…or Human Kindness?
by Jorie K.
Growing up in the Worldwide Church of God, I knew my parents’ beliefs were at odds with the world from as long as I can remember. For whatever reason, I do not remember cementing my parents’ beliefs as my own. By the time I was eleven, left to my own devices, I read the entire Bible, and in my estimation it was the most ridiculous book I’d ever read. I was pretty sure no God existed, especially after no one could answer the uncomfortable questions I asked about some of the particularly nasty things I found in the Old Testament.
Then, as an angry pre-teen who refused to submit to mindless cult mentality, I was sure no God existed. Yet, in my late adolescence, despite my atheism, I said a prayer anyway. This prayer was humbly offered in desperation deep into the night, at a critical moment in my life when I was a homeless run-away for so long that I was ready to accept any help that God would offer me. The very next day I was taken in by a wealthy family and given opportunities to excel in ways I had never imagined. To this day, I do not know where I would be if they had not given me a chance. Since then, because I believed my prayer for help was answered, this experience was a strong thread that kept me hanging on to my belief in God for a very, very long time.
Admittedly, I have never gone on a quest for God. I really believe just as many atheists do: If there is a God who wishes her presence to be known, she will make it crystal clear as to how exactly I should find her – or better yet, she will find me. Although I have not gone in search of God, I have kept my mind open and invite anyone who wants to talk about it with me, in a respectful logical manner, to feel free. I’ve listened to Mormons, Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and other non-denominational Christians – not to mention I grew up in an Adventist Christian cult. I’ve attended lots of different churches, listened to their preachers, and read the Bible. I’ve talked with people who believe in a higher power, but aren’t sure what exactly it is. I am a friend of a Buddhist from Thailand and a Muslim from Somalia who’ve both shared their views. I’ve read about general Native American beliefs and rituals. I have watched the Travel Channel where I’ve seen tribal people in remote jungles perform various religious sacraments and explain their beliefs. For all of the differences in these religions, the common threads that I found among them have less to do with God and more to do with the necessities of humans to survive in groups and deal with their fears about death and non-existence.
The more I learn about religion, the more fascinating it becomes. Also, the more I learn, the less likely it is that only one group ever got a spiritual ‘leg up’ from God over another group. It is more likely that all religions have had no divine guidance at all. Religion itself seems to be a product of the evolution of human creativity and ingenuity when it comes to social structure and emotional survival. Ironically, religion is a sort of proof for the very evolution many religions try to disprove.
The point of my waxing philosophical here is that through many years of listening and learning, what has made the most sense so far is atheism. But, my one answered prayer has long kept me perplexed. Was it really an answered prayer, or just a coincidence? Recently I began trying to reconcile that one answered prayer with other events in my life. Trying to find a comparable series of events that ended with a desirable result, only this time without a prayer to be determined the cause. Granted, I have never been as desperate in my life as I was in the moment when I last sincerely asked for something in a prayer. But, there was an incident recently that sufficiently convinced me that my answered prayer had more to do with humanity than divinity.
This recent incident revolves around my former dog George. I adopted him as a puppy from my local humane society, and I very seriously meant to keep him forever when I adopted him. I worked full time and was in college full time, but still I made time to walk George twice a day. I even took him to a dog day care on my longest work and school day. He was well cared for, happy and healthy. One day, somewhat unexpectedly, family problems prompted my fourteen-year-old sister to run away. My mother had a breakdown and was put in a mental institution. My legally blind father was too proud to do anything but keep his head down, go to work every day, tithe, and make it to church every Saturday. I decided to step in; needless to say working and going to college full-time while juggling my personal life left little time for poor George. It got to the point where, three years of loving and owning a really great dog culminated in my having to return him to the humane society (as per the contract signed upon adoption).
The humane society’s rule is that when someone surrenders an animal – they do not have the right to know what eventually happens to their former pet. If poor sweet George was put down or adopted by another family, I would never know which. I remember suffering extreme guilt and sorrow after giving up George. As silly as it may sound to some people, I had made a promise when I adopted him that I would not abandon him when the going got tough. But, I did. Not only did I abandon him, I probably even sentenced him to death. I cried privately and had nightmares about it for months. I always tried to tell myself that he was such a wonderful dog, that of course another family adopted him. I hoped with all my might that this was true. That was five years ago, and never since then had thoughts of George stopped popping up to haunt me.
A few months ago, I finally had the courage (and stability) to adopt another dog. In the city where I live, there is a park that allows dogs to run off-leash. I took my new dog there as soon as he was obedience trained. While I was at the dog park, a familiar looking dog sauntered up and sniffed me, then casually walked away. I knew immediately it was my old dog George. My heart skipped a beat. I chatted up his new owner and sure enough, the details jived. It was George, he was slower, older and much fatter, but there he was, happy and enjoying life with a new owner who cared enough to bring him to the park for some play time. I admit, I was a little heartbroken that he did not even recognize me after how much I had anguished over him. But, as the dog lovers say, dogs live in the present, not the past – we could learn a thing or two from them…
The point is, had I spent my nights in prayer while suffering with my guilt over possibly sending my poor pooch to the euthanasia table, I may have thought that God had answered my prayers when I saw George at the dog park. At first I thought maybe I was comparing apples to oranges here, surely a prayer for my peace of mind about a dog cannot compare to a prayer for my own personal well-being. I assure you, if any time in the past could come close to the anguish I felt the night I said my original ‘answered’ prayer, it was the night I tried to sleep after surrendering George, while my family was falling apart around me. But, that night I did not pray, I did not ask God to hear me. I only hoped with all my might that someone out there would have a big enough heart to take a chance and adopt a washed-up older dog instead of a cute wiggly puppy. And you know what, someone did.
When I think back about the answered prayer of my adolescence, it was really the open heart of a fellow human being that did the answering. I used to think God sent me this person as an angel to rescue me. Now I understand that this person, of their own accord, took it upon themselves to extend a hand when they clearly saw that I was down. It was another someone with a big enough heart to take a chance and interfere with someone else’s business to rescue a fellow human being in need. It was not divine intervention that saved me that day after all. It was human kindness, pure and simple.