When To Keep Your Atheism To Yourself

When To Keep Your Atheism To Yourself September 13, 2019

Sometimes I wake up at 6 am, squeeze into an unflattering sport swimsuit that tucks everything away in the right places, head over to the pool which is filled with my town’s large retiree population, and swim laps until I’m Jell-O.

When I do, I try to up my ante every day by adding a lap or adding time to how long I swim. I’ve pushed myself up to about 2km of freestyle because let’s face it, you don’t lose carb-caboose riding a noodle with Old Lady Ruth and The Shallow End Gang.

Usually, I reward myself with a soak in the hot tub afterwards. It tends to feel a little like immersing yourself in senior soup, which really I don’t mind. It’s better than teen soup, that’s for sure. I’ve always enjoyed the company of older people… their stories from way back then, their prideful boasts about grandkids, the way they curse new things they don’t understand. I chat a little, and after about five or ten minutes, I hit the showers and head home.

One day, just after I first moved to this town, I’d swam a little longer than usual, and I realized that all the regulars had gone home. I was the only one left in the pool. I pushed through some stretches and headed over to the hot tub. A new lady was sitting in there, getting pruny. She was skinny, fit, with curly silver hair and a bright smile. I said hello.

“Great day for a swim, isn’t it?” She asked me.

Elderly ladies are really, really good at small talk. Like goddamned pros.

“Sure is!” I responded.

“Do you come every day?”

“Yeah… well, weekdays I do.” I nodded.

We got to talking about how great swimming was, and how we miss getting in some laps when we’re busy, and how this was such an excellent facility for a small town. My tub companion told me she’d lived here all her life save for four years she spent in Alberta. I told her I’ve been here for just under a year, and I was fully and completely in love with the place.

Before I knew it, 15 minutes had passed. Sweat was pouring down my face. I told her I had to go before I cooked myself. I introduced myself as Courtney, and she told me her name was Mary.

The next day, I pushed myself even longer, finally hitting the 2 km mark, which took me about an hour and fifteen doing freestyle. Again, the pool was deserted, and there was Mary, stewing in the steaming waters. I greeted her with a grin, and she smiled back, and the pleasantries began. Mary kicked my ass at small-talk once again. Around then, a group of preschool-age kids poured into the pool area for a lesson. Mary and I properly cooed at their adorableness.

“My son comes here for lessons with his school,” I told her.

“Oh? How old is he?” She perked up.

“He’s six. He loves to swim, just like his mommy.”

I bragged about the way he did perfect little backflips into the water.

She clapped her hands together and smiled, “Oh, that’s so great for him, especially living near the lake!”

Just then, we heard the kids jump into the pool and were mesmerized watching these sweet little things keep their instructor on his toes. 

Every once in a while, we would let out a giggle at something funny a kid did, but other than that, we were relatively silent.

A few minutes into the silence, Mary finally broke it.

“I have a 16-year-old grandson. He lives in Alberta.”

“Oh? Do you get out to see him much?” I asked.

“Well, he just had an aneurysm burst in his head.”

I cringed. My heart sank. It’s hard to know what to say to stuff like that. I always stick to my tried and true method: ask questions, listen to the answers.

“When did that happen?”

She told me it had happened a few weeks before. He’d spent his birthday in the hospital. I asked her if he was okay. She told me the doctors said his recovery was coming along remarkably, but that he has to relearn a ton of things.

Mary also told me that her daughter had to move to the city closer to her son’s rehabilitation centre. She’d rented an apartment, and her other kids missed her.

“Wow. When do the doctors predict he will be able to be released?” I asked her.

“Well, his medical team are going to assess his situation in a week or two and see if he is fit to go home.”

“That’s wonderful.” I smiled.

“It really is. The hospital told us it’s a miracle he’s alive.”

There it is. She even emphasized the ‘miracle’. I bit my lip.

“You know on the computer, you can ask all kinds of people to pray for you. My daughter spread his story around, and lots of people prayed. It must have been all the prayers for him across the world that helped.”

Sometimes, I wonder if I have “Heathen” written on my forehead. I swallowed the words rising up in my throat: or it was the doctors? They tasted bitter, but I smiled anyway.

“He’s such a good boy. He always went to church and Sunday School and followed God’s rule. It just goes to prove that if you’re faithful and obedient, God will reward you.”

Wait, what? Did God reward your faithful and obedient grandson with an aneurysm? I wanted so badly to ask. Instead, I smiled and nodded. Sweat was doubling on my brow, and I found myself grateful for the fact that I was in a hot tub, and she couldn’t see me sweat my way through keeping my opinions to myself.

“He sounds very positive,” Is all I could muster, making sure to smile.

“Yes, I have no doubt God will fully heal him.”

Right. It will have nothing to do with his doctors, his therapists and his own determination. My grin must have looked forced by now.

“Well, I have to go now. You have a wonderful day!” She chirped.

Oh, thank God, no holy, I thought, exhaling ferociously. Apparently, I had been holding my breath. I said goodbye and told her I hope her grandson does really well. I wasn’t relieved because her story was making me uncomfortable. It wasn’t. I was relieved because I got out of that situation without accidentally blurting out something about God, bullshit and giving the doctors some credit.

Every so often, I see a screencap float around the intertubes of some douchebag atheist commenting on someone’s post thanking God for similar things. Sometimes, it’s making it another day with a terminal illness, or maybe it’s surviving a horrific car accident. Along comes some unhappy heathen to hijack a thread about something devastating and crushing, and turn it into a debate about whether or not God exists, and I gotta say, nothing could be any less cool.

Sometimes, it’s just inappropriate. Sometimes, you have to put your own opinions aside and consider, what is the most important thing in this moment? It’s hard not to respond to these absurd statements attributing human accomplishments to the big guy. You might chew through your fingernails or break into a sweat, but sometimes, you just have to know when to shut the bleep up and listen.

How do you handle situations like this? Let me know in the comments!

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