Jayson Greene on Navigating Unbearable Grief with a Secular Map
The Author of Once More We Saw Stars on Just the Right Book with Roxanne Coady
From the episode:
Roxanne Coady: You talk a little bit about religion or spirituality or faith in the book. What role did that play? Neither you nor Stacy came from a particularly religious background. Do you wish you were religious?
Jayson Greene: I don’t think either of us wish we were a religious person. We did wish we had a bigger vocabulary in our lives for these kinds of questions. What does it mean in the ultimate analysis that life ends, and what does death mean? No one knows what it means, but what does it mean to us? I grew up in a secular household. My mother told me in the second grade that if anyone asked me what religion I am, I should say that we are secular humanists. That went over great. … Stacy and her family grew up in an Evangelical Christian neighborhood. For me, it was just an activity that we didn’t do. We weren’t religious in the same way that I put that I didn’t play baseball. It wasn’t our lifestyle.
Stacy’s family was more… we are the not religious family on this block. It was more oppositional for them. Stacy put a Darwin fish in her car in high school. Neither of us wish we had that religious background we didn’t have. I didn’t say, for instance, when Greta died, “Oh no, I don’t have a God. How am I supposed to make sense of this?” I do think that some people probably do feel that. I just had a yearning to connect with her in some way. It started with a very pure yearning, and that led us to unconventional—or at least unusual for us—experiences. We were open to anything, and that was our mindset when we were trying to make peace with her death. That meant that we did things that we would have never done if Greta was alive. We would have never gone to a workshop where there was a medium channeling the dead, but once we did we didn’t turn away or recoil from that experience. We didn’t worry about whether we “believed” in what was happening, because it was clearly provoking profound emotional reactions in the people that were there, and for us as well.
We learned a lot of interesting things about belief, at least how it related to us. Belief is a decision you make. You sort of decide to believe in something. However, feelings are sort of amorphous thing that happens, and they can push you to all kinds of belief systems. You can either acknowledge that you had this feeling with this medium, or you can turn it away. We desperately wanted to feel connected to Greta, so it didn’t matter to me what the delivery system was. If it had come from the Torah, I would have welcomed it. If it came from the Bible or the Koran, we would have welcomed it. We stumbled along this particular path that we had found seeking connection, and I think that ultimately that is the takeaway from any of these religions. We became spiritual rather than religious.
Jayson Greene is a contributing writer and former senior editor at Pitchfork. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vulture, and GQ, among other publications. Once More We Saw Stars is his first book. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
Roxanne Coady is owner of R.J. Julia, one of the leading independent booksellers in the United States, which—since 1990—has been a community resource not only for books, but for the exchange of ideas. In 1998, Coady founded Read To Grow, which provides books for newborns and children and encourages parents to read to their children from birth. RTG has distributed over 1.5 million books.