|Excerpt from Life After God|
From New Perspectives Quarterly (March 22, 1994)
As suburban children we floated at night in swimming pools the temperature of blood; pools the color of Earth as seen from outer space. We would skinny-dip, my friends and me--hipchick Stacey with her long yellow hair and Malibu Barbie body; Mark, our silent strongman; Kristy, our omni-freckled redheaded joke machine; voice-of-reason Julie, with "statistically average" body; honey-bronze ski bum, Dana, with his non-existent tan line and suspiciously large amounts of cash, and Todd, the prude, always the last to strip, even then peeling off his underwear underneath the water. We would float and be naked- -pretending to be embryos, pretending to be fetuses--all of us silent save for the hum of the pool filter. Our minds would be blank and our eyes closed as we floated in warm waters, the distinction between our bodies and our brains reduced to nothing--bathed in chlorine and lit by pure blue lights installed underneath diving boards. Sometimes we would join hands and form a ring like astronauts in space; sometimes when we felt more isolated in our fetal stupor we would bump into each other in the deep end, like twins with whom we didn't even know we shared the womb.
Afterward we toweled off and drove in cars on roads that carved the mountain on which we lived--through trees, through the subdivision, from pool to pool, from basement to basement, up Cypress Bowl, down to Park Royal and over the Lions Gate Bridge--the act of endless motion itself a substitute for any larger form of thought. The radio would be turned on, full of love songs and rock music; we believed in rock music but I don't think we believed in the love songs, either then or now. Ours was a life lived in paradise and thus it rendered any discussion of transcendental ideas pointless. Politics, we supposed, existed elsewhere in a televised nonparadise; death was something similar to recycling.
Life was charmed but without politics or religion. it was the life of children of the children of the pioneers--life after God--a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven. Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between dream life and real life--and yet I find myself speaking these words with a sense of doubt. I think there was a trade-off somewhere along the line.
I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God.
But then I must remind myself we are living creatures--we have religious impulses--we must --and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion? It is something I think about every day. Sometimes I think it is the only thing I should be thinking about.
Some facts about me: I think I am a broken person. I seriously question the road my life has taken and I endlessly rehash the compromises I have made in my life. I have an unsecure and vaguely crappy job with an amoral corporation so that I don't have to worry about money. I put up with halfway relationships so as not to have to worry about loneliness. I have lost the ability to recapture the purer feelings of my younger years in exchange for a streamlined narrow-mindedness that I assumed would propel me to "the top." What a joke.
Compromise is said to be the way of the world and yet I find myself feeling sick trying to accept what it has done to me:the little yellow pills, the lost sleep. But I don't think this is anything new in the world.
This is not to say my life is bad. I know it isn't...but my life is not what I expected it might have been when I was younger. Maybe you yourself deal with this issue better than me. Maybe you have been lucky enough to never have inner voices question you about your own path--or maybe you answered the questioning and came out on the other side. I don't feel sorry for myself in any way. I am merely coming to grips with what I know the world is truly like.
Sometimes I want to go to sleep and merge with the foggy world of dreams and not return to this, our real world. Sometimes I look back on my life and am surprised at the lack of kind things I have done. Sometimes I just feel that there must be another road that can be walked--away from this became--either against my will or by default.
Now--here is my secret:
I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God--that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.
DOUGLAS COUPLAND If life after God brought untold cruelty to the gulag of Solzhenitsyn, it has scorched the suburbs with irony, leaving behind a discomforting nihilism in its children. Douglas Coupland, of Generation X fame, reflects on the emptiness of it all in this excerpt from his new work of fiction, Life After God. (Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster)