“Even in my most desperate moments, when I was ready to embrace religion, I still couldn’t figure out which one I belonged to.”
“What religion are you?” my 14-year-old son, Seamus, asked me the other night, as we were driving home from an ice cream shop. His mother and I have been divorced since he was 6 months old. He’s grown up a strict Catholic, serving as an altar boy, going on a mission to Haiti, and now attending a Jesuit high school under his mom’s watchful Irish-Catholic eye.
“Nah, I just have read a lot about it and done my share of meditation. So it’s the best answer I have at the moment.”
Seamus was satisfied enough with my answer to finish his cone. But his question stayed with me.
The next morning I got up early and looked out my bathroom window. A cold front had come through overnight, and after days of soupy fog and humidity, the air had finally turned clear and cool. A full moon, shining a vibrant white over the Atlantic Ocean, hung perfectly in the frame of the window.
A couple hours later, I took Penny, our 4-month-old yellow lab, for a walk. She sniffed clumps of grass, chased small birds, and tried to lick a toddler who ambled by, while I thought more about Seamus’ question.
I was born a Quaker, 10th generation on my dad’s side, going all the way back to Timothy Matlack, who is said to have been the scribe who put the words to the Declaration of Independence on paper. But Timothy wasn’t much of a Quaker. He was kicked out of meetings for betting on cock fights, bear baiting (where, just for sport, you chain a bear to a stake and then unleash waves of dogs to attack it), and participating in the Revolutionary War, against the protests of his pacifist relatives.
My parents were hyper-intellectual hippies whose Quaker faith was more about protesting the Vietnam War than finding God. At least that’s how it seemed to me as a young child. While I respect what Quakers stand for, I don’t identify myself as a Quaker.
I am more of a Timothy type of Matlack. I became CFO of a big company, and then a venture capitalist, as my own form of rebellion against my do-good parents. In the process, I got myself into a heap of trouble participating in my own version of bear baiting—as a drunk with an proclivity for bad behavior. I eventually wound up on my knees, pleading for God’s—any god’s—intervention.
Even in my most desperate moments, when I was ready to embrace religion, I still couldn’t figure out which one I belonged to.
But now I know.
I have Seamus, with whom I share a secret handshake ending in a father-son jumping chest bump. I also have a 5-year-old son, Cole, who climbs into bed with me before my eyes are even open and spews whole paragraphs about Batman without stopping for air. And I have a teenage daughter, Kerry, who, despite her shy temperament, performs in her school plays with so much ease and pleasure that she moves the audience to tears and laughter every time.
My wife, the most beautiful woman I know, tickles me when she thinks I am being arrogant and rubs my feet after particularly long days. I can ride my bike down the huge hill near our house and scream at the top of my lungs, not caring if anyone hears me. And some mornings, the moon appears in the frame of my window just for me.
This is what I am. I have no idea what you call it. But I believe in all of this. None of it is an accident. This is my religion.
photo: bluebuddhastudio / flickr