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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Other · #1857221
Phoenix struggles with what he really believes spiritually...
Phoenix sat across from his friend at the coffee shop and pondered the question while she explained wildlife ecology and management to him.  He was paying attention to what she was saying, but he did not have the background to understand much of it.  She would be an excellent professor because she could break things down into components that could be digested easily in the mind's scheme of things.  Phoenix was lost on another track, though.  He was trying to follow her, but his thoughts were of spirituality.  Faith.  What was it?  And what did you have to believe in to have it?  What did Phoenix believe, anyway?  It had been a long time since he had thought about it.  The question of what he believed was one that he kept at arm's length for a reason.  He believed an eclectic set of notions and views that often got him debates that he did not ask for with people he did not want to argue with.  He looked at his friend across the table from him.  What would she think of his beliefs?  Would they offend her?  Would they cause a rift in their relationship?  How would she view his beliefs?  Why was he even bothering with such questions?  He snapped back to reality for a moment.  His friend was explaining how they bred genetically modified invasive species in fisheries to offset the balance of the sex ratio in order to eliminate an invasive fish species in the environment and restore the natural ecosystem.  What would she think of the power point presentation that Phoenix had created on the Book of Mormon at 0400 that morning if she saw it?  Soon, his friend had to go and meet with her psychology group to finish a poster for a presentation.  Phoenix drove back home and worked on his computer for a while.  He needed to clarify what he really believed.  What criteria did he need to address, though?  What kind of approach should he take?  Why was this a crisis right this minute?!

Phoenix thought seriously about what he believed.  He was a member of Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ for a reason.  They had the most extremely liberal views of any church he had ever attended, and he never got any trouble over his beliefs there.  He had not elaborated on them, for that matter.  He enjoyed the fact that he was left alone about his beliefs, whatever they happened to be.  He needed to figure out what they were for his own sake, though.  He had discussed many of these things with his psychiatrist, who attended the same church, and his doctor was very good at remaining neutral and making Phoenix decide what he believed himself.  Phoenix decided to do a very systematic inventory of his beliefs on various topics.  He would organize his beliefs by subject.  That seemed like the best way to start, at least.

First topic: Forgiveness.  Everyone and anything could be forgiven...except Phoenix.

Second topic: Salvation.  Well, if there was no forgiveness for Phoenix, salvation was kind of a mute point...

Phoenix decided at that point that elaborating on his beliefs was a lost cause.  A graduate student friend of his called needing help on a treatment plan, so Phoenix happily took the opportunity to walk away from this spiritual nightmare for a bit.  After several hours at that friend's house, his other friend texted him wanting to know if he wanted to study some more.  Sure, he thought.  He met his friend at the same coffee shop they had met at that morning.

Phoenix had no idea what he was in for that afternoon.  His friend and he were studying and she was reviewing the ideas with Phoenix, making sure she could explain them.  Phoenix caught hold of one of the ideas and was thinking about it when she asked, "What's wrong?  You have the absolute most blank look on your face."  Phoenix replied that it was nothing, only a thought about the topic that he disagreed with.  "Well, what is it?"  Phoenix did not want to upset her, but she pressed him to give her an answer, so Phoenix did.  "I don't want to debate this with you."  Phoenix said that was okay and that she could go on reviewing.  She talked about a few more points, and then came out with another jab of an idea that Phoenix disagreed with.  She could tell.  "What?  What is it?"  Phoenix, again, did not want to upset her.  She insisted on a response, so he told her that the idea was excessive and that he disagreed with taxing equipment that was used for many purposes other than what the tax was to be collected for.  Phoenix hated politics, and this idea reeked of political underpinnings and debate.  He was merely trying to think about the other side of things.  His friend was much more heavily invested in this emotionally, however, as Phoenix would soon find out.  "You're one of the reasons that the tax didn't pass," his friend retorted.  Phoenix had not voted for or against the tax, that he knew of, and it did not matter to him that much as a topic, anyway.  He was having a discussion.  His friend, it turned out, was arguing a debate.  "Tell me what you use the equipment for besides this sport that needs the tax."  Phoenix named several things, none of which were to his friend's liking.  Nothing was going to convince her of anything but what she believed about the tax.  "I hate debates.  I hate them!  I don't like having them, because I'm not good at them, and you're not giving me any legitimate arguments.  You're just stuck in your anachronistic, old, traditional, scaunchy thinking.  It's just scaunchy old thinking!"  Her eyes began to well up with tears.  Phoenix began to say that he understood the concept, but she cut him off.  "I know you understand the concept.  But you're arguing like someone who doesn't understand and won't get out of their old traditional thinking."  Phoenix explained that he was just discussing, not debating, and that he was not upset.  "Well, I am upset!"  Phoenix commented that he could see that.  She began to cry outright, the tears flowing down her cheeks, and she hid her face in her hands.  Phoenix apologized, wondering what he could possibly do.  He told her that he did not mean to upset her.  "I know.  I just get so emotional over debates.  I don't know why.  I just do.  I'm calming down, now."  Phoenix told her again that he was sorry and did not mean to upset her.  He remarked next that he thought she was really, really stressed out.  "Yeah.  I am.  I'm just freaking out.  I have so much to do and to study and I don't even know what they want, and..."  She wiped the tears from her eyes and began to recover.  Phoenix was glad that she was able to regain her composure.  They soon continued studying, his friend reading him her notes, and Phoenix listening and commenting here and there to indicate that he was still following along and interested.  They finished reviewing her notes just in time for her to get ready to go to a movie with some of her coworkers.  "I'm sorry I get so emotional.  I just hate debate.  I don't know why."  Phoenix told her it was okay.  They hugged outside and parted ways with their customary waves.

When Phoenix got home, he was exhausted.  He had not had time to play his guitar yet that day, but he had some work to do on the computer before he would be able to do that.  He needed something to eat first, though.  All he had had to eat was a pop tart, a pizza crust, and a flavored coffee that day.  Phoenix needed protein.  His spouse was boiling potatoes.  That was not what Phoenix needed, but his spouse insisted that there were enough potatoes for both of them.  Phoenix stayed, against his better judgement, and did not go out for something to eat.  He was starving, and the potatoes would not be done for a while, yet.  Oh, well, Phoenix thought.  He went and worked on his computer for a while until the food was done cooking.  He ate the potatoes, which left him largely unsatisfied, and then searched for something more to eat.  The sandwich meat was expired, and he had to throw that away.  This frustrated him greatly.  Now what was he going to eat?  HIs spouse fixed him a fish fillet.  While Phoenix was waiting for it to cook, he played his guitar.  This relaxed him and made him feel better.  He explained to his spouse what had happened with his friend.  His spouse was very supportive of him and said, "It's just something she has to work through, and she will.  She's of a younger generation and they try to be younger."  Phoenix was older.  That was a fact.  Phoenix was old enough to have figured out that you could have a discussion without having a debate.  That, he thought later, was more to do with maturity than age.  Age meant nothing in the realm of politics, religion, and arguments.  Phoenix was glad that he had not ever told his friend what he believed spiritually.  That would really set her off, he thought.  He did not want to upset his friend.  She was in over her head with stress as it was.

There was that question again, though.  Faith.  Spiritual beliefs.  All the talk of salvation and forgiveness and redemption, of enlightenment and the Spirit and eternity...  That did not even address the political issues that went along with spiritual views, such as abortion and birth control and the woman's place in the whole thing.  Then there was homosexuality, capital punishment, ethics, affiliations, and the like.  Behind every political issue seemed to lurk a spiritual one, and vice-versa.  Phoenix had had enough of debating politics for the day.  He decided to browse on the computer for something - anything - that would help him out of this dilemma.  He had graduate work to do, reading to get through, a research proposal to come up with, and all kinds of other pressing things to do.  Phoenix decided that it was late and that he would get to these other things tomorrow.  Tonight, he would play his guitar, take his medications, and go to bed.  The rest could wait.
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