The movie Star Wars came out when I was six years old. I remember sitting in the dark movie theater completely mesmerized by the power of the force. Growing up Catholic, the only word that even came close to describing this kind of magical intuitive energy was the holy spirit, which wasn’t nearly as interesting or as badass as Darth Vader, Hans Solo or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Like every other kid on the block, I wanted everything and anything I could get my hands on to make me feel like I was a part of the movie. Action figures of all the main characters, the Millennium Falcon, that sand dune thing Luke Skywalker drove in the desert and Darth Vader’s weirdly shaped spaceball with two vertical plates for wings were all I needed to spark my backyard imagination that summer.
But all the toys meant nothing compared to how I felt the moment I saw Yoda for the first time in Empire Strikes Back. When that little creature with the huge ears first meets Luke Skywalker in that foggy bog, I was bewildered and delighted. And even though he jumbled his sentence order around, my seven-year-old self heard the deeper truth there. Believe you must and believe I did. I was so enamored with Yoda I begged my mom to take me to the toy store immediately so I could get his action figure. That little two-inch object became my constant companion. Whenever my friends and I reenacted the movie in the sandbox in my backyard, I no longer cared about being Princess Leia or my crush on Hans Solo because I wanted to be Yoda. I started gently tucking him under my pillow every night to keep him near my head convinced I would absorb his thoughts and his magic and I would wake up a real-life Jedi master. It’s not a stretch to say I became conscious that day of a world beyond mom, dad, dog, cereal, television, friends, bike and school. Yoda was the gateway to my lifelong search for meaning. My spiritual quest was born.
I started reading books about the saints. I liked the stories of the ones who seemed like they had some kind of knowing beyond all reason that helped them face terrible loss with grace. I thought maybe I could be a saint one day when I grew up until my grandmother teased me and told me she thought maybe I would become the nun in the family. This infuriated me. I didn’t want to hide in the shadow of a veil, marry Jesus, go gray and teach math. I wanted to entertain people with my enlightenment, make stuff levitate with my hands, reveal the universe’s greatest secrets and I wanted to be wise and adorable at the same time. The sisters teaching me at St. Patrick’s were definitely not adorable.
I moved on to Gandhi when my mom took me to see the movie with Ben Kingsley. He seemed pretty Yoda-like except he wasn’t a muppet. He had been a real human being who practiced non-violence as a way to make change and practiced a religion I had never heard of growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. I think I understood everything I needed to about life by the time I was twelve years old, so I spent my teens and twenties rebelling against everything I knew to be true, in order to have fun, make people laugh either with me or at my expense, challenge all authority and fuck up the unbearable order of things for a little while because there is only do, there is no try. So do I must. Must you?