Mistakes Have Been Made, Lessons Will Be Learned

We’re pleased to share in celebrating the success of NonProphet Status’ Share Your Secular Story essay contest. This is the first of two winning essays that we’ll feature here on the KtBlog.

by Corinne Tobias
Winner, Moral Imagination Category

His top hat jilts to the left as we make another turn in the curvy Ozark road. Glancing cautiously at him again, I think he resembles Slash of Guns n’ Roses fame. It’s uncanny and bizarre, sitting in a pickup truck next to this character. The top hat wrapped in a skull-and-crossbones scarf isn’t where the resemblance ends. His dark hair is long and thick with curls. His skin has a sallow olive tone and his eyes are as weary as if he had spent the evening prior to this afternoon smashing things against the walls of his hotel room to impress groupies. His raspy southern accent breaks my concentration from mentally observing him. Even though I’m no longer looking at him, it makes me feel as uncomfortable as if he had caught me staring. “My mom drove us off the road right here,” he says almost optimistically.

My eyes follow the tip of his finger to a ledge with a considerable drop off. The tops of trees peek over a guardrail that I assume wasn’t present at the time of the accident. “Me and my brother. We were in the back of the truck,” he says. I brace myself for what I know is going to follow. “Call it a miracle or an act of God…” he begins, and instantly I feel myself beginning to tune him out.

I don’t want to hear him talk about Jesus or how the experience brought him to appreciate all that God gave him. I don’t want to hear about divine intervention. I start to think about something else. I can’t help but compare the mountains to the flatness of home.

It’s only been a few months since I moved into the warmth of the hills and everything still feels strange and temporary. It feels as if I’m constantly playing a game of compare and contrast. And I have made quite the game out of it. Every time I play, the north wins. The people are smarter: north 1, south 0. They don’t slip lazily in and out of speaking, mashing words together and tearing them apart: north 2, south, still 0. They don’t all live in supernatural delusions: I think we have a winner. “Damn Bible belt,” I think, “no one can talk about anything else.” I’m still looking over the edge when I realize that Hubble must have paused almost as soon as I tuned him out. Perhaps my lapse only happened in an instant. It seems we’re almost in the same place in the road and he hasn’t yet finished his sentence.

“But we lived,” he was still staring over the edge as we rambled by. “We landed 30 feet away from the truck with a few bruises.” I realize looking at him that he’s not about to preach to me or credit any deity with the ordeal. Even if he were, I know looking over that ledge that he has every right to, and that my condescending cynicism is better left out there in the mountains.

When I get back to the office on Monday, after the canoe race weekend, I get the news that two teenagers were not as lucky as Hubble. One fell off a ledge trying to catch the other. I think of him.

It’s been several months since that weekend. Even though I knew something occurred in that instant with Hubble in the truck, I wasn’t really sure what it was. I couldn’t quite pin down a lesson, couldn’t quite tell you what happened. I realize now that it was a passing feeling of breaking a bad habit.

In general, I’m not good at breaking them. And it’s surprising how those bad habits of making light of religion, making a mockery of it even, are hard to shake. When people mentioned Jesus or God my brain slammed shut like a bear trap, and not just to their words or ideas. I don’t think I meant to and only now do I realize how dismissive I’ve been. It makes me wonder how many encounters with people I’ve squandered and lessons I’ve written off.

And here I sit, still in the south. I don’t think I’ll be packing up anytime soon. As soon as I let go of all those prejudices, I learned one of the most valuable lessons that you can learn as a new Secular Humanist. I learned the value of respect, and I know now that it’s the key to living peacefully and meaningfully in any society.

Corinne Tobias is a 20-something lost and found in Northwest Arkansas. She graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and now that she doesn’t have class, she spends most of her time thinking about scooters, literature, and her beloved dog.