Faith, Fear, and the Cleansing Power of Shampoo
Over plates of spicy Mexican food the other night I revealed to my wife a moment that was one of the most defining character experiences that I have had in my adult life. She was surprised that she had not heard the story before; thinking back on it I am a little surprised that it took 15 years to tell her about it, especially considering the fact that she was instrumental in setting the moment in motion. It came as these experiences often do, out of a seemingly normal conversation. This particular one threw me for an emotional loop, and introduced me to the first panic attack that I can remember having.
There are a couple pieces of backstory that should be established to set the stage for this particular moment in my life. First is that both my wife and I grew up as Mormons. We were practicing members of the faith when we were married and for about 6 years into our marriage. Second is that my wife and I are prone to having conversations of a philosophical nature in the mornings when we wake up and are not in a particular rush.
One morning a little over a year after we were married, our discussion wandered into the territory of religion and belief. We casually were discussing our shared belief and the various ways that it had impacted us on our journey of life. In the midst of this discussion she made mention that there were elements in the religion she was struggling with. As she elaborated on the topic she mentioned that if she continued to be unable to reconcile these elements she may want to walk away from the religion all together. We casually moved along in the conversation until it was time to get moving for the day.
I got up to make breakfast for myself while she hopped in the shower. Unbeknownst to me, my subconscious gears were turning, replaying the conversation in my head as I took my time eating a bowl of cold cereal. While I sat at our dining room table my wife emerged from our room ready to head out and start her day. Having finished my breakfast I gave her a kiss and a bagel I had prepared for her and she disappeared out of our front door. I cleared my dishes from the table and went into the bathroom to take my shower.
The moment the water struck my body it hit me like a thunderbolt that my wife might not believe the same thing I did. To that point in our marriage, and our time together before that our shared religious belief and been something that unified us. Now it began to feel like the bedrock of our relationship was crumbling under my feet. I felt very lost. For the next 10 to 15 minutes I was caught up in a maelstrom of confusion as the water from the shower relentlessly cascaded down my body.
In my head I was playing out the wacky proceedings of our divorce. I watched visions of her walking away from me because I was mired in a system of belief she did not share. Then I’d see me walking away from her because she was leaving the beliefs I held dear. The next thing I saw was me tragically lonely in the space we had built together. Everywhere I looked were the mementos of a love I’d lost because I couldn’t adapt to her change in belief. It honestly felt like the moment I stepped out of that shower my marriage was going to be over.
Then I looked at the bottle of shampoo I had been holding in my hand.
It sounds funny to say this but that bottle of shampoo saved me… It slapped sense into me at the very moment I needed it. On the back of that bottle were instructions on how to clean your hair in three different languages. Three different languages…. From three very different countries. Countries that my wife and I had talked about visiting together as we had chances to travel. Countries that we had yet to visit on our adventures. I thought about the adventures we had talked about taking together, and I realized how much I wanted those adventures to be with her. I didn’t want to miss her face as she looked out over the harbor from the peak of Hong Kong Island. I didn’t want to miss her smile as we drive down stretches of highway we have not previously explored. I didn’t want to wake up on a lazy morning and miss another random discussion on our personal philosophies.
I had so much life that I wanted to live with her, and none of it had anything to do with what either of us believed. So I took a deep breath and lathered up my hair with the shampoo from a bottle that in three different languages reminded me how deeply I loved my wife… and that nothing else in the world meant more to me than just being with her.