The Death of the Hockey Gods, or, Liz Becomes an Atheist

In case my mother reads this: in spite of my rare church attendance, no, I have not actually become a godless heathen. I’m still as Catholic as I was before this epiphany. I just came to understand atheists better… though Sharks hockey.

Let me backtrack a little bit. A few days ago, during those glorious days for Sharks fans when we’d finally made it to the Stanley Cup Finals but hadn’t started playing (if you can call what’s happened in the past two games playing) in them, I was hanging out with my boyfriend, brother, and my friend Sarang. Sarang asked about my altar to the Hockey Gods.

Every year during the playoffs, I would clear off my dresser and build it. I would carefully stack the pucks I collected from every playoff series, drape my collection of rally towels in an aesthetically pleasing manner, fan out the tickets I had saved from the few playoff games I had been to (that the Sharks had all won), arrange pins and other Sharks paraphernalia. Finally, I would present my sacrifice: a plushie of Wildwing, the mascot of the hated Anaheim Ducks, hung on a noose tied to a Sharks hockey stick. That wasn’t even the extent of my hockey superstition. I also did the usual things of never saying the s-word during a game and never reusing a shirt or jersey I wore when the Sharks lost. (Luckily, I own a lot of Sharks shirts and a handful of jerseys.)

I laughed at the question, not because I thought it was silly, but because I hadn’t even thought about my yearly tradition. Well, almost yearly; last year the Sharks didn’t even make the playoffs at all. “Oh, I stopped doing that,” I replied. “I guess I don’t believe in the Hockey Gods anymore. Does that make me a hockey atheist?”

“WHAT?” Sarang asked. I might as well have said I didn’t believe in the Immaculate Conception anymore. (Not to the confused with the Virgin Birth, the Immaculate Conception is the idea that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin. Yes, Mom, I do still believe that.)  Even my brother looked concerned.

“I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna start saying shutout in the middle of a game or something. That’s just rude.” I continued.

“Yeah, like a real atheist,” my hitherunto silent and actual Atheist Boyfriend™ said.

I probably didn’t pause for long, but it certainly felt like a long time. I’ve been with my boyfriend for about a year now; it’s been a great year. I’m not going to beat you over the head with how ridiculously compatible we are (but we totally are and it’s gross and wonderful), but I’ve always had one concern about the future. He’s an atheist. I’m Catholic. I may not visibly practice all that much, but it’s a core part of my identity and irrevocably tied to what it means to me to be Portuguese.

I always worried that it would blow up on us in the future. If we got married. If we had kids. (We’re 31. These are thoughts we have.) Yes, religious-nonreligious marriages have happened before and will continue to happen, so really, we’re not all that special. It was just that the atheist mindset was completely alien to me.  I didn’t think I’d be dumped for my beliefs; I worried that the intolerant one would be me.

Then, I got it. The Sharks were doing well because they were finally clicking, working hard, and yes, getting lucky sometimes. I just didn’t believe that luck came from capricious gods that needed to be appeased. I didn’t believe that luck would be revoked for breaking a taboo. After all, hadn’t the Sharks finally made it to the Finals without my help?

All at once, those worries that I would give up a good thing because of my inability to understand were gone. I did understand, at least a little bit. “Yeah, exactly.” I replied. “I’m not going to be a dick about it.”

“Exactly,” he echoed.

So, thanks to the Sharks for helping me understand my boyfriend (and so many of my other friends!) better, and thank God for making sure that the two of us were in the right place at the right time to find one another.

(Seriously, we were never single and in the same place geographically until we met. Even though we’re the same age, grew up in the same city, had friends of friends, and mutually nerdy interests. I can set aside the hockey gods, but not my Catholic and cognitively dissonant belief in free will and fate.)


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