God’s in the ether

By The Columbia Chronicle

My father died when I was 8 years old. Oddly, it wasn’t cancer that killed him. It was a blood clot formed by the post-op radiation treatment that ended his battle to stay out of thermal equilibrium with the universe.

I didn’t know my dad as well as I would have liked because he had another family—another life. He left a void that was never really filled. What I remember most was my mother crying at night when she thought everyone was asleep, and how she would wrestle with her pain in her own privacy. She was inconsolable in silence,  like a ghost in plain sight that walked through the mist.  I remember her body language in the mornings and I knew something vital was missing and then she was gone as suddenly as my dad was.

I remember I felt robbed of both my parents, and what happened next was bizarre because I was not raised to be religious. In fact, my father told me sternly to never trust anyone in a uniform or a robe, but that was before I tasted despair.

Looking back, I can understand why my foolish 8-year-old brain thought of a scheme that would try to make things right. I created two lists on a sheet of paper. On one list were all the things my father did, all he was. He was Habib Nasser, chief surgeon at the emergency room of Mexico City’s Joco Hospital, famous for the role he played in the ’68 student massacre in Tlatelolco, who continued to save lives and ruffle authoritarian feathers on a routine basis. He was a lecturer of medicine at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a physician for the World Health Organization.

The other column was about me and it was far less impressive. I was almost invisible to everyone that mattered.  But while my father was alive, he would insist that I read avidly and through that reading, I learned that half of the genetic alphabet that put me together was his.

So every night after my mother would cry herself to sleep, I would climb to the roof and begin my contact with God. I was uncertain, knowing nothing about this God, but with the enviable innocence of a child, I tried to convince him he had made a mistake.  Every night, I pleaded my case. It was a simple fix, really—me for him. My mom would be happy, people’s lives would be better and there was enough of him in me to ensure that whatever plan the absentee cosmic landlord had for my dad’s death would still work.

Every night I’d get up from my knees, raw from the concrete, deafened by the silence of the smoggy Mexico City night sky. On the last night of my vigil, I told God he was going to have to make a choice. I was going to dedicate myself to be as much of my dad as I could.  I was going to effectively turn into him, and if that was something he disliked enough to kill, then he would then have to kill me too. But if he was willing to do that, why not simply do as I asked? I had never asked for much. In fact, I had never asked for anything before.  A life for a life seemed fair to me and his denial marked him as a cruel tyrant. I had no place in my heart for such a vain, petty beast, so I began to live the rest of my life at war with this God who watches, judges and cares for us with tough love and hostile indifference.

It’s been many solar orbits since that cold summer night in 1977 when I vowed I’d never get down on my knees to beg again. Since then, life has taken me on a hard but interesting journey. Who’s to say for sure if the child who was a mistake has truly grown? All I know is that I do not believe in God, but I still talk to him from time to time.

Luis Nasser is an Assistant Professor in the Science & Math Department. He was born in Mexico City in 1969. He has Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics and is a bassist and songwriter. He said he is “quite happily acclimated at Columbia, probably because it’s one of the few places that reward growth, learning and experimentation in teaching without penalizing you for shoddy attire.”

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