Sneak Peeks

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Faith and a Dragon

I was once a religious bigot.

A childhood spent choking on the religion my parents liked to cram down my throat had soured me to the faith so many others found solace in. I saw religious books as instruction manuals for the directionless. How-to guides for finding a purpose.

Secondhand faith. That’s what I secretly called it.

I even laughed at them and their TV commercials that seemed to say, “Believe like me and you’ll be happy.”

Yep, I thought that was pretty funny. Until I saw the dragon.

Now, don’t read this like a story about something that couldn’t happen here. Read it from your true vantage point. This is a world where satellites can see through your bedroom window well enough to read the results of your pregnancy test. Where the most frightening boogieman is the guy down the street who keeps trying to lure your son inside his house. A world where there are no great secrets or mysteries anymore. Nowhere to hide. Your world.

I’ve forgotten the reason I was in the desert that night, probably just because I could be, or there was nothing good on TV. I think I was searching for something. Maybe the stars, maybe the fear of dark things. I needed something to replace the emptiness of another night of worthless anonymity.

That’s when I looked up.

It came in low from the north. I felt it coming before my eyes caught its shadow against the stars. There was a sort of vibration that became the sound of rushing wind, then the whoosh and crack of its great wings striking the air.

When something unbelievable happens, your brain does strange things. It begins to offer your conscious mind a variety of explanations; that’s a plane, a glider, a giant bird, a space ship, a remote controlled dragon, a dragon, not a real dragon, a dragon, A DRAGON!

Adrenaline and wonder and terror rushed through me like magnetic waves drawn to this incredible thing in the sky. I could see the shine of the stars off its scales, the wetness of its eyes as it stared into the distance behind me, the ripple of muscles as it swam through the currents of desert air. The moment before it passed above me I felt the heat of it. Then the heat became its scent.

I wish I could describe to you what it smelled like. I wish there was a comparison so that I could tell you, “Smell this, it’s the smell of a dragon.” But I can’t. There was so much sensation in that scent, like joy and freedom. So many flavors, like the ocean and a desert storm, moss and shadows, a baby’s breath and burning wood. But really it was like none of those things. It was dragon. I inhaled so deeply I felt faint with it. Then it was above me, its heart beat was so close that I felt its pulse through my chest like a drum.

Then it passed. I spun to watch it, but a moment more and it was gone, drifting away into the dark.

There should have been more. It happened too quickly. I didn’t see enough, I didn’t feel enough, I didn’t smell enough, I needed more. It couldn’t be over. That can’t be it.

But that was it. Silence. Nothing more.

My cell phone was still in my pocket. No video taken of the event. No way to relive it.

Getting home that night was a blur of stop lights and street lights and startled faces. I called my family, I woke my neighbors. The sensation I recall most is relief. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had seen a real live dragon. Nothing else would ever be depressing again. War, murder, extirpation; how utterly insignificant! There were dragons in the world; everything else would turn out right in the end because now I was sure that we knew NOTHING. How liberating! Our understanding is not important! The world is full of magic; no one needs to be afraid of the unknown again.

In the morning my sister came over. I told her everything, every detail. I wanted to share every feeling I had with her, I wanted to see the wonder in her eyes.

What I saw was doubt.

I felt I should try harder; I needed her to feel it, what good was all this joy if I couldn’t share it. I knew she was trying to believe me, she wanted to, she didn’t think I was lying, but she couldn’t feel the same rush of certainty that seeing it had given me.

I thought perhaps I should write it down. I could find the best words to show people that it was the truth. And in that moment the true gift that came from what I had seen became apparent.

I had experienced something utterly life changing. Something that changed my whole perception of human existence, and I wanted to share it.

It still makes me laugh even as I write this. I was inspired to do what every other religion has done for thousands of years. What I had always sneered at and mistrusted. I wanted everyone else to believe what I had seen. I wanted to share the joy of my faith and see it in the eyes of the people around me. Not to control them as I had always imagined religion's ulterior motive to be, but to liberate them. No more worthless anonymity, never be afraid again!

I can imagine what might have happened in a hundred years. The description of my every move up to the point I saw the dragon repeated in ceremonies; careful attempts to capture the magic of that moment. There would be groups of people looking in a certain direction, wearing certain clothes, perhaps touching their necks and brushing their arms as I had done.

I know what I saw. I still believe it was a real dragon, though the scorn of others has stolen some of the joy away. Now instead of sharing my story as an experience to be believed, I share a small insight on human nature instead.

When any person truly believes in something that can’t be proven, they are compelled to share their faith in it. We want to see our truth in other eyes so that we don’t have to try as hard to keep it real. When multiplied it becomes big enough to live on its own. We’re all the same. All of us.

Think about this: What would you do if you saw a dragon? Would you tell people? How would you feel if those you wished to share your joy with sneered at you?

We encounter people every day who are searching for faith. It can be a fragile thing. We are compelled to surround ourselves with others who believe the same way; it strengthens us. So the next time someone tries to share their beliefs with you, no matter how bumbling or defensive their explanation, have patience.

They have seen a dragon.