Omar and Caleb fixed a meaningful gaze at Jean as he went on with another mocking chuckle. Them showing no signs of offense in their words or expressions bothered Jean, he lacked the composure they had.
‘How can you be so stubborn after the whole world suffers with disasters and injustice? People can work their asses off and die before a moment of relief. The countless victims overpowered by powerful oppressors until they are driven to lose their minds, their hopes and commit suicide! What about all the terrible things going on this world? Huh? Th-the animals…. Yeah the animals for instance, the one’s that die because of ‘the intelligent humans’ who knowingly pollute the air, water and cause global warming, deforestation and what not? If this is all God’s plan and you are still believing in Gods after all the terrible reality, your God is actually a dev-‘
‘Watch your words Jean!’, Omar quickly interrupted in a strict, loud voice. ‘We are open to hear you and respect each other’s differences but we can’t accept disrespect of our sacred beliefs. Please, that’s the least I can ask of you’ he added in a rather gentle yet emphasizing manner.
‘Yeah, I just got carried away, but you get my point, don’t you?’ Jean took a deep breath and said after a brief pause.
‘It’s completely understandable that you feel this way, we have our reasons, our beliefs, our books and guidance that works as reasoning for our patience and faith in the presence of a deity. My faith gives me hope, my prayers give me the feeling of a connection with Christ and my visit to the Church brings me peace, considering your point of view, let’s assume for a moment that it’s all a lie, why should I throw it away still? It benefits me after all, I get as upset as you are about the hellish world but I have something to hold on to that helps me, what’s so wrong about it? The entire world believes in and practices all sorts of things that differ from another. Most of them are scientifically proven otherwise, yet people insist on and make up stories of how they witnessed its truth. Others can live without believing it but what is this need for mocking the others for things you disagree to? Why?’ Caleb presented his point of view in a plane tone
‘Okay, I get it. But the thing is, when I know by my own reasons, I can’t help but consider you fools doing all sorts of things for a non-existing God. I just want you to save your time and energy and break free from baseless restrictions, enjoy life like it should be. We are all gonna end up as rotten bodies deep in ground or burnt or whatever you do…’ Jean responded.
'I believe in afterlife after this journey full of tests and trials. Abiding by religious rules is to make it to heaven. The destination which is eternal, where I can live freely. I get tempted by your freedom and enjoying everything, I also get miserable by the unfair world but knowing of a day when Justice will be served with no power or bias interrupting and where enjoyment and freedom will be available forever, I happily trade it for this temporary life. Sure, I give in and commit sins by breaking rules in one way or the other from time to time but I seek forgiveness from Almighty and remain grateful for my blessings to prevent despair. If you think about it, the rules are all not that bad… we are told to be kind to others, forgive more often for those who wronged us or just lawfully hold them accountable, we have to pray 5 times, and I will keep spirituality lecture aside, but consider the other benefits, it being compulsory keeps me active, minimizing laziness and breaking a cycle of procrastination. The pre-prayer ablution is just a way of maintaining hygiene and not getting sick often. Drinking and smoking ban is just a healthy lifestyle. Pork is prohibited for its null nutritional value and its unclean, parasite host lifetime that can bring you no good. There’s plenty of other options to keep you more than satisfied. Giving charity to help needy, getting hope from your spiritual connection when too many hardships affect you and you need to stay strong.’ Omar said maintaining a friendly, neutral tone.
Silence filled the room for a few minutes.
‘You guys hungry?’ Caleb asked
‘Yeah’ Jean replied.
‘Yeah, me too’ Omar said.
‘Eat out or dine in?’ Caleb asked
Jean and Omar gave each other a questioning look then Omar suggested eating out. They all got up to go out.
‘No arguments here’, Jean said to further lighten the mood.
Chuckling, they all walked out of the room.
*Later that night*
Jean laid in his bed, watching several videos about people arguing over religious beliefs. It was a consistent mix of logical and illogical statements. Over an hour passed without him realizing. He kept his phone aside, overthinking his conversation with Omar, Caleb and the religious representatives in the videos. It’s not that he doubted his own beliefs, but for some reason, he was too bothered by his best friends disagreeing on the matter, it was a whole lifestyle pattern with their level of dedication for their faiths, and maybe that coming in the way of ‘fun activities’ due to their conservative beliefs was the main reason for his uneasiness.
Laying down with these thoughts, he recalled another one of their conversations on this topic,
‘So what about this global pandemic? This devastating effect on survivors, their mental health and lifestyle, finances etc. and the countless deaths including rich, poor, young and old. Everyone all over the world. Is that the wrath of God a 2 years old is also included in?’ Jean added to the prolonged argument.
‘I wish you started by giving that much thought to the good things and pay attention to the feeling of gratitude while pondering over everything else around you, maybe even start with yourself… your birth, your abilities, your perfect body and facial features without defects, and your flawless intelligence. How do you think you got it all? A coincidence? Genes from your parents if you say, where did they get it from? Keep going, down the line, the human kind came into being? If Darwin theory… monkeys evolved, is your answer, go back to how monkeys came in to being? How life on earth even began? Another coincidence? The evolution brought in variety and survival, let’s not argue that, but what about the intelligence and desire to survive, the internal mechanisms so detailed, so in sync, so perfect, isn’t it too much to just entitled as coincidences. Let’s go deeper in history, before life, how did the earth came into being? big bang it is? Let’s not even argue if it’s true or not, we take it as a reason, but was the big bang just a coincidence? The elements, the environment, the sun and moon, distance and its pattern making day and night, season after season. Is it that easy to happen with a series of perfectly favorable coincidences lining up for us one after the other. On your next visit at the beach, admiring the view, the waves the sunset and the sand, the sky, the people passing by and every single thing that you see, hear, feel or think; remain mindful and count the scientific explanations you know, google more, make a list of coincidental formation for it. If you think hard enough, just a grain of sand might convince you, if you don’t, the entire universe will also not be enough. If you need proof, if you need a sign, you’ll find it within yourself, within every single thing, living or dead. It’s all a sign. If you could just keep aside your bias and ponder, give it a chance’ Omar went on and on with his opinion. Jean and Caleb silently listened’
The argument wouldn’t end here if Caleb’s phone call wouldn’t break the flow for them that day.
Rethinking these words, Jean said to himself, ‘he never answered about the pandemic though, none of this justifies it either’ Deep down, he felt the pressure of ignorance weighing down in his heart.
Taking a deep breath, he changed his position from left to lying straight on his back with one hand under his head and other hand by his side. ‘A sign, huh?’ he murmured while staring at the ceiling that remained dark and unclear despite the moonlight shining through the glass window and softly enlighten parts of his room. ‘I would consider it if I get a real sign right now, no pondering crap at everything, God if you are there, give me my own personalized sign right now and I will just not trade it for a coincidence’ He said out loud.
The room was filled with silence, nothing happened, not a gust of wind, not a single sound, nothing. 30 seconds later, he laughed sarcastically when a loud noise startled him. He froze for a moment than got up with a pounding heart.
In fear, he held is phone and typed 911, slowly stepping downstairs and peeking in before tapping the call button. He had to confirm if it was a robbery or just a cat got in somehow.
He let his guard down when he heard his mom groaning in pain and ran downstairs calling her.
‘Mom? Where are you? what happened? Mom? Is that you?’ He said as he ran around looking for her and felt the adrenaline rush. His heart skipped a beat when he caught the sight of his Mom on the floor in a puddle of blood. “Mom!” he screamed as he swiftly approached her.
“Wh-whaa… uh.. h-how, mm... God!” he said while checking on his mom, perplexed, not realizing what he just said. With shaky hands, he looked at the blood that got on his hands.
‘I have to- I-I have to get help …’ he murmured and raced to the staircase in search for his phone while switching on the lights on his way. He picked his phone and dialed 911.
He called for help explaining the situation in his panicky voice struggling with his words as he answered the questions. None of the comforting words helped him, he went back to his mom while holding the phone to his ear.
Help arrived in a few minutes and he went to the hospital with his mom in the ambulance. He called Omar and Caleb on his way.
After hearing of the incident, they both rushed to the hospital. Jean couldn’t hold back his tears on seeing them run in towards him. He hugged them and bawled like baby. Knowing his relationship with his mom as his childhood friends, they needed no explanation about his reaction. They tried to comfort him saying his mom will be perfectly fine and they will be right here with him, he’s not alone. He held on to them and said, ‘please pray to your gods, whatever it takes, whoever listens, whoever answers, please beg on my behalf for my mom’s life and health’ Jean said in a heavy voice.
The doctor stepped out and all three of them took quick steps ahead, ‘How’s she?’ Jean impatiently asked.
‘She’s completely fine, she slipped on a broken glass perhaps, the wounds were not serious and luckily there were no fractures. The blood loss was a cause of concern but it’s all under control. You just have to show her a happy face and comfort her then follow it up with caring for her with a healthy diet’ The doctor responded kindly to reassure Jean.
Jean was finally relieved, ‘can I see her?’ His pale face was enlightened.
‘Sure; the nurse will guide you so wait here for a moment’.
*Several days later*
‘Everything’s okay and it’s been several days. It worries me to still see Jean so gloomy… I understand his trauma must have been too intense, or perhaps I don’t fully understand but… I want to do something to cheer him up….’ Caleb said to Omar when they went to the canteen from the library on campus during a short break from studying.
Omar sipped in coffee as he listened, ‘We tried several times, I think he is bothered by something more serious as a result of this incident… maybe it’s time for a direct confrontation instead?’ he replied after a brief pause.
‘Maybe’ Caleb showed a doubtful agreement to Omar’s suggestion.
They decided to visit him after studying and left him a message.
Later when they showed up at his home, they went in to see his mom and wish her good health and speedy recovery. Sitting together, they cracked jokes to lighten the mood and cheer up Jean and his mom, it just worked for his mom. They asked for going out with Jean for an hour and his mom gladly agreed because he had constantly stayed home to take care of her for days. Jean refused initially, but gave in after they insisted.
Half-heartedly, he went out with them. They stopped by at a coffee shop. After placing the order, Caleb started the conversation, ‘Jean! Please talk to us if there’s something bothering you.’ He carefully watched his words as he spoke.
‘What are you talking about? Nothing’s bothering me’ Jean tried to avoid the conversation.
‘If you don’t feel like telling us, it’s okay; but please don’t blow us off like that because there’s clearly something bothering you and we are concerned’ Caleb kept his voice low and gentle.
Jean stayed silent as they both looked at him waiting for an answer.
‘Your drinks, sir!’ The waiter placed the drinks in front of them and walked away.
Jean picked up his iced latte and took a few sips.
The awkwardness remained among them. Omar and Caleb intentionally didn’t break the silence to force a response from Jean.
‘You guys won’t let me get away with it this time, will ya?’, Jean sighed and said with a faint smile
‘I’m sorry but we can’t watch you in distress and not do anything about it any longer’, Caleb said.
‘I am not so sure either… I don’t believe in God’s existence but that night when I was freaking out on seeing mom in that condition, I couldn’t move or speak or think straight and just somehow I said ‘God’, asking for help from a God, I don’t know whose God or … I don’t know… and I actually felt something when I uttered those words unintentionally… it’s like my mind was opened and I suddenly knew what to do and was able to do it… I rushed to get my phone and call 911, call you guys a-and …. And just; remain sane... and now I can’t help but reflect over my life... all the fun I had in the name of freedom, all of it seems like I am a wild animal and I-… I …’, he felt a lump in his throat and slight pressure on his chest as his eyes filled with tears…. ‘It’s like I’ve briefly known a presence and I feel so lonely all of a sudden… I want it I need it but it’s invisible, it’s not there… it’s nothing… what is it? where is it? ... I- don’t kno—I don’t understand, I-… I’, he pressed his lips tightly and clenched his fists but the flowing tears and overwhelming emotions were surfacing nonstop… he kept his head on the table and cried keeping it as low as he could...’
Omar and Caleb didn’t expect the battle he had been fighting all by himself would be so intense. They sympathetically tapped his shoulder but didn’t speak their minds yet. Waiting for him to pour out his heart first was priority, a wise choice of comforting, supportive words was next.
Jean took 5 minutes to get a hold of himself and continued, ‘at this point, I am just aware that I felt something when I asked for it in ignorance and when I needed it in desperation and It’s not a mere coincidence, it’d be if I didn’t have this feeling a-and; I want to pay attention to it. I don’t know if it’s some kind of energy, a deity, even a presence under religion and faith but it’s is something approaching me and I want to reciprocate to the fullest and I want to go where it takes me until I figure out everything…’ Jean said.
They all remained silent, a few minutes later, Omar was about to speak to break the silence but Jean continued speaking so he listened silently.
‘I keep thinking about losing mom, then her life and hardships, her importance in my life… it all goes on and on and I started wondering about life in general and its purpose. I was pondering like you said Omar… I found a meaning in your words Caleb, when you said the connection brought you peace…. But I – I just don’t want to be influenced by your beliefs, with all due respect to your faiths… I just want to discover my mystery and unveil what it leads me to, if it’s a God or some vibe or energy, I will let it guide me to the path of “my” life’s purpose…. I still have my differences and logics intact from our previous debates and I don’t want to give in without thoroughly thinking about it to the point of personal satisfaction’ Jean explained and looked at them for a response.
‘No arguments here’ Omar and Caleb said at the same time with a bright smile. Jean laughed through the tears.
The three of them left the café while talking and laughing as usual.