The Octogenarian: 2. Religion

For a while now he had been spending time each weekend attending religious services. He sat with the Jews on Friday nights and the Protestants on Sunday mornings. Don’t ask him which Protestant sect it was as he could never keep them straight in his head.

In fact, he wasn’t at all religious. Although born a Jew, he was now—and had been for a long time—an atheist. He had been a believer in his childhood, but before his bar mitzvah, at a time when he was already having doubts about religion, he read a book that described The God Paradox:

Student: Can God do anything?

Rabbi: Of course He can.

Student: Can he make a stone?

Rabbi: Of course!

Student: Can he make a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?

Rabbi: Get out of my office!

The image in his head of a Hercules or Atlas kind of god struggling with a giant stone really tickled him…and simultaneously convinced him that all the rest of it was bunk.

God wasn’t in the air all around us.

God didn’t know everything.

God didn’t really care who lived or died and actually had nothing to do with anything good or bad that happened on earth.

You were on your own.

When he first showed up at services, people made a fuss over him. They smelled fresh meat…a death bed convert…a salvageable soul…a new donor. But he was none of the above and he quickly let them know it. He just wanted to sit quietly and enjoy the show and the music. After a while, the real congregants gave up asking if they could sit with him…and he was fine with that. 

These few hours each week gave him a little something to look forward to. Nothing more; nothing less. He took it up the same way he took up watercolors: because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

He respected the true believers, though. He admired their adherence and faith and the comfort they felt from their relationship with their God. He forgave them their daily hypocrisies, but he didn’t envy them. The price they paid for their solace was too high. It required a suspension of disbelief and, although that was fine for watching a movie, it didn’t appeal to him as a lifestyle.

Besides, there was the corruption of the fundamental teachings that each religion’s social structures had perpetrated. Look at what the Evangelicals had done to Christianity. If Christ hadn’t ascended to heaven, he would have been turning over in his grave at the sight of their bastardization of his teachings. 

And don’t get him started on the good fathers of the Catholic Church!

Saying that the institutions are corrupt, though, does not mean that all the believers are. He once lived next door to a Baptist pastor, oh some fifty years ago. Pastor Eric was nice enough, with two well-behaved kids and a faithful wife. It was with him that he had his last interesting exchange about religion.

He hosted a little going away breakfast for Pastor Eric who was being sent to a different church down state. For some long-forgotten reason, the conversation turned to the likelihood of space aliens with advanced technologies paying us a visit. He said he thought that was within the realm of possibility and that, if they didn’t annihilate or enslave us, that event would probably unite people all across the planet and usher in a new era of peace.

Unexpectedly, Pastor Eric nodded in complete agreement and added, “It looks like we’re both waiting for the same thing.”


In fact, though, he wasn’t holding his breath waiting for a space invasion. He really didn’t care. He had long ago accepted the nothingness of it all. His inability to grasp the incomprehensible vastness of the universe made it pretty clear that his presence on this tiny pebble was absolutely meaningless in the great scheme of things.

He didn’t know a single fact about his great grandfathers and he expected that no one in future generations would know anything about him, even though his thoughts and images would live on in cyberspace long after his ashes were scattered.

Childless, he hadn’t even made a contribution to the gene pool, so there was no chance of any kind of deferred future effect from his progeny, either.

And that was fine with him.

Did that make him a nihilist? An existential nihilist? Evidently so, but don’t tell him that. He had never been able to wrap his head around the various philosophical ‘-isms’ and he wasn’t about to start now.

What he did understand was that the meaning of life was in the here and now, not in the wisp of a hint of a soupçon of a mirage of a hope of an impact on the future.  

Having the experience of conscious awareness while it was available to you was all there was. And that was more than enough for him. What you did with it, what you thought about it, and how and if you shared it with others was icing on the cake.

It didn’t take him long to figure out that getting the most out of the here and now wasn’t just about absorbing physical sensations. It required meaning and purpose and he found both inside his head. Sure, it was nice when he succeeded at something and it was a nice bonus when something he did helped someone. But performing good works wasn’t what truly motivated him. It wasn’t money or power, either. It was the act of thinking that sustained him.

Seriously. He loved to be in new situations and to have to figure things out. The bigger, the more difficult, and the more unique the task, the more he liked it. He didn’t just like it, he craved it. It was his addiction. In fact, it was his true religion and the altar at which he worshipped.

His first career coming out of college was dedicated to the long-shot revitalization of New Jersey’s forsaken largest city, Newark. He moved on to running a bed and breakfast with his wife in northeastern Pennsylvania (he was the cook). His friends were incredulous and had laid down bets that he wouldn’t survive the city-to-country transition and would be back in 6 months. Clearly, they didn’t really know him.

After that he went to graduate school and became a clinical psychologist working in acute in-patient wards. When it was time to retire, he became an officer in the local Democratic Party. After that (yes, even into his 70s there was an “after that”), he tried his hand at blogging about research into brain health and dementia prevention.

Each career lasted about ten years which was how long it took him to explore all the themes and variations involved in that particular endeavor. He didn’t like repetition. When fulfilling his occupational responsibilities became rote, he got bored, chucked it all, and set out for greener, unexplored pastures. 

The one thing he never got bored with, however, were his wives. They were both an endless source of inspiration and challenge, and in different ways, unfathomable. They meant the world to him.

So now he found himself living in The Community with Sally by his side, attending religious services twice each weekend, painting with watercolors when the spirit moved him, playing his recorder, solving crosswords, exploring all the nooks and crannies that were accessible to 80-somethings, and wondering what his next career would be.



  1. ginismith40 says:

    But, and if this is you Wayne, you’re not 80 yet!!! I wonder how you will feel when you are. There are still some surprises

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kathy Napurano says:

      From now on I will add “forgive us our daily hypocrisies” each time we pray The Lord’s Prayer.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Just hoping I make it that far so I can find out what surprises are in store for me!


  2. tencat9511771 says:

    But envious that you have been so successful in finding and indulging in the new ‘career’ at each junction whenever you decided to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ was my motto as I re-invented myself every 10 years.


  3. “It required meaning and purpose and he found both inside his head”—yes, and then the next questions: How did they get there? And what do we do with them? Thanks for another interesting chapter!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How one creates meaning and purpose is a topic worthy of study, as is how meaning and purpose change over the lifespan. That should give us both plenty to contemplate over the next 20 years or so! 😀


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