By Kasun Kamaladasa –
Although I normally like to stay at home most evenings, enjoying a cup of coffee while sitting on my couch, once in a while my friends manage to drag me out to explore our wonderful world.
One such day I agreed to help a friend cook dinner and spend the evening with her family. I had known her for several years and gotten used to the very unfamiliar family dynamics they had. Her father was a Muslim and Mother was a Christian. She called herself a Muslim but for all the years I had known her, she prayed in a Christian church. Her sister was not religious unless you consider cosplaying a religion.
Anyways apart from the combination of religions they all communicated screaming at each other, but I felt that they loved each other dearly. The shouting I later realized was inevitable since they all lived in a space smaller than my room. Her sister’s boyfriend who joined us that evening lived next door and he was a very quiet person.
Her father was a construction worker who had come from another country and started his first gig buying and reselling tickets, which until that day I never knew was a lucrative business. Her mother worked in a pizza place where we would sometimes go to pick-up food after school. My friend worked night shifts at the hospital and her sister owned and managed a shop where I went often to drink tea.
So coming back to our story, we were cooking dinner and the lights went off so we had to call an electrician whom later we invited to have dinner with us. He wasn’t the only one who ended up joining us. A next-door neighbour who suddenly dropped by since his flight got cancelled and a friend of the electrician who came to help him fix the wiring also joined us. The strange thing is it was one of the coldest winters I had experienced and I don’t know if it was the food, the cognac or the laughing people but that day would remain one of the warmest days of my life.
Choices we Choose
When I first started working in an office, lunchtime was pretty free and we would talk about random stuff. Normally accepted practice was to interrogate each other about personal information so I was asked what my religion was to which I answered: “I do not have one”. To my surprise the response I got was “No, that is not possible” and in my head, I was thinking “Why is it not possible?”. It turned out some people genuinely didn’t know what religion is and they believed that religion is what you are born in to. They prayed and went to temples but never even knew they could choose their religion. I wonder sometimes, if I had never met so many different people, would I not known this too? Would I have also called myself a Buddhist even if I didn’t live my life as preached?
Like I mentioned before my friend prayed at a Christian church even though she was brought up as a Muslim. Before I met her I didn’t know that was a possible choice. I have had friends and relatives who choose from multiple religions because of having parents from different backgrounds but I had never seen this dynamic where prayer was given to one god under another god’s roof. Could it be the choices we think we can choose are limited by our imagination?
Choices we have
While I have avoided dressing up for religious festivals, I have always wanted to do cosplay. But I never had a place to go to all dressed up, until my friend’s sister introduced me to her cosplay friends. At first, it was way weird because everyone was relatively young but it seemed age wasn’t a factor in cosplay circles. Choice of wanting to engage in cosplay it seemed didn’t have requirements at all other than being comfortable looking like a complete dork. Today every time I get the thought “Is this age-appropriate?” I tell myself “Let me give it a go and see”
Like my age wasn’t a restriction for me and their parent’s religion not a restriction for my colleagues. Sometimes it’s easy to be blind to the choices we have due to glass ceilings or even personal physiological barriers. At times these restrictions make us think of life decisions in black and white. When my friend started working her night shifts most of my university group-mates were sceptical, they would say a girl can’t work night shifts, it’s inappropriate or too challenging! But her brave choice to continue working would change most of the group’s attitude towards night shifts within a year.
That day when I first heard my friend’s father’s story I felt uneasy. Buying tickets and keeping them so that he could sell them at a higher price seemed unethical to me. Luckily I didn’t pass judgment. I had plenty of time to listen to the whole story. I relived his story while he was telling it, trying to feel what it was like to escape his country and pursue relative freedoms in another. It was amazing to realize the struggles he went through to find a better living for his family. It seemed to me that I probably might have chosen the same actions were I in his shoes. Now that in my mind I had taken those same actions I had morally recognized that reselling tickets was something acceptable to do.
It didn’t stop there, the generosity they showed to strangers by sharing their emotions, lives, and humility, not just the food like many of us do changed my attitudes as well. Days like new years that I thought were supposed to be exclusively for the family now I see differently. Don’t take me wrong …… brought up with Buddhist backgrounds, donations and giving was a part of my culture, but that day I felt that all my life I had given things I could spare. Extra food, Plain Clothing, Empty Prayer…. ‘‘Giving’’, I learned that day was different.
We think religious institutes give us morals, instead what they do is help us cope with the morals we make for ourselves. Morals are formed from our choices. Religion just helps us to make those choices without analyzing data or taking responsibility for our actions or the consequences. There is nothing inherently good or bad about this, It’s not practical to analyze everything in the world as individuals… Although, understanding how each individual’s morals form might be the first step to stop seeing the world in black and white, and see the colors we never knew existed. If we are humble enough it might even help reflect ourselves more vividly and free us from chains, we never knew we had.