We were at the M.I.T. subway station waiting for a train to come. This is my favorite subway stop in Boston. There are large metal chimes hanging between the tracks, with metal cables extending to the waiting platforms on either side. If you pull the cables, the chimes begin to sway and ring. The longer you pull the fuller the sound becomes, as the chimes accumulate momentum and a rhythm, and doing so the chords become richer and thus the sound fuller. Finally a train approaches, drowning out the sound completely with its dissonance.
Marisa and I were talking about religious curiosities that night on the platform while I pulled the chimes. We continued on the train.
“I was raised Catholic,” she told. “But when I went through high school I went through this phase when religion seemed important to me. I really wanted to believe and understand.
“Catholicism didn’t make much sense to me, so I explored different religions and denominations. I went to all the churches in my hometown, joining each of them one at a time, and eventually I’d quit each of them when I discovered their hypocrisies. I believed each of them for a little while, or at least wanted to, but I couldn’t stand hypocrisy. I tried to read the bible too. Eventually I gave up, not finding myself in Christianity.”
“Do you believe in God?” I asked.
“I believe in something.”
We agreed on many things, and even shared that same moment in high school, the desire to find meaning in religion, and then ultimately feeling unresolved. We got off the train and started walking towards a small coffee shop. There was a light rain on the streets that night.
I told her about my searches in high school as we walked, and how I denied confirmation. While pursuing my own questions about religion, I attended confirmation classes at Saint Thomas, the local Episcopal church my parents attended when I was young. I eventually rejected the notions of religion I found in my study — preferring to trust in my own experience — and decided against confirmation.
While walking with Marisa, I eventually talked about my time in Bali, and my study of Balinese Hinduism. I talked of life and death and Sanghyang Widi, the unification and energy of life, the name given to life in its most complex, complete, and unknowable form.
“In Balinese Hinduism, there are different times that coexist.” I explained to her. The light rain felt refreshing and crisp. “For instance, there is a three day week, a five day week, a five day week, nine and eleven; and then there is the Western year of 365 days, and then the Balinese year, which is 250 days, or something like that. Whenever these different times overlap, it’s considered a redundancy in chaos, and thus a source of order.” We walked up a steep hill side by side. “And as the world is in constant disorder, and any source of order is a source of meaning, and finding meaning is a cause for celebration. They have different rituals and religious offerings they perform for each overlap in time. Some of these are more important than others.
“Death,” I continued, “is liberation. It’s a release from suffering. And with each cycle of life and death we move closer to Sanghyang Widi, the source of life. That’s interesting, I think; death in Balinese Hinduism is liberation.”
We reached the coffee shop and I opened the door for Marisa. She walked up the steps and through the door, keeping her hands in her coat pockets.
“Death in this world is liberation,” she said.