I wrote this essay a few years ago about my spiritual upbringing and current spiritual beliefs. Every year around this time, I find myself reading and tweaking this. Here’s the updated version for ‘08.
Mom was a nun. Not by choice, but by force. Gramma and Grandpa thought it was best. So for three years, Mom cooked and prayed and contemplated life. Then one day she found herself in a convertible VW Beetle with another nun, habits flying in the wind. They drove to the city and rented an apartment, and a week later, she met Dad.
Dad was a grad student, studying maps and wars and gods. He was Jewish, divorced and wore his curly hair afro-style. Since Mom was no longer a nun, she became a rebel.
I was conceived on New Year’s Eve. After the liquor, the priest said a prayer at midnight, and then there was me. It was 1970. Marlo Thomas said we were free to be. Dylan said the times were a-changin’. Morrison said it was the end. So naturally, I was raised “nothing” -- not Jewish or Catholic, not Moonie, not Manson. Mom and Dad said I could choose my religion when I was older, and in the meantime, I should spend Sundays at movies and museums.
But I wanted a faith, and I wanted one badly. So, at 6 I declared I was an “Pick-a-paleon” like my friend Jenny. She and her family dressed in angel costume and made bread for bake sales. It sounded like fun. Mom and Dad said I could go to church with Jenny, but I never did.
Instead, I joined the Girl Scouts.
I memorized all of the laws, earned every badge, wore my uniform with militancy and pride every Tuesday to school. Mrs. Grazer, the troop leader, became my minister. I eagerly paid her my weekly dues of one quarter, squeezed her hand extra tightly during the Friendship Squeeze, folded the flag smaller and tighter than any of the other girls and sold 200 boxes of cookies in a single week.
I devoutly followed Mrs. Grazer and the do-good girls in green until I was 15, and then I couldn’t take it anymore -- I felt like a geek. So, I glommed onto the Grateful Dead.
I traded my sash for a stash, my flashlight for a black light, my beanie for a box of bootleg tapes. Mrs. Grazer was lost in the purple haze of a new phase, and Garcia became my God.
Mom and Dad became nervous. The camping trips had changed. I no longer trudged off with the troop to craft and plant seeds; instead I smoked weed in the woods.
I followed all of the Deadhead rules to a wavy “T.” I didn’t shave my armpits. I resented the rich. I learned all of the words to all of the songs on “Blues for Allah.” I followed the band everywhere – from Alpine Valley to the Oakland Coliseum to Freedom Hall. I tried to be as good a Deadhead as Jenny had been an Episcopalian.
And although as a Deadhead I learned a lot of rituals that I still practice today, like doing yoga and making shake-and-bake tofu, it was too defined. The same year I ditched being a disciple of The Dead, Mom and Dad got divorced. It didn’t surprise anyone, least of all me. They weren’t happy, but rather had followed the orders prescribed by their priest, a rabbi and their parents. It didn’t make sense after a while, so finally, Dad put his books in boxes and moved to a one-bedroom abode. Mom bought a condo and started wearing a cross. Both of them went back to smoking, but they also went back to smiling.
And suddenly I didn’t need a particular order anymore. Instead, I needed flexibility and variety. So I gathered my favorite parts of my past religions and created something completely new.
I now see it all as a delicious mix of Thin Mints, Caramel Delights, Shortbread, Samoas and Peanut Butter Patties in one box. My spirituality is a strange brew of beliefs: Mom’s Christianity cream filled between Dad’s Judaism. Garcia’s words -- along with the words of many others -- baked right into the Girl Scout Creed. And sometimes, I gotta gobble a Buddha brownie, a fat slab of Pagan potpie or a few crumbles of Chopra or Chödrön to nourish me along the way.
My religion isn’t black-and-white anymore. Instead, the entire spectrum is swirling into a tie-dye, a kaleidoscope, a parade of colorful dancing bears.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.