“Mom, is God real?”
Olive and I are driving along Turnagain Arm, where the mountains leap from the water on either side of the Seward Highway, that winds between rock and water, a once-in-a-lifetime ride for many and for us our corridor between homes.
Is God real?
As the sun dances across the sky, reflecting both shadow and light upon peaks and ridges, waves and sandbars, I see beauty everywhere.
Is it divine?
I don’t know.
I am not a believer. But I am not an atheist.
I am ambivalent.
I didn't grow up going to church, as my parents, who felt forced to attend when they were young, decided to let my brother and I find our own path to God. And so my trail is free of absolutes, it is not a straight road but more of a wandering one with many paths.
I answer my six-year-old daughter in the only way I know how: “ I don't know for sure babe, I think it depends on what you believe. Do you think God is real?”
“Then God is real.”
We pass mountain goats high up on the cliffs, cars pulled over on the side, people standing and looking up, cameras held high.
“I think I’ll ask Grandma and Pop that question. Because they go to church.”
“Good idea,” I say, thinking of Nick's parents singing in the praise band of their Methodist congregation. “They might be able to give you a better answer.”
And yet there’s more to my answer.
There’s that feeling I had on the ferry, when we crossed into Alaskan waters, my first time in this state, that’s now been my home for 16 years, and the northern lights greeted us, and I stood on the deck with my neck craned back, repeating: “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god….”
When I knew something far greater than me, a force I couldn't name or explain, held my small life, like cupped hands holding the last batch of sacred water.
Or when Nick and I reached the top of Cody Pass together, just the two of us surrounded by sky and mountains, and he smiled at me wth those blue eyes in a way that told me he liked me too. The way my heart held its breath, and time paused, so all that fit in the frame, all that mattered, was us, and this feeling we shared, both intimate and universal all at once.
Or when the California Honeydrops took over the stage at Salmonfest, on a sunny August day, and I danced with Nick, and friends who are like family, and a crowd full of Alaskans who might as well be family too, as we are all a community of seekers, and I felt the pulse of our collective heartbeats, and thought to myself: If I die in this moment it will have been enough.
Or when Olive, and Elias before her, crawl into bed with me at night, and I wake to see their sleeping faces before mine, our breath intertwined, their features so perfect in their restful pose, so complete and whole, and from me but not mine, and I stay with this vision, this realization, for a second or two, before the daily doings begin, and I lose the purity of the moment.
I try to explain what this feeling is to my daughter.
“Olive, I guess I believe God is in everything and everywhere like—“
“Like maybe he’s George Washington. Or our president now…Obama?”
I smile from my driver’s seat and say, “Well, maybe, those are real people, one who lived a long time ago and ones who's still alive today. I think god is in all of us and also in the mountains and the rivers and the trees and all of nature. I mean, look around Olive, look how beautiful it is all around us.”
A bald eagle circles the beach and Olive says: “And in birds?”
“Yep, birds and moose and even bears.”
“Can we listen to Queen, Mommy?”
And just like that we move from the divine to musical royalty, as we roll down the highway towards Seward and Lowell Point and our clearing that looks out over Resurrection Bay.
Later that evening, as we walk around our house site, overwhelmed by all there is to do, Olive discovers our “special” rock pile, collected over many beach walks, some striped, some heart shaped, some round like eggs.
Olive scrapes a quartz rock against a flat piece of broken shale and says: “Mommy look I can write with this rock.”
“Cool,” I say, distracted by my own thoughts of the four of us living in a trailer in the woods.
Then Olive pulls me back to the moment, the only place that really matters, when she says: “Mommy, I’m writing my name on this rock because I want nature to know me.”