According to most online namesake authorities, Natalie means nativity. This, of course, is ironic, given that I haven’t stepped foot in a church in over eight years. And yet, I remember how evocative this discovery had been to me as a little girl. When I think of the word nativity, I cannot help but have my mind whirled back to the magic of childhood Christmases. Mine, however, were always heavily steeped in religion. We weren’t celebrating the coming together of family or the closing of a year; this was our lord and savior’s B-Day Bash. I can hardly remember one Christmas without the neon cast on my bedroom window of our ornamental, plastic, light-up nativity set in the front yard. One year, our baby Jesus was stolen and the family consensus was that it had been the work of Satanists trying to encumber our display of Christian devotion. I would love to entertain the notion that we were indeed visited by these mythical Satanists Fox News were always talking about, but our sacred plastic baby Jesus was most likely taken by a handful of mischievous neighborhood teens.
Our family went well beyond December 25th though. My parents had brought me up in the church as any self-respecting, God-fearing Baptist parents would, but this progressed from our holidays to my education. I moved from Christian school to Christian academy to Christian institution. My science, math, and biology were now interwoven with the teachings of Genesis and Exodus. Every nagging question could be easily explained away with a simple answer: because Jesus.
This need not apply only to academia. My entire personality was diluted with religious teachings. This was the life that I was brought into, cultivated and encouraged by my parents. The meaning behind my naming must have been some divine sign from God that my path to Jesus Christ was assigned at birth. At this point in my life, I have come to regard that idea as absurd. I realize now that my mother most likely watched West Side Story too many times and simply had Natalie Wood on the brain. I hate to think that the meaning behind my name could be so cavalier, so pedestrian, but when I grew apart from religion I felt like I was in part rejecting my namesake. It was impossible to comb over my memories without seeing how large of a role religion had played into my identity during quite a number of formable years. Needless to say, I was lost when I finally divorced myself from religion completely. Contrary to R.E.M’s prescriptive experience, I needed no corner to facilitate my loss of religion. I did it entirely on my own accord.
While I still feel detached to the meaning behind my name in the religious sense, I enjoy the idea that I experienced a slice of life that is unlike most agnostic upbringings. I experienced religion to the extreme. Where it reaches every single part of your life until it eventually consumes your very identity. Everything in my household, including our plastic nativity Christmas, was laden with some sort of pious guilt that somehow we were not doing enough. Eventually, you begin to feel like nothing is enough and in time it comes to a head and you erect a neon Mary and Joseph praying over a manger as your lawn décor. I should say after I have written such a long and almost entirely negative narrative around religion, that I have no qualms about religion or religious people. I write this while currently dating a Roman Catholic, and yes, he has invited me multiple times.
However, I delight in having the freedom to make my own mind, a courtesy that my younger self was perhaps not given, and I choose to make religion my past and not my present. Of course, who knows about the future.