Never been married, never had children. The youngest of three, the bottom rank is where the novelty has worn off but the ‘fun’ never ends. I was ‘an excitable child’ so my namesake Roman Catholic Grandmother put it. Born in the latter part of the 70s there was still the unmistakable whiff of sexism not quite shifting under the strain of inequality. Being a sensitive child, both in observation and emotion, I knew there was unfairness, lots of it in the world and not just in my home. “It’s not FAIR!!” was my trademark line, as though this was supposed to demand people to see my point of view. It never worked.
I grew up in the countryside, in a small village on the borders of three counties in the Midlands, a quiet, boring village with three pubs and one bus that left at 7am and returned at 6pm. The village teens were to entertain themselves, and I had my best friend and some other school acquaintances living in the village. Luckily, I made friends easily, maybe not so good at keeping them, but I didn’t mind much being on my own. One girl and I went to the village church (Church of England) where my mother played the organ and I sang in the choir.
I was confirmed at 13yrs, had a delightful vicar, John, with a distinctive shaky voice. He was patient and popular, even with my dad ‘the atheist’. Reverend John tutored me for my confirmation. I cannot forget his face after asking me a question, so gentle and kind. If only I knew what he was talking about. Somehow I made it to that first communion, there was a garden party and relatives, I didn’t know why. I felt better after going to church, lighter and fresher, it felt good just to sit for a while, but I still didn’t understand what for.
Fast forward through my secondary school (with smoking, drinking, detention and teachers with a “we-know-you-know-this” attitude) to my university career. I started university at 21yrs. By that time I had spent a ‘year-out’ in Australia to work and find myself. I wasn’t there. I chose to live in halls of residence. That year many life changing things happened, including becoming acquainted with heroin. University was ok, but the more I worked the less I was able to sleep or function. My head was always too excited, so heroin and I became good friends. A year later I came out of rehab. I tried something else. I attended the Christian club. We went on a weekend retreat where they talked about the bible and prayed, and I kept quiet, smoked outside and wondered why I was there. These Christians seemed so happy but in an unsustainable way, I didn’t get it. Life didn’t feel that easy for me. What didn’t I understand? I got a BSc in ‘science’ and went to France and studied for a masters ignoring this ‘imposter’ feeling. Luckily, I mostly understood my masters, there were no formal exams, just a written thesis. Phew!
With no real idea of what I should do next I just carried on along the academic trail, applying for a PhD at Oxford, went for an interview, and the professor, Tom, offered me the position “against his better judgement”. Are you kidding me? No I am not. We worked well together. Then I got ill and he got ill. He with cancer and me with a breakdown. I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in February 2011. We both survived.
My research practices took me into worlds I knew precious few would ever experience. Tom loved looking down the microscope too and we used to joke about God as I imagine most atheists do, nothing more than jibing, but it did leave a nasty aftertaste like I’d bad-mouthed an old friend.
Oxford, albeit an impressive intellectual power-house, I found to be an honourable place, one couldn’t get away with being insincere. There was a night at college dinner (name-drop coming) I was seated next to Prof. John Lennox. I hadn’t a clue who he was and after the usual pleasantries he asked, “Do you believe in God?”. I said, “No”, to which he replied, “Perhaps it’s best not to ask ‘why believe’ but ‘why not believe’?” That question has hung around my head since. I laugh at how provincial the concept of God in that conversation is to me now.
I passed my viva. I lived in Canada for a year doing research, laughed at church billboards, had another breakdown and was diagnosed with ADHD. Finally, I gave up my career in science and moved back to my home village. Had another breakdown and was told I’m ‘on the spectrum’.
I spend a lot of time on my own, but never feel alone.
I needed an anchor in my life, something to rely on, because without a job and recovering from PTSD from an abusive relationship, I needed stability and predictability that I knew the C of E could give, so I started going to a new local small church with my mum. The remainder of the week I went on walks and meditated, and tried to keep going. The meditation cleared my mind enough to hear God come through and I suddenly felt interested in life again.
With a new spiritual zeal the vicar suggested I try a ministry course, I did the course and made friends but I decided, even though I was ‘well-up for God’, the C of E really wasn’t my thing. Now, I read a lot of Rohr, to whom I am forever grateful for saying it’s ok to be a different sort of Christian. I laugh a lot more, listen to my own spiritual guides via personal prayer and meditation and look for God in all forms be it through walks, meditation, animals, art… Nomad.
I always knew I wasn’t on my own but now I am actually conversing with ‘them’, God, and life is starting to make more sense.
– Jojo Scoble