April demands some greetings. Happy Passover! Have a blessed Ramadan! Happy Easter! And with Easter, hoping your Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Palm Sunday were also grand, of course. And Happy Orthodox Easter! Oh, and Happy Earth Day to the Druids!
I can’t say that I’m particularly knowledgeable in any of these holy days, despite being indoctrinated in the Catholic tradition. Palm Sunday meant I got a frond to play with at Mass, which helped keep me awake. I’m sure I was a tween before I realized Easter had anything to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, rather than simply a fun spring fling celebrated with decorated eggs, jellybeans, and chocolate bunnies.
Not a theologian, I don’t know a great deal about any religions, either, much less the special occasions. But my ignorance shouldn’t be mistaken for disdain. I may not belong to any faith tradition or community — though I have enjoyed fellowship with the Unitarians when visiting Mom -– but I can’t knock their appeal.
As humans, we’re the only animals we know of that can contemplate death. A survival instinct is nearly universal among all us animals. Like humans, plenty of the other species mourn. Dogs, elephants, and whales, for starters. But we’re the only species with the sentience required to truly fixate on the end of earthly existence.
It’s easily enough to make a person neurotic, I reckon.
Add to that the simple geography of our reality. We have three-dimensional perception. Does the universe end? Does it dissolve at the edges into nothingness? Well, that can’t be. What’s beyond the nothingness? Maybe the universe is boundless in every direction. Nope, that’s no good. It can’t be infinite. “Sure it can! It’s shaped like a doughnut.” Uhm, okay. But a doughnut inside of what? Whatever the nature of the universe, no matter how we look at it, we can’t truly comprehend it. That’s not even thinking about the Great Hereafter (or lack thereof). When it comes to the totality of the universe, we can’t even make a map.
So, if faith in a higher power, taking comfort in traditions that span centuries, or imagining an existence after this one gives a person comfort when contemplating the unknown, who can blame them? We seemingly all agree that we share ignorance. That’s the human condition. Those with absolutely no belief in something beyond the proven are welcome to that conclusion, though it’s as fixed in faith as any other belief system. After all, we have bits of evidence of reincarnation and after-death experiences. Whether it’s evidence of an eternal soul or merely recycled code, nobody knows. We do, however, know that much this evidence is neatly cataloged and stored at the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Division of Perceptual Studies.
Looking at April’s religious intersections — April 2023 notably, as many holidays bounce around the calendar — I come to a day that means something to me.
As a gay fella, I felt no home with the Catholics. Plenty do. Bless ’em. By the time my mother returned to her Unitarian roots, I’d been wandering the desert for too long to feel comfortable in any faith tradition. I’ll dip a toe in someone’s holy waters, but I’m not going swimming. I do, however, mark April 5, First Contact Day!
In the Star Trek universe, April 5, 2063, is the day humanity first meets an alien species, the Vulcans. Why should this mean anything? It means something to me, because the writer who gave us this universe assigned his Vulcans a beautiful creed: “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.” More fully, as reported in the fanmag Inside Star Trek, according to Wikipedia, Gene Roddenberry said this creed “represents a Vulcan belief that beauty, growth, progress — all result from the union of the unlike.”
That’s a more inspirational sentiment than anything I ever heard at St. Bernadette’s, frankly.
“But that’s just fiction,” the pious might argue. Well, so’s every scripture that’s not your own, generally speaking. Unless you imagine that Hindus give a fig about what’s in the Book or Mormon, or that Latter-day Saints believe in the divine word of Vishnu, for example.
Star Trek offers a progressive, aspirational, and inclusive story for the future of humanity. In a few hundred years, maybe it will have churches of its own. Nerdy, geeky churches, likely, but churches just the same.
With a Vulcan-like belief in embracing and celebrating diversity, D.C. already has a sort of temple. And it’s also got April roots.
President Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theatre April 14, 1865. Flawed though he was, as is everyone, Lincoln held together a union of diverse states. He may have been bisexual or gay, some argue. Regardless, he gets credit for holding the union together and abolishing slavery within in.
Today, Ford’s Theatre is a celebration of American diversity. The current production is Shout Sister Shout!, celebrating Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s foundational spot in the story of rock and roll. Metro Weekly‘s André Hereford loved it!
I was lucky enough to see Come From Away‘s East Coast debut at Ford’s. A story of stranded passengers from around the world being sheltered by a small community in Canada is absolutely a celebration of diversity and combinations. It left me in tears, unlike any formal religious service I’ve attended, aside from funerals.
Then there was Ford’s production of The Laramie Project, retelling that Wyoming town’s reaction to the murder of Matthew Shepard. Across the street, at Ford’s Center for Education and Leadership, a moving installation, part of the Lincoln Legacy Project, shared thousands of letters the Shepard family received after the murder of their gay son. A photo of the section of remote wood fencing where Matthew was tied and left to die, “Where Matthew Lay Dying” by Jeff Sheng, was also included in the installation, Not Alone: The Power of Response. I’m not saying Matthew was Jesus, but it’s impossible for me not to think of the Crucifixion. And Judy Shepard is a saint in my book.
My celebration of First Contact Day and reverence for Ford’s Theatre doesn’t make me religious, or anti-religious. Nor does it provide me any belief that I’ll be metaphorically “beamed up” at the end of my days. But altogether it helps me add to the diversity of what it is to be human, to be American, and to hold some sort of faith in the future. Whatever you may be celebrating this month — or not — you have my heartfelt support. Amen.
Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at www.LifeInFlights.com.
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