Eli’s found something to believe in

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Belief is not something I ram down my kids’ throats, because it is an individual thing, something that comes in a moment, some point along the way.

It is a long-held truism in our household that Eli does not believe in god. He has been a man of science, while his brother Oscar has stated an unswerving faith in that spirit who guides us.

So it was not without surprise that Eli’s casual mention of god doing this or that while I was driving him to the dentist on a sunny afternoon caught my attention.

“I thought you didn’t believe in God,” I said.

He shrugged nonchalantly.

“No. I do now, I told you, after Seattle…”

Seattle was indeed awesome, but I hadn’t realized there’d been an awakening. Had it been the kick-butt Japanese we ate? The Space Needle? The beautiful view out living room window of our bed and breakfast?

“What happened in Seattle?” I asked.

“I told you — or I told dad — at dinner,” Eli said. “I saw this guy, a handicapped guy, with a white beard, three different times in Seattle.”

It was hard to watch the road. I so wanted to stare at my beautiful 11-year-old’s face as he described the reasoning behind his spiritual awakening, the very moment that instilled him with a great sense of some larger force behind the chaos.

“Wow,” I said, careful not to ask too many probing questions. “Cool. So seeing that guy three times made you believe?”

Eli nodded vehemently, may even have rolled his eyes a little at my dim-wittedness.

“Yes!” he said.

I smiled.

I realized in that moment that I’d been sad about Eli’s faithlessness.

Even though I eschew specific religious teachings of late, I hold in great esteem the idea of a being of some sort whose presence can offer peace of mind and answers for life’s many unanswerables.

I’d kicked myself for not giving that to him, but I didn’t know how, exactly.

I told him my own stories of belief, then, not dissimilar, about the time when I first lived in New York and walked a different way to work every day but still saw the same guy coming toward me.

Or how now, lately, my faith gets restored by seeing the gentleman who cleans up garbage and scrapes old stickers and posters off street posts with a razor blade almost daily. I come across him in different neighborhoods, all around Brooklyn, like my own personal patron saint.

“I totally understand,” I said. “Sometimes there’s something, someone, that makes you realize we’re not completely in charge, but that it’s supposed to be whatever it is.”

There it was. Our unwitting family religion. Call it serendipity or fate or kismet. Whatever it is, I have it, and now my son had it too, completely of his own volition.

We parked on Seventh Avenue near Union Street and walked around the corner to the dentist.

We were checking on a tooth Eli lost. He’d complained enough about “a funny feeling” there that I found it worrisome and thought it best to check it out.

We were in the dentist probably 15 minutes, paid $45 so the dentist could give us faith that everything was okay, and were on our way again, slightly sheepish about the unnecessary trip.

Eli ran ahead and it was then that I saw him, head down to avoid the gaze of passersby, walking slightly sideways toward me on Seventh Avenue. It was the Brooklyn Cleaner, my strange muted muse.

I called to Eli excitedly as he passed. “Eli, Eli, there he is! That’s him! The guy I see everywhere!”

“That’s him?” he said incredulously, wrapping his mind around the coincidence.

I hugged Eli close, and together we watched the familiar stranger’s back as he walked away.

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Reader Feedback

jackie from friend says:
i was very happy to read this story .happy to hear eli for the first time found god .that is good
Jan. 4, 2013, 7:01 pm
M from K says:
Steph, I love this story and I so get it. It was exactly what I needed to read right now. Serendipitous perhaps?
Remind me to tell you the story about the guy on the train in Italy...
Jan. 4, 2013, 7:30 pm
David on Middagh from Brooklyn Heights says:
I'm forwarding this piece to a friend who scrapes light poles.
Jan. 10, 2013, 1:36 pm

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