Losing My Religion (April 1, 2011)

Earlier this week, I was able to open up about my impending divorce for the first time. I understand very broadly that I have only begun to process the millions of conflicting emotions and feelings that overtake one, often at the oddest times, when going through a separation from a spouse, even under the best of circumstances. So far, our schism has been the opposite of cordial, which rather reflects the general combative tenor of our five-year relationship. I do not lay the blame for this on Eddie. For whatever reason, we always seem to bring out the worst in each other, and hammering out the financial and logistical details of our split has been no exception.

The last four weeks have been marked by attempts to discuss business like adults, inevitably devolving into a flaring of tempers, finger pointing and tremendously wounded feelings. With two weeks left before I officially relocate, we have worked out most of the details, and while sidestepping each other in our still-shared space, there is little conversation left. We both carry the mien of two PTSD-afflicted soldiers who want to patch ourselves up and go back out to the field, but no longer have the tools or the emotional bandwidth. We’ve lost the ability to comfort each other, because how can the person killing you be the one who saves your life?

In one strained and measured discussion held this week however, Eddie raised a point that I had yet to consider. Born into Lutheranism, I had pretty much rejected all organized religion by the time I reached high school. I flirted with Buddhism in my 20s before finally converting to Hinduism at age 29 as part of the package deal of marriage to my Indian-born mate. I will not go so far as to say I’ve been a devotee, but there is really a lot to appreciate. Though there are rigid, right-wing practitioners (as there are in all religions), at its core, the Hindu religion is quite flexible. If one so chooses, they don’t have to move much farther than two core tenets: do no harm to the living (humans, plants, animals), liberally thank the god(s) and seek their blessings.

In a fit of pique, Eddie suggested that the breach of our partnership invalidates my Hindu “membership,” the argument being that since I converted simply for expediency’s sake (his family would never have accepted the marriage if I hadn’t), deciding to invalidate the union did so with my adopted beliefs by extension.

I mention that this was said during one of many tense discussions, but emotions aside, I had the sense that my estranged husband was fairly serious. But do things work like this? I have a friend, a converted Jew, who made the switch after marrying early in his 20s. The religion stuck even when the wife didn’t, and now in his early 50s, he is one of the most dedicated members of the Jewish faith I have ever encountered. His rights were not “revoked,” so to speak.

But branding and permissions aside, I find myself wondering what my admiration of the Hindu faith means without Eddie and the rest of his family. His mother has spent a lot of time over the years educating me about mythology, the holiday calendar and the auspicious meanings behind it, rituals, etc. I have gone to mandir (temple) on my own numerous times, a practice that often bring me a lot of peace, but I realize that in the past, a lot of that peace stemmed from a sense of belonging – not just to the faith, but to a family that pays more than lip service to the teachings.

So what do I do with all of this knowledge and experience now? Why do I feel like I am not wanted and no longer have the right to practice, though I stood up in front of literally thousands of people in a foreign country to swear my allegiance? And mind you, I don’t go around doing that sort of thing regularly. I realize that my religious quandry is part of a larger and troubling question of trying to figure out where (if anywhere) I actually belong, odd and broken bird that I am.