Reportedly, there are no atheists in foxholes. (The proverb is silent on agnostics.)
I’ve been thinking about this, mostly because I am under a mountain of stress. It’s the worst sort – It’s going to hurt me and someone I care about. I can’t move it, manage it, shift it or alleviate it, I can’t do anything other than endure. A terrible thing is going to happen , on a timeline that is utterly unclear to me, and I can’t stop it. I’m stuck in this foxhole.
All of this explains why I had no control over my thoughts for an hour on Sunday night, could not budge them from the hellish soundtrack they were stuck on. I was paralyzed with fear and dread.
Earlier times, I would have prayed. Not because I thought that prayers would fix it, but because when you are at the bottom of a foxhole, you are in the middle of a war, and what is prayer to the divine but an attempt to have someone more powerful get you out of this foxhole?
When you are an agnostic in a foxhole, you know that there is only you and what you have made. All you have are your resources, your wits and your skills. If there’s anyone to help you, it’s because you have built that relationship on your own. There’s no divine intervention in an agnostic’s foxhole.
I meditated, I practiced deep breathing, used every mindfulness skill I have acquired in the last six months. Pulled out the PTSD coping skills they taught me after Gabe. Finally I went and took a sleeping pill, deciding if I was stuck in the foxhole, at least I might as well get some sleep.
Today, if I am honest, has not been much better. It’s probably been worse. Tension in my shoulders, a weight in my chest. It hurts to breathe deeply, I cannot focus. A feeling of uncontrollable dread stalks me. It’s wretched.
In the days after Gabe, when this used to happen a lot more, I had a discipline that I called “a million points of light”. I would deliberately look for wonder and beauty in the world, positing this was proof that God loved me and I was not alone.
I got into my car after taking the train home from work tonight. The song we sang at Whytelash’s wedding was playing. I remembered love and friends and joy and victory.
I am still small in this world. Not all that powerful, not all that wise. I can’t fix what I know is going to go terribly wrong. I can’t even protect someone I love from this. A terrible thing will happen.
I am not alone in this foxhole. It’s actually quite crowded in here. I don’t have to be strong or wise. I have enough friends that are. For now at least, this foxhole is home. And like the words we sang
“Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you
Home, let me come home
Home is wherever I’m with you.”
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s – Home.
Turns out if you are an agnostic, you can actually have a bit of a party in a foxhole.