to entice attendance during these two specific occasions during the year. The two-day-per-year Christian crowd, of which there are many, given how full up the parking lots always seem to be on these days, at least at all the churches I’ve ever lived near, would likely fall into this lip service category. How can you be loyal to something twice every 365 days and still call it God?
Even if that’s a gross oversimplification, that is undeniably the message of our culture. Just say you’re sorry. God will forgive you. Consider yourself absolved, and then do it again next time. Manners over modification of behavior. Apologies over empathy. It’s all about appearances. Say one thing, do another.
I live in the South now, not Texas anymore but the traditional South, the slavery South, where the phenomenon is even more pronounced. People are very nice down here, much more so than the miserable bastards in the Midwest, and I suspect they always have been, exceedingly cordial and polite at the dinner table and then brandishing the whip in the fields. My wife’s first trip through Tennessee, I don’t remember what happened at a gas station but evidently people thought she needed help with something and like four people offered, on the spot, men and women. And these are same people who voted in a pussy grabber.
(Sidebar: I’m trying not to think about this upcoming “Peace Summit” with North Korea, because Trump is such a pronounced liar, so ingrained, he seems to only tell the truth through its opposite. So when he says he wants to make peace, I get very very nervous. All I can hear is “I’m about to go piss off an unstable dictator—on purpose—to start a war. “)
My kids will not apologize if they aren’t sorry. They will not be taught to get out of an uncomfortable situation by lying. I’d rather bring them up Catholic than bring them up two-faced. They will know empathy first, manners a distant second. And they can do the dead man float in the ocean as much as they damn well please.
I mean, I hope they don’t, because I would freak the hell out.