Ungrateful – a chapter from Dear Jon

I am currently re-reading all of my books. It’s not a selfish pursuit; I’m digging for “the past” to include in some future stuff. Whatever the reason, though, I stumble upon some parts of my books that I’m – well – super proud of. This chapter is one of those. If you haven’t read the entire Choisie series, this has a minor spoiler, but it’s nothing that should discourage you from checking out this excerpt.

I adore the brotherly love in this one from Dear Jon. Jon is the narrator, having a conversation with his younger brother, Will. Jon’s 19… I think Will’s 15 at this point. Spoiler: Jon and Livvy are apart for the summer…

Will has some existential questions for his older brother…
Jon has some pragmatic advice for him.

“Does God exist?” Will asks me after my shower Wednesday night. I’m a little taken aback by his question. Isn’t he too young to ask questions like that? 

I was thirteen. I think that’s right. I’d discussed it with my father before he passed away. I guess it’s time to ask existential questions, since he hasn’t before. Not of me, anyway. I hate to think what the answers would be if he’d asked Mom, or his father.

“Why do you ask?”

“I read the part about the Babel fish, and it says God doesn’t exist.”

“First of all, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, Will, The Hitchhiker’s Guide is fiction.”

“I know,” he says. “I’m not stupid… but it got me wondering. I’ve wondered before, but I wasn’t sure it was okay to wonder that.”

“Of course it’s okay to wonder things; to question things. Even things about God.”

“Well? Is he real?”

I smile at him, trying to remember the things my dad told me. He was a smart man with good advice, even if I ultimately didn’t share in his beliefs.

“It’s not really cut and dry like that,” I start. “It’s kind of like if I asked you the meaning of life.” He looks at his hands pensively. “I’m not asking you that, by the way. But, let’s say I did ask you that, and I asked Mom that and I asked Max that. I’d probably get three different answers, wouldn’t I?”

“But that’s an open-ended question,” he tells me brightly. I smile, proud that he sees a difference, even if it takes me off-topic. “I asked you a yes or no question.”

“I can only give you an open-ended response, though. Ask me if I believe in a god.”

“Do you?”

“I do.”

He nods his head, contemplating my response. “Why?”

“Good question.”

I first tell him about the conversation I had with my father. He’d met my dad before, but really had very little to do with him. Will has told me before that he thought my dad was cold, detached and hard to read. He was. But when we really got to talking about things he was passionate about, I felt closer to him.

My dad was very scholarly and well-educated. He believed in hard facts, and couldn’t muster any faith in anything, really, but especially not in God. “Evolution doesn’t lie,” he’d told me, and when I was younger, I immediately saw where he was coming from.

“But the fact that you can see evolutionary details in our solar system and planet and species doesn’t mean that there isn’t a god,” I explain to my brother. “In my mind, they can co-exist, and they do.”

“So your dad didn’t believe in God?”

“Nope,” I tell him plainly. “From what I can tell, he never did.”

“Is your dad in Hell?” Will asks, careful with his words.

“He certainly doesn’t think so,” I respond, “since he didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell.”

“But then he is in Hell, because he didn’t believe, right?”

“If you believe that, then you must believe in God…”

“I just…” he begins, looking conflicted. “It’s what we’re taught.”

“I know.” I say I know, but I wonder where he was ‘taught’ this. Not in school. Not in our home. “Who’s teaching you this?”

“My dad.” I look away so he doesn’t see the look of disgust on my face. His dad, the convicted felon, the man who knocked up my mother not once, but twice, and left her to raise their children on her own while he philandered and stole things and set a horrible example… his dad is the person teaching him about faith and God and Heaven and Hell. 

I should have been talking to my brothers about this a long time ago. No wonder Will’s confused. I finally look up at him and force a pleasant expression.

“So your dad,” he starts again, “do you think he’s in Hell?”

“No. I don’t think so. I’m not sure I believe in Hell.”

“But the Bible says that if you don’t believe in God, you go to Hell.”

“I understand that’s what the Bible says. I understand that my response contradicts traditional Christian beliefs, or the beliefs of many religions. But faith in a god goes beyond religions, right?”

“You keep saying ‘a’ god. Do you believe in more than one?”

Another interesting question. “I… I don’t know. I believe in a higher power, Will. I call it a god because I don’t really know any other word for it. When it comes to faith, there aren’t a whole lot of options in the minds of most people. You believe in God, or you don’t. So I believe in a god, who may or may not be someone else’s God.”

My brother looks very confused.

“You’re a Polytheist?”

“Whoa, little brother,” I laugh. “Did your dad teach you that word?”

“No, I learned about it in a mythology book I found. So, you believe there are other gods?” Maybe I haven’t given Will enough credit. Maybe he’s applying himself more than I realize.

“I don’t believe that my way of thinking is the only way of thinking, so I’m tolerant of others who do worship other gods, be it one or many. For me, though, if I had to give myself a name, I’d say I was a Deist. I believe in one higher power that created the world. I hope that there’s some sort of happy afterlife, but I don’t really know. No one in this life really knows.”

“Unless you believe the Bible.”

“Right,” I say. “And it’s perfectly fine if you do. I think the most important thing to take away from this conversation is that it’s all about your own personal relationship with God. Or gods. Or not,” I suggest, trying to let him understand that he has choices, but that he has to form his own beliefs. “I’ll still love you, no matter what, as long as you live your life honorably and do your best to not hurt others.”

He smiles, looking unburdened. “Do you pray?”

“Yes, I pray.”

“Do you think your dad prayed, at the end?”

“No. I don’t think he had a change of heart at all in those final moments. But I prayed. I don’t believe that we were put on this planet to live solitary lives, and I firmly believe the actions of others play a part in peoples’ destinies, on this planet and beyond. I believe other people are put here to help us, and to guide us in our paths. Honestly, Will, I didn’t always believe in God. When I first had this conversation with my dad, I walked away thinking he was right. But then I really got to know another person in my life who showed me there was something more.”

“It was Livvy, right?”

“It was you, Will. It was the friendship you showed me when my dad was sick. I had some really bad days. I’m sure you remember them. But I’d come home from the hospital, and you’d be here with a mitt, a ball, and a smile. After five minutes of playing catch, my spirits were lifted. I don’t think I ever would have gotten through those months, or the months after he died, without your friendship. Someone put you on this planet to intervene in my life. It wasn’t random. You reminded me that I had something to live for. And I always wanted to make sure you felt the same way.”

“I’m glad you’re my brother,” he says.

“Me, too. Do you feel better about things?”

“I feel better about questioning things,” Will answers. 

“I never believed in blind faith,” I admit. “I don’t think that’s in our DNA. But be your own man. You don’t have to believe what I do, or what your father does. But it’s important to believe in something. It’s important to feel convictions about something. Don’t spend your life in a fog. I don’t think you’ll be satisfied.”

“I know what I believe right now,” he says.

“What?” I ask, anxious for his personal philosophy.

“I believe I need to know what happens next with Zaphod and Arthur.”

“Maybe you’ll end up worshipping the Almighty Bob,” I suggest in jest.

“Who’s that?”

“Book five,” I tell him. “Keep reading.”

After he leaves, I finally settle in with Livvy’s eleventh letter. Ungrateful, it says at the bottom. Once again, when I think I could just set the note aside without reading it, I’m intrigued enough by the footnote to keep going.

I love you, Jon.

I have never been made to feel so ungrateful as I did the day that you scolded me for the things I said to my father.

I’ve told her before, I can’t make her feel things. It’s in her power to feel however she wants, and if she felt ungrateful, that was her conscience stepping in and trying to talk some sense into her. Lord knows I couldn’t.

The reality check was worse than a slap in the face would have been. Physical abuse would have been preferable than listening to you reprimand me for the horrible things I said to him. But I know you’re above that, and I know, for me, getting over a face slap would have been much easier than facing what I’d done.

Getting over that day shouldn’t have been easy for me, and it wasn’t.

Because my father is a gracious and loving man, he easily forgave me. I was thankful for that, but it took weeks for me to forgive myself. There are still days that I look back and remember the look on his face. On those days, when I wish I could just forget those moments, I address them head on. I make myself suffer a bit, and then work on forgiveness once more. It’s a never-ending process. I’m not allowed to forget, but I can forgive.

The process gives me perspective, though, and it makes me appreciate everything my family has done every time it happens.

In kind, it makes me appreciate you, too. Thanks for being honest enough with me to tell me how you felt; to tell me the truth as you saw it, because I know you saw it more clearly than anyone did. You changed me that day, and every day since, I’ve strived to be someone my parents would be proud of. Maybe in the details of my actions, they would scrutinize me and even be disappointed, but in the larger picture, I think they’d be proud of the person I’m changing into every day.

If her parents are proud of her betrayal to me, then I’ve underestimated them all.

Every day we’re apart, every day you don’t speak to me, you lose a little bit of me. I’m afraid by the time you decide to let me back into your life, you won’t know me at all. It’s a silly fear, isn’t it?

Silly because you don’t think it’s true, or silly because you don’t think I’ll ever let you into my life again? If it’s the latter, it’s not silly at all, Liv.

I’ve never taken you for granted, Jon. I never will.

We aren’t finished.

Ungrateful

Not wanting to dwell on her letter, I go back into my brother’s room.

“Hey, about our conversation?”

“Yeah?” he asks, putting the book down.

“It’s about your dad. I was thinking…”

“About what?”

“I know your dad hasn’t done a whole lot for you to make you proud to have him as a father.” Will shakes his head. “I don’t have high opinions of him, and I know I’ve voiced that to you more often than I should have.”

“It’s true, though.”

“Regardless. Harboring the negative energy toward him doesn’t help,” I explain. “It hinders you from believing he could change, and although we haven’t seen it yet, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.”

“It won’t.”

“Well, when did he start talking to you about God?”

“He’s talked about God for as long as I can remember. I think he only uses Him for forgiveness, you know? Like, he thinks he can get away with these things because he prays to God and confesses his sins. I know it says that in the Bible, but that’s one reason I don’t really believe in that. It seems false.”

My brother keeps surprising me with his insight. I’m so happy I get to spend this time with him and learn more about him.

“Yeah,” I admit softly. “But look at Mom. She’s been sober for a few months now. That’s change. That’s change that I never thought would come, either, but it has. And I have to support her and keep trying to encourage her to work for her sobriety. It’ll always be a struggle, but I think it’s important to accept that people can change, and to forgive them for what they’ve done in the past. It could still happen for your dad. It may not be something you can realistically hope for, but you know what? If you believe in prayer, it’s definitely something you can pray for. I always do.”

“Thanks, Jon,” he says.

“No problem,” I respond, giving him an encouraging grin as I start to leave the room.

“Can you forgive Livvy? Can she change?” he asks me, surprising me once again. I stop with my back to him, trying to formulate an answer for him.

“I don’t know, Will. I don’t know that I believe in her anymore.” When he doesn’t respond, I turn around to see if he heard me.

“I believe in her, Jon. I can pray for her.”

“Don’t waste your prayers on her,” I murmur quickly, spitefully.

“I think she made a mistake, that’s all,” he says.

“Have you been talking to her?” I ask, starting to get angry.

“No!” he says defensively. “But she loves you, Jon. I don’t know what I believe about a whole lot of things, but I do believe that.”

“Blind faith,” I mumble, dismissing his declaration.

“You don’t believe in blind faith,” he reminds me. “I’ve seen factual evidence. So have you. If you love her, you’ll forgive her.”

“Then by the process of deduction, I guess I don’t love her, because I won’t forgive a girl who won’t even apologize for what she did wrong.”

“If she’s not apologizing in all those letters, what’s she doing?”

“Manipulating me,” I tell him. “Which is probably all she’s ever done.”

“That’s not true,” Will says.

“You don’t know her,” I argue.

He frowns at me, and I think I’ve won the argument. I turn to leave once more. 

“If you think she doesn’t love you, Jon, then you don’t know her. And if you say you don’t love her, then I’m not sure I really know you.”

I glare at him hard, but he stares right back at me. “Go read your book.”

“Go read your letters,” he calls after me as I return to my room. “Harboring negative energy toward her doesn’t help!” he says loudly, provoking me to slam my door.

How dare he throw my own advice back at me! 

Dear Jon – ©2014 Lori L. Otto

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