AXIOMS OF FAITH: A young writer speaks for her generation-and then some.

Nussbaum, Anna

AXIOMS OF FAITH Finding a language of belief Anna Nussbaum In mathematics one must accept certain axioms, certain truths. Ten in all. Most important, one must accept the theoretical concepts...

...He knows, intuitively, that there is more to life than leisure, and he seeks ultimate meaning in a dairy-free diet...
...Still, she tends to her body religiously...
...We have no place from which to begin...
...He misses jokes about sitcoms and rap music...
...that remaining childless protects their integrity, their choices in life...
...I am considerably more rebellious than the two of them, neither of whom dates...
...most people just avoid talking about abortion...
...I've noticed that when people are drunk they like to talk about God...
...In it he finds prophets who preach truth...
...Katie doesn't go to church, but she still tries to win converts...
...When you write a dictionary, if you don't have any words, you can't define any words...
...The three of us have words with which to discuss our lives...
...Katie seeks ultimate meaning in her body and in dance...
...Where forgiveness happens...
...He wins at international science fairs...
...Still, he celebrated his bar mitzvah...
...Our classes are more rigorous than advanced placement and we are tested by international standards...
...But I choose knowing that God expects something from me, and wondering what it is...
...It feels good to speak about it even though I know how strongly Avi disagrees...
...we listen in, though we cannot make out the lyrics...
...Avi asks...
...The conversation winds its way to the top of the hill and off the trail...
...Where the rich housewife and the homeless man drink from a single cup...
...If this community can believe that the dead will rise again can they also believe that the child of an unmarried teen mother can be loved, can be valued, can be good...
...The three of usóJohn, Avi, and Ió are an unlikely trio...
...It is the lens through which I was taught to see...
...I saw some kids from my high school...
...Dallas Thompson's head is never unplugged...
...This is a faith that makes them feel, as one of them says, "not really a part of any culture," that is, except a part of the consumer culture...
...It is the source of frustration...
...It is my parents...
...But his devotion dwindled and he no longer believes in Christianity...
...They understand its limitations, its frustrations, and its beauty...
...Where wine is turned into blood...
...To survey the goods and choose the best buy...
...And are they strong enough to build a life on...
...It is my siblings...
...Commonweal 17 September 14, 2001...
...Where people, however flawed and foolish, believe, everything seems a little more possible...
...I am glad for an excuse not to do my homework...
...We have each chosen a spoke of the same wheel to follow...
...I would just never do that to my kids," one says...
...Without her practices she wouldn't be who she is...
...And anyway, Tim has a new rite of initiation to anticipate...
...He takes a Russian-language class at the local community college, competes in Stephen Douglas debates, volunteers, and builds, builds, builds his resume, as we all do...
...But faith persists, and all around me I find believers...
...I met her in study hall...
...His father and sister don't practice...
...They needed Commonweal 16 September 14, 2001 someone from my demographic...
...We speak freely...
...As he matured, the youth group didn't, or wouldn't, mature with him...
...What if your best friend got pregnant tomorrow...
...For now, all of his value can be typed onto an application and stuffed in a manila envelope to be scanned in fifteen minutes by a member of the admissions department...
...She always carries a water bottle...
...vegans, Dallas feels less alone...
...His mother and sister dress modestly...
...It is Sundays and holy days of obligation...
...It is bad singing...
...Most important, one must accept the theoretical concepts of a point, a line, and a plane...
...He seeks ultimate meaning within the boundaries of logic, intelligence, and achievement...
...But are these faiths enough for a lifetime...
...It gives me courage to ask hard questions because I'm not alone...
...The Polish man sat like a child on the step with his pants legs rolled up...
...It's hard to have this conversation...
...They were still preaching about why you shouldn't kiss on the first date, and doing "trust falls," while Tim was struggling with existence of the Trinity and with materialism...
...As the heavy metal crescendos in his ears, he scribbles down his thoughts on scraps of paper, thoughts which will later become 'zines (home-made magazines...
...He goes to temple alone...
...It climbs over rocks, and runs down the gravel to the road...
...Avi was eleven at the outset and turned twelve on the trip...
...John Thomas used to live in Massachusetts, where he attended Bethany Brethren Chapel...
...He wants to go to Columbia University and then train to become an astronaut...
...I tell him all this knowing that I am a part of the problem, and that I have not been there to help...
...But even if it is wrong, he can't live it, this belief, all alone...
...Her legs are invariably smooth...
...It is my identity...
...His family doesn't own a television set or a secular music collection...
...Can everything be understood from them, and through them...
...They were all singing this sweet, haunting melody, "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est...
...Dallas is a believer...
...We laugh with each other...
...It never encouraged inquiry...
...I close my eyes and see the pews and the sea of people...
...The first-born son of strict Republican parents, one a nonpracticing Jew and the other an atheist who was raised Presbyterian, Tim gets top grades in the hardest classes...
...A lot of people are drinking and, after a few beers, they have announced that they will not raise their children in a religious tradition...
...With other Anna Nussbaum, the winner of Commonweal's Younger Writers Contest, is a senior at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado...
...He distributes vegan literature, and in the animal-product-free lifestyle he finds commandments and a strict code of conduct...
...We are supposed to use this time to catch up on our studies...
...I thought it would be fun...
...For me it is my beginning...
...I wouldn't force it down their throats...
...So that day I tell Avi I think we, as a community, can do better than abortion...
...The one who came alone...
...It haunts me...
...They slept in a tent and got around on public transportation...
...In the lonely, fend-for-yourself world, maybe it's impossible...
...No axiom is proved, so it requires imagination...
...It is my culture...
...The air is thin and crisp...
...It is the very soil in which I was planted...
...I saw all their stories...
...I'm not alone, and under this sky seems a big enough place to begin...
...Or with those who believe that every religion can be discarded on the basis of logic...
...It is the prayers I say, or don't say...
...I say something like "every life is sacred...
...It is an IB flex day and we don't have class...
...But I don't think I could live it...I mean the real world doesn't work that way...If it was my girlfriend, I'd still want her to have the abortion...
...And alone we choose out of desperation and, well, loneliness...
...He recycles his plastic juice bottles, and every day he carries a lunch box to school...
...Avi turns to me in the library and asks me if I'll go for a hike with him...
...Freshman year, Tim was baptized at Radiant Assemblies of God, a local fundamentalist church, six months after he joined its youth group...
...Being Catholic doesn't give me the answers, but it does give me the questions...
...I need to speak, but don't know what I think or what I should say...
...The one whose mother is dead...
...Open to see miracles...
...I wonder if, for him, silence is noise...
...He doesn't talk about his faith with me or anyone else at school...
...And a dead man was resurrected to ascend into heaven...
...Why not...
...He struggles with the particulars, but still seeks to live a life of faith because he witnessed so many believers in his journeys and saw, firsthand, the limitlessness of God's creation...
...I guess she'd have the baby...
...Avi believes abortion is right in a wrong sort of way...
...When his turn came, one priest held his hands gently under the man's little white and blue legs, the other poured clear water over his bony old feet and yellowing toenails...
...If s true that outside of school we often hang with different crowds...
...It is dinnertable conversation...
...Easier said than done, but not impossible...
...He tells me he wants to have the words "Vegan for Life" tattooed across his chest...
...But in a family, a community, a friendship, a tradition where "these things happen," where miracles happen, where you are worth more than your resume, anything seems possible...
...We share a common vocabulary of faith...
...So he works hard...
...And, "Really, you should stretch at least half an hour every morning...
...Their existence cannot be proved or disproved, but they are the beginning of understanding geometry...
...The one whose mother is so depressed that she didn't get out of bed that day or the day before that or the day before that...
...Confused...
...Her skin is exfoliated and hydrated and immaculate...
...She is anorexic: never eats a complete meal, and never gains a pound...
...As soon as friends become sexually active, 'most everyone knows someone who has had an abortion...
...I believe in veganism...
...Spoiled...
...Iam at a party...
...Maybe it was the singing or the quiet, or the men on the stoop, or the babies sleeping, but my eyes feel open...
...I looked out at the congregation...
...If she lets her discipline lag, she will no longer be recognizable as who she is: a dancer, and a member of the club...
...I have more in common with Avi and John Thomas, with Muslims and Mormons, than with those who feel that every religion can be purchased, or returned for a full refund...
...I still choose every day, as my friends do...
...I walk out into the night...
...You're right...
...Like me, Tim Ross is an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma student...
...Then the bishop leaned down and kissed the man's feet as he had kissed mine...
...He bathes once a week...
...Anna," she says, "I can show you how to make a diet for yourself that you can live with...
...I don't know," I answer...
...We make small talk, but I keep thinking about a friend's abortion...
...But Dallas's mind makes sense of the noise...
...it's the only way...
...When I am a guest at his house, at dinner with his family, the boys pull out the chairs for all the ladies, even their little sister...
...He wants, more than anything, to make his parents proud...
...It is my limitation...
...Our exams are sent across the globe...
...They will raise their children to have choices...
...I guess she didn't make the cut...
...The one who had to come...
...He seems to write in time to the music...
...It is what happens every day...
...He carries a lunch box when other hard-core kids eat hamburgers and French fries and carelessly leave their cardboard trash behind...
...I tell him that abortion degrades women, and kills children, and haunts my friends...
...The music pouring from the earphones is loud...
...One Holy Thursday the church lady asked me if I'd come up from my pew and have my feet washed...
...Katie is sharing with me the orthodoxy behind her actions, the wisdom that guides her every step...
...He's too smart, that's all...
...It's supposed to be true that the continuation of a pregnancy is every single woman's choice, but it's not...
...We compare and contrast customs, and discuss philosophies...
...I envy his transcript...
...Clean feet...
...We're a generation trying to write a dictionary of belief without words...
...It is the questions I ask, the rituals I do...
...For my peers, religion is but one choice in a world of choices...
...He uses his earnings to buy high-priced organic foods...
...The man wept, moaned, and cried out...
...Tim is a decent guy...
...It is the seasons...
...We drive to the mountains and start hiking the Mount Cutter Trail in Cheyenne Canyon...
...They are passing on to their children the only religion they know, the religion of choice...
...My instructor explained, "You can't prove anything from nothing...
...Avi wasn't raised to be religious, but Indonesia, India, and Thailand turned him into a passionate boy, and a believer...
...He lives simply...
...Or with those for whom diets, or achievements, take highest priority...
...It is a kindness...
...Mostly, he just lives it...
...Unwanted...
...We hike faster until our breathing becomes labored...
...There wasn't enough at Radiant for Tim, who always demands more from life and first visited the church alone...
...But we are still the best of friends because we are involved in a never-ending conversation...
...I'm not gonna pussy out and become a vegetarian like so many vegans do," he says...
...Getting into Columbia University will be very much a salvific event for him...
...Light heart...
...She went to a boarding school for dancers, but a year later returned to public high school...
...It seems that we will each arrive at the center eventually if we continue on our paths...
...Dance has trained her, and disciplined her...
...I look up and see the black sky, and the big white moon...
...Avi is pro-choice...
...Avi is Jewish...
...Katie Cline is a dancer, or at least she used to be...
...He has ten journals from that time...
...A conservative Protestant, and a reform Jew, and a Catholic feministósounds like the beginning of a bad joke...
...I'd let them decide for themselves about God...
...In Tim's eyes, intellectuals are seldom believers and never fundamentalist Christians...
...He says, "Yeah...
...After his mother died of cancer, Avi was very angry at God...
...It's too painful...
...Moral axioms make mathematical axioms seem simple...
...Avi asks me what I think about it...
...I was raised Roman Catholic and that will never change, though it has changed me...
...I sat on the stoop between a deaf Hispanic man who looked homeless and an elderly Polish immigrant who struggled with his shoes and socks...
...CoCommonweal 14 September 14, 2001 lumbia is for the elite, the chosen, the few...
...I tell him all this, feeling that my church hasn't done enough to stop it, or to prevent it, or to change it...
...Husbands, bosses, boyfriends, bills decide...
...The society tells him it's supposed to be that way: one person, one choice...
...Finally, Avi understands where I am coming from...
...The one who came because he loves the pomp, the kitsch, the culture of it all...
...Funding for the contest was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc...
...I tell him society forces girls and women to feel that they should take part in this honor killing...
...Commonweal 15 September 14, 2001 Ihave two dear friends, Avi Goldman and John Thomas Ritter...
...I tell him it asks too much of young girls...
...Unformed...
...Can they transcend one's individual life...
...The church was too dogmatic...
...Avi and John Thomas understand what believing is like...
...For two years after Avi's mother died, his father took him and his sister around the world...
...He sits in the back row of my third-period journalism class wearing headphones...
...Tim will have earned a place among them and his life will, someday, be worth remembering...

Vol. 128 • September 2001 • No. 15


 
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