Questioning My Faith

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."
Of course you do not do this out loud, or someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, the great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear? ~ Hafiz
(Poems thanks to Julianna Parker)



"What religion are you?" my thirteen-year-old son, Seamus, asked me the other night, as we were driving home from an ice cream shop. His mother and I have been divorced since he was six months old. He’s grown up a strict Catholic, serving as an altar boy, going on a mission to Haiti, and now attending a Jesuit high school under his mom’s watchful, Irish Catholic eye.

"Buddhist," I quipped in response to his question, as Moose Tracks dripped from our cones onto our fingers.

"Really?" he asked.

"Nah, I just have read a lot about it and done my share of meditation. So it’s the best answer I have at the moment."

Seamus was satisfied enough with my answer to finish his cone. But his question stayed with me.

The next morning I got up early and looked out my bathroom window. A cold front had come through overnight, and after days of soupy fog and humidity, the air had finally turned clear and cool. A full moon, shining a vibrant white over the Atlantic Ocean, hung perfectly in the frame of the window. A couple hours later I took Penny, our four-month-old yellow lab, for a walk. She sniffed clumps of grass, chased small birds, and tried to lick a toddler who ambled by, while I thought more about Seamus’s question.

I was born a Quaker, tenth generation on my Dad’s side going all the way back to Timothy Matlack, who is said to have been the scribe who put the words to the Declaration of Independence on paper. But Timothy wasn’t much of a Quaker. He was kicked out of meeting for betting on cock fights, bear baiting (where, just for sport, you chain a bear to a stake and then unleash waves of dogs to attack it), and participating in the Revolutionary War, against the protests of his pacifist relatives.

My parents were hyper-intellectual hippies whose Quaker faith was more about protesting the Vietnam War than finding God. At least that’s how it seemed to me as a young child. While I respect what Quakers stand for, I wouldn’t call myself a Quaker.

I am more of a Timothy type of Matlack. I became CFO of a big company and then a venture capitalist as my own form of rebellion against my do-good parents. In the process I got myself into a heap of trouble participating in my own version of bear baiting as a drunk with an emphasis on bad behavior. I eventually wound up on my knees, pleading for God’s—any God’s—intervention. Throughout history, Muslims, Jews, Christians have died for their faith, but even in my most desperate moments, when I was ready to embrace religion, I still couldn’t figure out what I was.

But now I know.

I have Seamus, with whom I share a secret handshake ending in a father-son, jumping chest bump. I also have a four-year-old son, Cole, who climbs into bed with me before my eyes are even open and spews whole paragraphs about Batman without stopping for air. And I have a teenage daughter, Kerry, who, despite her shy temperament, performs in her schools plays with so much ease and pleasure that she moves the audience to tears and laughter every time. My wife, the most beautiful woman I know, tickles me when she thinks I am being arrogant and rubs my feet after particularly long days. I can ride my bike down the huge hill near our house and scream at the top of my lungs, not caring if anyone hears me. And some mornings, the moon appears in the frame of my window just for me.

This is what I am. I have no idea what you call it. But I believe in all of this. None of it is an accident. This is my religion.

Some Kiss We Want
There is some kiss we want with
our whole lives, the touch of
spirit on the body.

begs the pearl to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild darling!

At night, I open the window and ask
the moon to come and press
its face against mine.

Breathe into me.

Close the language-door and
open the love window.
The moon
won't use the door, only the window.

-- Rumi, translated by Coleman

©2011, Tom Matlack

*    *    *

While all complain of our ignorance and error,
everyone exempts himself. - John Glanville

Tom Matlack, "I am a sucker for real-life heroes, particularly the ones that get overlooked. My profile work grew from my first published piece, THE RACE, which describes my own life altering experience in an athletic event barely worthy of the local paper. Coaches and athletes in the sport of rowing were my initial focus before expanding to mainstream sports like professional basketball. Music, film, and television have proven fertile ground for heroic journeys of a different, but related, kind. Finally, I have continued to write bits and pieces of my own story in an attempt to inspire and enlighten."

Thomas Matlack was Chief Financial Officer of The Providence Journal until 1997. He was the lead investor in Art Technology Group, which reached $5 billion in market capitalization in 2001. He founded and ran his own venture firm, started companies like American Profile (sold to Disney for $260 million) and Telephia (sold to Neilson for $560 million), before turning to writing. His work has appeared in Rowing News, Boston Common, Boston Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine and Newspaper, Wesleyan, Yale, Tango, and Pop Matters.

In 2008, Matlack founded, with his venture capital partner James Houghton. He has appeared on national and local television and radio as well as print across the country. The fall of 2009, Matlack led a non-conventional book tour for The Good Men Project that started inside Sing Sing and ended in Hollywood with a screening of THE GOOD MEN PROJECT documentary film followed by a panel discussion including Matt Weiner and Shepard Fairey.

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