“The whole damn thing about God, if He exists,” I say to Mardi, rudely pointing my Lone Star longneck, “is that, if He exists, we need to take that into consideration in the way we live our lives. Consider, for example, how we conduct business and government and parenting and relationships with each other. What would please Our Father which art in Heaven? What might displease Him, make Him angry? You know, the way people did when they really believed in God? And please don’t call me Kimo. It just doesn’t fit.”
“But you live in Hawaii, so you need a Hawaiian name.”
“Shouldn’t I, like, earn it?”
“I see what you’re saying, brah, but I don’t agree. If you teach your students as honestly and well as I know you do, then you earn it every time you step inside that classroom. Anyway, how do you know God’s not She?”
“Actually, I think God is genderless, whether He exists or not. I think He exists and that we are part of Him because we are part of the Universe, which is God. I really believe that. The question for me is, can we communicate with Him? Does He hear our prayers? Does He answer them?”
“You must really think He or She does. Otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about it. Funny.”
“I never would’ve guessed. I mean, I think you’re soulful, like we’re definitely soul mates. But prayerful? That’s a new one.”
“More thoughtful than prayerful at the moment. I wouldn’t call it a crisis, but it’s definitely serious and I’m trying to treat it seriously.”
“So it’s a crisis.”
“So God hasn’t been answering your prayers?”
“I haven’t been praying. At least not until recently.”
“And before that?”
“Got time for a story?”
“For you, brah, I’ve got all the time in the world. Come on, let seestah hear it.”
Brother? Sister? Good friends? Soul mates? Mardi invites respectful sharing on a very personal level with people she herself respects. At Waianae she took it upon herself to bail out a first-year teacher with class-control problems. It happened that Mardi and the new teacher, a local girl, were teaching different sections of the same social studies class at the same time. Three or four young studs were taking advantage of her inexperience to keep things “lively”. Though Mardi was not much older than the local girl, Miss Souza, she had two years’ mainland teaching experience under her belt and knew how to assert teacherly authority. Class control was not a problem.
“Send me your five worst troublemakers,” she told Miss Souza. “I’ll send you five nice kids. We’ll fix it up with the office later.”
So they did the exchange and that was the end of Miss Souza’s class-control problem and the beginning of a friendship that grew stronger by the day. As the story got out it earned Mardi wide respect with the faculty and with the at-large community. How could you not respect this diminutive outsider who brought feisty self-confidence and moral authority to so challenging a vocation in what is widely considered one of Oahu’s most troubled communities? If she’d been a man, Mardi would’ve been a U.S. Marine, a damned good one. What would Helen Gurley Brown think of that? Thumbs up, I’d guess.
“Tell me about your prayers,” she says, popping the lid off a fresh Lone Star and handing it to me. “Who do you pray to? What do you pray for? Did you ever pray for anything that you think you got as a direct result of praying? Talk, brah. Seestah stay listening.”
For me, cold beer can be a potent verbal lubricant, as Mardi well knows, and by the time I start talking I’m already pretty well oiled, the words sliding along with almost no effort. Weed? Who needs weed?
In one way Whitey and Carrie seemed totally ambivalent about God and religion in general. Of course there was a God and we should learn about Him and how to worship Him, but it didn’t make any difference whether we learned from Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, or whatever. Although they were not churchgoers themselves, they seemed to have no compunction about entrusting my spiritual instruction to whatever Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or Personally Appointed Neighborhood Emissary for Jesus was nearby and accessible.
Usually I joined a respectable number of my contemporaries for what we treated as an excuse for getting together with friends. Flannelboard figures limply hightailing it out of Egypt were not attended-to with the same enthusiasm as the Saturday Afternoon Matinee at the Tower Theater, but the songs could be fun — though I don’t recall that we ever sang them on the way home. None of my friends talked about God or Jesus in our private conversations. Neither did I. It seemed kind of weak or shameful to act even mildly interested in so unlikely a setup as the Adam & Eve/God, Mary, Jesus thing. We were far more likely to talk about Fords and Chevies like our fathers or about Superman, Batman, or Plastic Man. You know, something real.
But somehow, over time, God and Jesus started taking on substance and a kind of nebulous universality. I’d experienced my grandma’s Latinate Catholic services, complete with incense, bead-counting rosaries, kneeling on shared benches, and was awed by it, transported by it, made wholly holy by it. While I did not aspire to it, I was impressed enough by it to let it help convince me there was maybe something to this religion bullshit. I mean, if it can make you feel that way . . ..
Anyway, somewhere along the line I switched my nightly Carrie-enforced “Now I lay me . .” to the more grownup “Our Father Who art in Heaven . . .” incorporating the Lutherans’ “forgive us our trespasses” instead of — is it the Baptists’ or the Methodists’? — “forgive us our debts.”
Also, Whitey and Carrie started attending regularly at the local Lutheran church and sending me to Sunday School there. And then Carrie, raised Catholic, began attending evening classes designed to transform her Polish soul into something more Nordic. Apparently it was something they had agreed to before my time or outside my hearing. Mixed faith marriage and all that. What would the kids be if there was no family tradition or commitment? Episcopalian? Holy Roller? Probably neither. Probably nothing. So. I was also given to understand that when the time came I would be attending weekly confirmation classes ending, after two years, with my being confirmed for all time in the Lutheran faith.
“But,” Mardi interjects as I take a final pull on my Lone Star and do the index finger bottle dangle indicating empty, “that doesn’t tell me why you think there’s a God who answers prayers.”
“There is a God. I’m sure of it. And I’ll tell you about it as soon as I get the lid off my next Lone Star.”
“Is it about answered or unanswered prayers?”
“Almost certainly. I’ll tell you about it. Then you can tell me what you think.”