From Pastor to Bastard: The Theology of Death and How it Made Me Piss My Pants
07 August 2012Written by Matt Debenedictis
The church was the sumptuous centerpiece of my life well before I even understood that religions had their own cultures. Before I had the credentials to be a pastor, I lived as one–regaling verses and interpretations to all who would listen. I was snobbish before I could drive. I remember telling one girl, after a youth group service full of conversions and boisterous talk of being in a generation on a spiritual revival, that her enjoyment of The Beatles would be the first steps on a long path to hell.
Snobbish might be the polite way to say I was a pretentious, holier-than-thou dickhole.
One day, all it took was a simple uttering of two words to revert my thinking, to fully embrace a new ideology, and I had to say it out loud, even if only to myself.
In the midst of a crowd swelling in joy and loaded as fuck on every variation of overpriced summer drinks conceivable I said Fuck Death.
The seventeen-year-old version of myself–the one that came before the tattooed sleeves, the one that had never been ejected from bars for punching pinball machines with a pension for cheating–would never had uttered such a thing. Death was the force of life; it was to be feared and revered in the same utterance of thought. The first time my mind truly wandered into its natural ethos, a sweat began pouring over me.
One day I will have a thought. I will close my eyes, and that thought and myself will be gone. My toes curled on the reality, my legs began convulsing as if trying to escape their masters of bone and joint–my hands soon mimicked them, unable to keep a grip on the wheel. There was life before you, and there will be life after.
I awoke on the side of the road; my glaring white Honda Prelude had taken a forceful rest against some thick bushes off the line of the Ohio interstate. I had definitely pissed myself. The smell was evidence, but what was urine and what was water from my pores I couldn’t determine. From then on panic attacks began as an expected reaction to the idea of not only my own death but of those around me. Almost nightly I would sneak into my parent’s bedroom to check on their existence; relived by the proof in exhale pushing the blankets up I’d pray to God, You’re not done with them.
Pondering about death is really dwelling on what life is about. You can’t change death, but it does have with it a modifiable perception of what it means, and that will drive your life. My younger self took his queries to three pastors, who ended up being doppelgangers of each other. So much so that I cannot remember their names or faces, so for their section of the column I will simply refer to them as The Pastor-Tron 3000, a highly refined machine built out of rigorous schooling for the purpose of denomination morale and strong uses of the phrase “God’s will.”
The Pastor-Tron 3000 had three offices, each identical in a paused shade of sundown, the walls were blanketed with bibles and books about bibles–the probable reason why light refrained from temptations to enter the doorway.
Degrees were placed aptly as well as the commentaries spread out on the desks, like a spiritual centerfold demanding lustful glares. I sat in an identical factory-fresh leather chair in each office. The Pastor-Tron 3000 offered me soda and a flyer to an upcoming event to save souls at a high school football game through the use of a survey with a final question of, “Do you know where you will go when you die?”
“Rejoice in death,” The Pastor-Tron 3000 engaged my question. “This world is not for us, which is why death brings with it a pain. But as you grow older you will find a comfort in the passing of those around you. You’ll feel God come to them and bring them the rest they deserve.”
The Pastor-Tron 3000 hurried along the process of conversation, as I left the offices I was reminded once again of the fight for souls at Friday’s game.
“Guess what we ask after they say they don’t know what happens when they die?” The Pastor-Tron 3000 was very capable of being smug,
I nodded for the answer.
“What if you could know for sure?” They chuckled. “Then we’ll tell them.”
At first I mumbled Fuck Death, and before I could take a breath, an oversized beach ball being tossed around Centennial Park collided with my face, so I screamed it. FUCK DEATH!
The Flaming Lips had begun, so my declaration was swallowed by everyone else’s screams. The psychedelic, debonair Wayne Cohen had begun to wield his confetti gun, dousing everyone in the first few rows.
Death as a place for a deity to enlighten only acts as a brief comfort, and that will fade as you move on in the search of the next place of a God’s presence. In the end, when you’ve said your goodbyes and kissed that loved one on the forehead one more time, treating death as death, you’ll understand that you got to experience the miracle of that person.
This year two people I loved left what we understand to be our existence. The pain dug a trench in me, but I didn’t fall into a panic attack, I embraced the true beauty that they even lived.
Particles arranged themselves, and growth began. The stars became stars, and a planet became Earth (when we got around to calling it such). We were small in the beginning, but we became new things as our world changed. Soon we began walking, gaining energy by casting off the four-legged march for survival. Our yells became patterns that soon became words.
We developed policies, we designed order, and we created Gods and governments to maintain it all. Whether good or bad it doesn’t matter because this is all a miracle and each of our births have followed suit. Our failures are our own but so are our accomplishments. We are not subjected slaves by design waiting for the bus that comes when the heart gives way.