God-Talk over Margaritas

Last night I hung out with people I feel safe drinking and talking with. What I learned having lived as long as I have is that drinking and talking can be a dangerous combo. There IS such a thing as TUI — talking under the influence — and people can get hurt, both physically, when the talk turns to fisticuffs, and emotionally, when belief systems are challenged or past traumas are triggered.

Last night, the idea of forgiveness and redemption came up from a recollection of a spurned wedding invitation. Two actually. The thing about 20+-year friendships is that there is a deep reservoir of shared memories to flip through and up. And in that reservoir is a plethora of emotions— some forgotten, some forgiven, and some still festering. The questions: Can we forgive old transgressions? And why did they happen in the first place? And if we say it’s between them and their god, what if they don’t have one?

One suggested, from what she’s read, that the act of forgiveness is not really about absolving the transgressor of guilt (if indeed they feel guilty), but it’s more about one’s ability to find peace within oneself despite the transgression. We all nodded and toasted, thinking the concept wise.

I shared that, sometimes, forgiveness is like a hallmark card saying generated by an assembly line of writers in a windowless room. Unfortunately, by now, they have probably been displaced by chatGPT. (Note to self: must write a play about how a hallmark card writer-worker was laid off because of AI. And in fact, as the night aged, talk turned to AI Armageddon.)

As a linguist, I wonder if there is a language where the word forgiveness does not exist. If instead, accountability is learned in the vocabulary early on.

In any case, the conversation is enriched by parents’ quandary over kids making bad decisions or not making decisions at all, overwhelmed by the choices presented to them. Children are depressed, anxious, unmotivated — same things we felt as hormonal teens, but we acknowledged that teens today have more crap to deal with being exposed to so much. Back then, we only have to worry about the dangers that existed in our immediate physical, not virtual, surroundings. What’s good is now, there is less stigma about mental health; in fact, many of my students have openly shared in their writing their precarious journeys toward sanity. One friend echoed a concern she heard about the abundance of these diagnoses. That maybe it’s better if these neuroses are not diagnosed, because then, they can’t be used as crutches. However, we cannot discount the overwhelming number of incarcerated youth suffering from undiagnosed mental health problems. Bottom line is —their brains are still developing. (Read: Primal Teen by Barbara Strauch). Soooo, we asked each other, how did we deal with our internal demons back then without therapy and medication? How did we raise our grades from Ds and Cs to As without Adderal or bupropion? Was it with mom’s (or dad’s) strong and fast backhand against our cheeks (whichever ones)? Was it with prayers?

Last night, we went around the table to candidly share our religious affiliations and beliefs. Again, you can only be this brazen among friends you feel safe with. Otherwise, avoid drinking and talking at all cost! Especially about religion. One friend shared how their child was curious about what’s going inside a serial killer’s mind. What made them kill? What guides our moral compasses for that matter? How do we know right from wrong if we don’t believe in a higher being that constantly watches and punishes? For me, having been raised in a “sinful” home with parents constantly seeking redemption, the idea of god has evolved from this judgy, unforgiving being to a loving presence that exists in all the people and things I love— both animate and inanimate. But yes, that’s not enough. Interestingly, I just saw this article from Rappler; it felt as if the writer were with us last night toasting with her own margarita-filled salt rimmed stem glass. Check it out: https://www.rappler.com/voices/thought-leaders/science-solitaire-what-makes-you-choose-good-or-bad/

Anyway, where were we? Yes, forgiveness. An idea so tied to Christianity, really. And what is wrong with that? Offer the other cheek, the Bible says. Redemption is presupposed by forgiveness. So that when Jesus died, he resurrected to forgive us and redeem us all from sin, and we lived happily ever after. Or so we pray. But if Jesus died and never resurrected, then the murderers remained murderers. Rapists are still rapists. There is no forgiveness. There is no redemption.

And with that thought, we ordered churros and coffee.

About filinthegap

Lani T. Montreal is an educator, writer, performer, and community activist. Her writings have been published and produced in Canada, the U.S., the Philippines and in cyberspace. Among her plays are: Nanay, Panther in the Sky, Gift of Tongue, Looking for Darna, Alien Citizen, Grandmother and I, and her most-toured comedy drama about gender and immigration, titled Sister OutLaw. She is the recipient of the 2016 3Arts Djerassi Residency Fellowship for Playwriting, 2009 3Arts Ragdale Residency Fellowship, the 2001 Samuel Ostrowsky Award for her memoir “Summer Rain,” and was finalist for the 1995 JVO Philippine Award for Excellence in Journalism for her environmental expose “Poison in the River.” Lani holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She teaches writing at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago and writes a blog called “Fil-in-the-gap”. (filinthegap.com.) She lives (and loves) in Albany Park, Chicago with her multi-species, multi-cultural family.
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