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I’m tutoring Sergey again. For those of you who just started reading my blog, Sergey is a Ukranian man who was vacationing on the Cape back in July. I tutored him English while he was here. Now he’s traveling a lot for his job – going back and forth from New York (where his family lives) to Russia to the Ukraine. He asked if I would tutor him through Skype while he is out of the country, and I said yes.
“And if you will like it, I will find you other people for tutoring. My friends in Russia and Ukraine. I think you are the best candidate,” he said.
“Sure,” I said. “That’d be great.”
Perhaps I can make a living just sitting at home on my computer talking to Russians all day. On second thought, that might be too much Skyping.
But I’ve enjoyed talking to Sergey the past two days. We talked about his wife and two daughters. He told me that his daughters still believe in Santa Claus, even though last year they found their presents hidden around the house a week before Christmas. They rationalized that by saying Santa can’t get to all the houses in one night, so he brings presents to some people’s houses early.
“That makes sense,” I said. “Your daughters are pretty smart.”
He shrugged. “They want to believe.”
* * *
A few years ago, Nikki told me how she met her husband Nathan. “Well,” she said matter-of-factly. “I wrote down a list of everything that I was looking for in a mate. Then I went out into the woods, and I sat there for awhile, and I asked the universe to send me a man. A few days later, I met Nate.” She made it sound as if it was the simplest thing in the world.
“Hmm,” I said. “That probably worked for you because you truly believed it would work. You believed that the universe could hear you and help you.”
In other words, I thought, it wouldn’t work for me, because I wouldn’t quite be able to take myself seriously, sitting out in the woods and asking the universe to send me a man. But how could it be that I believed it worked for Nikki because she believed it would, yet not believe that it would work for me because I didn’t? Wasn’t that contradictory? If I believed that something worked for her, couldn’t it work for me?
Not really. Because when we believe in something, we can make it true for ourselves. We see the world through the filter of our own beliefs. We ignore the facts that don’t fit with our beliefs, or we spin them in such a way that they do. And so different people with different beliefs might construe the same situation in totally different ways.
“I wish I could believe that asking the universe would work for me,” I told Nikki. “Because I think if I believed it would work, it would work. But I can’t make myself believe something that I don’t.”
All of this has made me think about beliefs. Some people are so strong in their beliefs that nothing shakes them. Anything they see or experience is rationalized through the filter of their belief system. And, in a way, that must be really comforting for them. Their world must make a lot of sense.
As for me, I’m not really sure what I believe.
Just the other day, I said to Stefan, “you’d better knock on wood!”
“You don’t really believe in that, do you?” he asked. “You know if comes from the idea of the wood of Jesus’s cross.”
“Oh, I don’t really believe in it,” I said. “But on the other hand, better safe than sorry, right? I mean, I better just go ahead and knock on wood. The same with heads-up pennies. Will they really bring me good luck – probably not. But maybe they will. Better go ahead and pick ’em up.”
Does that mean, I wondered, that there’s a tiny part of me that believes in things the rest of me doesn’t believe in?
“Are you lucky because you find heads-up pennies?” Stefan asked. “Or do you find heads-up pennies because you’re lucky?”
“Maybe finding a heads up penny makes me feel more confident, and then good things happen to me due to that confidence.”
“No, no,” he said, sighing. “I was referencing Socrates.”
“Oh,” I said. “OK.”
* * *
Yesterday I was having an email exchange with a friend about how humans try to impose our desire for meaning onto the world. If you are a mathematician and you believe in logic, you look at the world and see equations and patterns, and thus, meaning. If you are an artist and you believe in beauty, you look at the world and see shape and form and symbols, and thus, meaning.
Since I’m a writer, I look at the world and see stories and characters and metaphors. That’s the way I make sense of the world. In a story, I can make connections and elevate an experience to give it more importance. I can leave things out that don’t fit with the theme. I can choose an ending that makes sense.
You can’t do that in life.
* * *
Sergey says his daughters also believe in the tooth fairy.
“How much do they get per tooth?” I asked.
“Wow! Expensive teeth!”
“So do you all have the tooth fairy in the Ukraine?” I asked. “Is that something Ukrainian children believe in?”
“No,” Sergey said. “They saw it on an American television program, and they decided the wanted to believe in it.”
Is it that easy? Can we decide what we want to believe in? And once we decide on that belief, can we make it true, at least in our own eyes?
I don’t know. Because there are some things I’d really like to believe in, but I don’t know how to believe in something I don’t.
On the other hand, I think of the heads-up penny. Most of me doesn’t believe, but the tiny part of me that does believe wins out. I always pick up the penny, just in case.
I don’t know. I’m confusing myself and starting to not make sense. I’m not sure what my beliefs are, and maybe that’s why I think life doesn’t make much sense… But at least I believe I can write a story that does.
P.S. On the topic of “believe,” I always did like this video.