Stained glass is beautiful, I think, and it’s one of the reasons I feel nostalgic about the church. Dimmed artificial lights warmed the sanctuary. It used to be candles, which I preferred, but somewhere along the way someone decided they were too dangerous. The sour touch of citrus would be in the air—from orange rolls, of course. We’d go to church because my mother needed us to. I remember nothing about what the pastors would say as it was exceptionally boring. But I remember I was full. Full like the moment after you pray and a sense of okayness spills in and and you’re full. That was when I still believed in God.
The first Buddhists I ever knew were a couple and their home down the street was filled with plants. They walked so much, morning, night, and midday too probably, but I would have been at school during that time, so I can’t be sure. When they left for retreats across the world they would leave detailed instructions. "The weeping fig in the kitchen needs three and a half seconds of water from the blue pail every two and a half days." Just like that. It reminds me of eighth grade and having long hair and realizing I was gay and being confirmed into the Methodist Church. Wednesdays were for bible study, but Sundays after service I debated our youth leader over the more conservative doctrines of our faith. That was when I stopped believing in God.
And then I wasn’t full anymore. For several years I stayed that way, searching and searching. Fatigued and sweaty. Confused most days. In fact, I came here to Penn like that. Fatigued, sweaty, and confused.
Then I met Patrick. I called him Patrick the Buddhist to all my friends. It was outside of Stiteler, within a month of arriving to Penn, when he got me thinking about God again. During our first conversation, he told me he could tell I was confused and I said yes, thank you. We met for coffee only once after that and he talked to me about Buddhist theology, but it wasn’t mine. Then he asked why I didn’t go to church again, and I said I’m not really sure.
So I went to church again. The first time I’d been alone in my life. But the nostalgia was gone and the fullness, too. The pastor was old and the sermon was dry and it didn’t relate to my life at all. Then, they denounced gay people and disparaged immigrants so I felt I’d overstayed my welcome. When the service ended, I left unsatisfied and quite sad, but I also left thinking. And then I stayed that way for a while. Sad, but thinking.
The most recent Buddhist in my life was very short. Shorter than I am, which is notable because I’m a little man of 5'6½". So it begs to mention that this particular Buddhist was the first man I had been with romantically who was shorter than me. He was a composer of symphonies and a conductor of orchestras. And the most sublime was that he played the piano. We used to talk over chess, and I would tell him about the feeling I was searching for. Full, I would say. Full like the moment after you pray and a sense of okayness spills in and and you’re full. He would laugh and tell me that I was searching for enlightenment, but I was never convinced. Then, he would say check mate and the game would end.
Twenty–four stories up, if I remember correctly, the sun was pink over the Schuylkill. I was sitting on his couch post Chinese take–out as he poured himself an inappropriately large glass of room temperature champagne, leftover from earlier in the night. Then he smiled and danced for me a bit and said "I’m going to play you something." His black spinet was somehow always out of tune, and I never asked why he hadn't had it tuned properly. But when he played, I cried and cried because I was full. It was when I believed in God again.
There was this morning a while back. Sweet, bitter cold outside. I had just finished C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain and I was thinking about the why of everything. The sun was still shy, probably waking up from a long night. But suddenly it was soaring and I took a really satisfying sip of echinacea tea. There and then, I noticed that hint of promise that’s only appreciable in morning light.
That’s where I’m at right now. Nowhere different, really. Still sad. Still thinking. Confused most days. And even though the fullness I’m searching for sometimes comes in more secular moments, I believe in God again.
Full. It might be during a two to three hour dinner with all of your favorite people on this earth and there’s a quarter–full glass of Cabernet in your non–dominant hand and you’re laughing so hard at the story someone just told across the table and there’s no more room to add anything because you’re full. Or after you flip the last page of the most satisfying book you’ve read in a while and you put on a Liszt symphony or a Chopin nocturne and watch the steam dance away from your cup of echinacea tea and you’re full. Just like that.
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