I’d apologize for the leading title, but I’ve wasted a lot of time apologizing for things I didn’t need to.
I just had to tell you—right this moment—that you saved me.
In my former life (the God-saved one), I heard that word used in ways that gave me anxiety and depression before I knew those could be clinical conditions. Sometimes, even after I’d been baptized the first time (out of two), I’d pray during the offering with the sole purpose of making sure I’d really become a Christian, just to be safe. But still, to this day, I can’t remember ever having a genuine moment where I really knew that I was one with the evangelical community. I was always too drawn to the process—to the layers of experience—to feel like a conversion moment narrative could fit inside my sprawl. On occasion, as a teenager, this lack of a translatable story would send me into complete meltdowns, convinced that there must be something wrong with me, that somehow I wasn’t listening, that maybe I wasn’t reading the right book.
As a college writing instructor, I used to include Langston Hughes’s personal essay, “Salvation,” in every semester. I typically taught it to a group of freshmen fresh from the suburbs of Tulsa, needing to stretch their definitions even more than I did at their age. It’s a story about Hughes as a child having a crisis of faith and losing it while he’s surrounded by people who fail to see him. Occasionally, my students dismissed it, assuming that he just “didn’t get it” or that he was too immature to understand “true faith” because young Langston kept waiting patiently to “see Jesus” in the midst of a noisy revival hall, longing for peace but never finding it. When his aunt heard him crying in bed later, she didn’t ask him what was wrong or what he felt; she just assumed that he was overcome with the joy of the Spirit. Most of my students hurt for and with him. They wrote papers that healed me.
Teaching has saved me some days. When I didn’t want to get up but had to because there was George Saunders or Sandra Cisneros to read and discuss, I was saved from the pit of Myself Left To Myself that I remember preachers often scaring me into. Still, I need that pit some days because I would not be Who I Am without it; I won’t apologize for it.
But on the days I thought I couldn’t get out, I didn’t open a Bible or go to church (at least not usually—there are still times for that). Instead I watched another episode of Treme, or got a tattoo of my favorite poem, or asked my husband to pick up Chinese food. When I was younger, I often felt out of place for being so person-centered. I’d question myself for feeling that “fictional” stories were often more real to me than Scripture, that I cared a lot less about my friends’ ideologies than about which beer they were drinking that week. I think on some level, I was born a Catholic at heart in the purest sense—the sense that craves the body and blood above all else, that lives love in all its physicality and immanent transcendence. That defines truth by the tangible. There’s a reason that “God is love” was still my favorite Bible verse long after I quit having favorite Bible verses.
Too much of my life has been wasted on chasing after certainty and a sense I could belong in a place that didn’t fit me.
But I never had to “make sure” with you—any of you. With stories (the ones that kept me driving and eating), with poetry, with the family I’ve built for myself, with every person I still call friend on the other side of thirty—there was never a doubt that you would keep me going. You’ve always seen me, as a truth in and of myself, as the Alpha and Omega of I Am Who I Am—beyond my belief system, beyond my distaste for salad, beyond (and because of) any and every external detail.
When I moved back to Tulsa and tried to build a life again, my chosen community gave me laughter and TV shows that became our own language. There is no question in my mind that, while I would have found another way to survive over that time, it would have been a hell of a lot harder without you. In every morning, afternoon, and evening, you were there in spirit and in flesh, in whatever form I needed. Maybe one of my selves could still say sometimes that God was in all these moments, loving me through these people—but my version is the one that was made for me.
Tonight, alone, I can feel you—all of you—in the glimpses of salvation, the memories of times when waiting for the spiritual to show up would have killed me. Before I go to sleep, Fox Mulder or Carrie Bradshaw (my current saviors) will remind me what love is so I can enter the world again. Eucharist in a smirk or high heels.
Casie Dodd has lived on Elysian Fields in New Orleans and in a Chicago soup kitchen, but she claims Oklahoma as her native home. She has a lot to say about grandmothers. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in This Land, Dappled Things, and Motherly. Find links to her work at trotterdoddwrites.wordpress.com.
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