The making of an atheist…
The man I loved died. His name was Alec and he passed out of all being on an afternoon in late winter. It was snowing and he asked me to take him to the window. So, wrapping him in a blanket I carried him to his favourite chair by the French windows. We sat together, watching snow collect on the bare bones of jasmine and honeysuckle. In the chill garden, snowdrops fulfilled their name and the trees stretched long limbs studded with foetal buds against a pale sky. He would never see them open. He died peacefully in my arms, as the last day of February crept towards a March that for him never came. His ashes were scattered and borne away on the wings of a winter breeze.
‘Alec is dead’ became a constant litany that my mind chanted as I wandered through the following days and weeks. It was as if I had to keep repeating it in order to convince myself of the terrible truth. Through it all I drank coffee and went about the daily business, firmly believing that God was giving me the strength to keep going. I was that rare thing you see, a man of faith.
Winter was hesitant in departing that year, trailing an icy cloak into spring’s allotted space on the calendar. I moved dreamlike through March, April and all the months that followed in strict succession, on into autumn, and then winter again.
Standing by the window clasping a mug of hot, sweet coffee between my hands, I watched snow shroud the skeletal branches of the Christmas tree I’d put up in Alec’s memory, ‘can’t have Christmas without a real fir tree, never mind that the needles drop, you old misery, and don’t give me that pagan stuff either, you love it just as much as I do, Isaac. You just won’t admit it.’ His voice still resonated in my mind, forever a part of me. So I bought and dressed a fir tree, as if he was still there, still with me, but it served only to emphasise my loss. It was with relief that Twelfth Night came and I could remove the tree from the house without feeling I was letting him down. It still lay in the garden, a forlorn remnant of Christmas past, reminding me more starkly than ever, especially that day, a late February day, that a whole year had passed since last I’d held him in my arms. For me the seasons halted at that point. A promise of spring that came to nothing, dwindling in an expired breath, leaving a permanent seam of winter in my heart. Hardening my senses to the sight of slender, silvery green shoots poking through a thin covering of snow I moved away from the window.
Easter came early; chocolate eggs coexisting with cut price Christmas merchandise on supermarket shelves…the babe of Bethlehem grown to adulthood in the space of several moons. On Easter Sunday, as I stood at the lectern in front of a small gathering, I suffered yet another bereavement. Something died within me, expiring along with my voice as I struggled to complete the reading. Resurrection, rebirth, the words were but empty promises, warped mythology. They fell from my lips, brittle shards of ice that melted and drained away. I paused in my address, the truth impaling me before witnesses. There was no resurrection, no rebirth. The only truth, the only certainty offered by The Crucifixion was the certainty of cruel death and permanent departure. My heart was already dust, microscopic particles that I’d cast on the wind along with the ashes of a man who’d been dead for a year, the man I loved. Binding my faith in grave clothes I consigned it to the dark cave alongside a God made suddenly mortal, a man called Jesus who had been dead for two thousand years, a man whose teachings had been corrupted and used to condemn the love I had shared with Alec. All my prayers had been a waste of time, nothing but desperate superstitious appeals to a man long dead, and one who had failed me while I yet believed in his divinity and kind mercy. Alec was dead. I would never hold him in my arms again, never taste his lips, never hear his voice or look into his eyes and see his love for me, a love that they said was sinful.
Closing the bible I stepped down from the lectern and walked away, no longer a man of faith.
Selling the home I’d shared with Alec, I resigned my teaching post and moved away.
Copyright Fabian Black 2009