The Harbinger

Rita and John Tippet 2

On this somber morning, the chalky smell of old lessons fills my nose, and I remember posing beside a piece of art created to decompose. The Artist lingers nearby, a tortured soul, ready to recompose when the time is right.

Broken birds and fallen women find redemption in the great yellowness of a steady sun. This has always been the Artist’s intention, but it’s hard to admit because we like to make our own little plans and pretend the forts we build will protect us forever. What can we make true by pretending? What do you want to count on? Which lies are you willing to live by or tell the children?

If you mix pure gold with tired red blood you get a burnt orange that catches and holds the holy light so gently even tiny things are seen and safe. I am old, but I miss my mother. I am wise but certain of nothing. I know I’m of use, but I’m not sure why. Even the forgotten are of use, but they don’t know why either.

Once, we were butchering chickens. The uproar was astounding, the panic widespread. My lover, a city boy, was in charge of catching the fat, terrified hens and handing them to the person with the ax. He’d grab one by the leg, cradle her in his arms, and stroke her downy white feathers. “It’ll be okay, little buddy,” he’d say in a soothing voice. “It’ll be okay.” But then, for some reason, he heard himself. He stammered and stepped back, pale and appalled. I think he wanted to abandon his post. But there was no point. It was harvest time. The chickens were plump and ready. It had to be done, and it would be okay. The cosmic joke was on him and the chickens and anyone who fails to grasp redemption. It is neither cheap nor easy, but it is guaranteed. The chickens were perfect and delicious.

Feet on the Ground

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“Crowd in here, God,” I said, patting a narrow spot on the couch. It seemed unlikely anyone would notice; there was child-induced mayhem in the air. It involved a lot of bouncing, simultaneous verbalizations some would call clamor, and wonderment in abundance. These energies were sandwiched between adult conversations and consternations. I wasn’t sure which level God would prefer, but I wanted to be hospitable.

“Uh, sure. Thanks,” God said, distracted, like maybe a couple billion others right now. Distracted. Tempted to discount, deny, whine, or freak completely out. Not God, but maybe the rest of us on those last descriptors. “Are you ready to die?” I asked myself. “Of course,” I told myself. And in some ways, this is true. I’ve had an extraordinary life. In no way do I deserve anything further, and in some ways, I don’t want anything further. But then, it isn’t about deserving, is it?

My elbow hurts—the result of ever declining proprioception and the mysterious narrowing of doorways just as I’m squeezing a table through. My sense of importance in the world has suffered, leading to a fair amount of indignation. My little personal values are all askew, and I don’t want to straighten them out. “Lean times,” I whispered to God. “I could use some help getting my feet under me.”

“Fuck that,” God said. Well. This caught me a bit off-guard. God continued, “Your feet are down there where they should be. Mop the floor. Do the dishes. Brush the dog. Observe. Think. Settle.”

“Hey!” I protested God’s language, hoping to ignore the content. “There are children present.”

“They’re busy,” God said, but the room emptied into God and me, perhaps signaling the importance of our conversation. “Your life is a whisper, little one,” God said. “Even the lives you think are big, important…they are flickering flames in a variable wind. Don’t be envious. Sit yourself down when you need to. Observe. Think. Settle.”

“But I want to know I’m loved,” I said. “I want to matter.”

“You are. You do.”

“But I want proof,” I demanded.

“Fuck that,” God said again. “I’ve done all I can on that score.”  This was said without malice. In fact, there was a hint of a chuckle in his voice, and I caught God’s eyes twinkling. From a certain perspective, the absurdity of my fretting was hilarious, and we laughed. Threw back our heads and laughed. Laughed louder than the river, the owls, the barking dogs. We laughed belly laughs until we were crying, and we just kept laughing. I breathed in some ragged air. Clean air, as far as I know.

“Oh, wow,” I said. “I needed that.”

“Yes,” God said. “You did.”

 

 

Why We Sing

“These are rocky times, God,” I said. “Any advice?”

“Let there be music,” God said in a solemn voice. I nodded. God continued.

“Let there be fire. Let there be brilliance, heat, and force that fractures, reveals, cleanses and transforms. Let the light befriend the darkness, making it gentle and soft like velvet. Let darkness drape itself around things meant to be hidden, preserving the safe hollows where foxes are raising their young. Let the light sing in humble harmony while the baritones and basses of nightfall carry the low, familiar melody of the last song—the song that is sung your first night home.

Let there be joy. Let there be solemn rejoicing. Let there be reveling in joy that knows what it costs. Joy that takes up residence in the mutterings and moanings of a species that preys on itself. Let joy bring the cleansing tears that slide down the weathered cheeks of the rancher out helping the calves be born, facing into the howling wind.

Let there be compassion. Let there be kindness. Let there be a willingness to share the load of firewood and stone. Let there be premeditated unions and permissive individuations and searing partings that speak of what’s been shared—the same beating heart, now two. The eyes that see from within. Let things be known that need no speaking.

Let there be beginnings and conclusions—the kind that come from cell divisions, permeable boundaries, long sips of water, honey on the tongue. Let the dust fly, let the storms brew, let the virginal sky slide open, revealing the well-lit path.” God took a breath.

“We can’t find the well-lit path,” I said. “We’re stumbling.”

“Sing,” God said. “Sing.”

(With thanks to the Missoula Children’s Choir)

 

Your Brewing Legacy

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From the label on my beer bottle comes this declaration: Intense characterful and bold, Guinness extra stout is the pure expression of our brewing legacy…this stout is a testament…I’m sitting with a Fragment of God (all I can handle with the morning news blathering in the background). I look at The Fragment and say, “And you, Holy Fragment? What’s the intense characterful pure expression of your brewing legacy?”

An eyebrow brow goes up, a half-smile forms.

“My brewing legacy? Stray dogs. Old friends. Branches awaiting spring, moving gracefully in my breath. Rich soil, oozing with transformation, black crows telling each other jokes. Snow, sky, birth, death, salt water, rain water, living water, drinking water, drowning water. The night of sleep you just had, the day you have before you. Thoughts and bodies, fears and fantasies, sex and sadness, solemn vows and frivolous skirts that sway and lift in the updraft of soft round hips. Sweat. Bones. Fools. Frogs. Paths to nowhere. Emus, armadillos, chowder, candlelight. Truth. Humility. Laughter.”

The Fragment is pleased with itself. “More?” it asks.

I lay my head down on the ugly dining table I recently bought. The edges are sharp, and it wobbles. It needs a lot of work. I no longer know if it’s worth the effort. This is my intense characterful pure expression of my brewing legacy: I cannot discern between that which should be rescued and reintegrated, that which has useful component parts, and that which should be allowed the dignity of disintegration. Too many things come home with me. And we sit together awaiting insight. Awaiting magic. Awaiting wisdom or the right shade of green.

Yesterday, I met a woman in an abandoned parking lot and bought her used brown curtains. They have little beads across the top. She had bright eyes, creamy skin, and an easy spirit. I am glad to remember her and have these curtains hanging where I can see them. They don’t match anything perfectly, but then what does? There’s something suspect about a perfect match.

The Fragment nods. “Like us,” it said. “We aren’t a perfect match.” It has assembled itself into a full, creative expression of life and has forgiven me again. I didn’t even ask.

 

On the Face of It

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The most disconcerting image of God any of us has to deal with is the one in the bleary mirror every morning. True, God appears in a lot of unsavory, overwhelming, challenging guises. She flies in on a broomstick with a stolen dog, her backpack filled with ruby red slippers. He spreads himself brilliant across the evening sky and sprinkles himself into a billion stars He cries like a baby. With a hammer in her huge hands, she takes down wall after wall. I like watching. I like an arm’s-length God. But I don’t like that image of God in the mirror–that fatally flawed stretch of skin and bones I know from the inside out.

Sometimes, I try to avoid eye contact. Other times, I look for the innocence that was once there. I think I see vestiges of something beyond, but it’s elusive. Of course, I see my mother, my children, that genetic overlay. There are scars. Errant eyebrows. In my eyes, the piercing steely blue of the Irish.

“Hello,” I said to the mirror this morning. I do this sometimes. It creates a little distance. But for some reason, I added, “How can I be of service today?”

And to my surprise, my face answered.

“This day won’t be back,” it said. “This day is a guest. Be kind to it. This day will be a progression of sojourning moments, hoping for your attention. Remember, you are crystalized time.”

“Say what?” I said. “Crystalized what?”

“Time,” my face said. “You embody a fraction of the cosmos for a miniscule, monumental flash of linearity. And I must say, you wear it well.”

“Why, thank you,” I said back to my face. “But you know that’s not true.” I pointed to the worst of my imperfections. My face laughed. “You poor thing,” it said. “Those are your best features. Proof of your existence. Like I said, you’re crystalized time. And time is a craggy, wizened old thing. It likes nothing better than transporting imperfections into eternity where they are fodder for the greater good.”

“I didn’t sign on for this,” I said. But my face lifted into a smile, and I knew that in fact, I had signed on for this. For this day. For this chance. I inventoried my defects and damages, circling them like wagons around my fears. Then I enhanced the patchy curve of my eyebrows with a sharp clear line, removed some unwanted facial hair, and blew myself a kiss.

“Let’s roll, gentlemen,” I said to God and the pretty little moments at my feet. “We’ve got this.”

 

The City of God

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Last night God populated the street with threatening poses that grew increasingly dense: closed faces briefly lit by yellow streetlights; eyeballs flashing warnings in the gloom; mouths reluctantly exhaling into the thin haze of hopelessness. “Give nothing away,” I said. “Give nothing away.” But things were being taken. In Spokane, God nearly froze to the sidewalk last week. They’ve opened more shelters. In Syria, though, the little ones ice up and are gone.

In the restaurant, safe and warm, I ordered more than I could eat, but I tried to eat it all. The garlic was potent. It protected me as I walked back through that God-infested version of hell, that sinking ship, that over-burdened set of human systems cracking under the weight of evolution derailed. I wanted to touch each face. Instead, I touched my own. I had a dollar in my pocket. Earrings in my ears. Back in the artificial safety of my pale room, I pillowed my head and slept through the blaring sirens within and without.

It’s no easier this morning. God is in the hallway with a cart of towels, soaps, and other deadly products, waiting to clean up after me. I could make God’s day by leaving a generous tip. The life in me says what the hell, leave a twenty. The death in me says give nothing away. Give nothing away—after all, you’ve made your own bed. I see myself dropping diamonds for the groveling masses (I hate diamonds. I hate groveling masses). I see myself–a beheaded simpleton with a gnarly finger in a greedy dike. Mostly, though, I see that I want to matter.

“What to do, Black God?” I ask. “What to do, Brown God? Helpless God? Transgender, transported, translated God? How do I touch you and not get burned?”

The Laughing Buddha, belly large and round like earth, is on fire. The cherubim and seraphim descend with burning coals they have stolen from Allah. The Small One puts her icy hand in mine and says, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll cool your lips when it’s over.” I bow my head, then lift my eyes. I tell myself I’m ready. Nothing happens. Everything happens. I see now that the frozen child has come to save me. She has given everything away.

Valentines

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God has been making fun of me lately, trying to get me to wrestle, insisting I lighten up. I resist because of this sense of impending injury. God doesn’t realize her own strength, and I tend to fight back, even if it’s all in fun. But is it ever all in fun? C’mon, God. Is it?

God pulls her tickle-fingers back and takes a deep breath, accidentally inhaling millions of locusts, eleven planets, and so much disgusting space debris that she sneezes. I grab a well-installed towel rack and hang on.

“Bless you,” I say automatically. What a stupid custom. No demons are going up anyone’s noses, especially God’s. But I say it and mean it for whatever that’s worth in this strange condition of being alive. And I am alive. Alive in sage green, burnt orange, and lavender paint spread over the chalky primer. Alive in the demolition and reconstruction of shelter. Alive like the probiotic bugs I’m sipping to recolonize my ravaged digestive track.

“Bless you again,” I say, as God’s second sneeze rattles the rafters. I add, “I’ve never really thought about you sneezing.” God rubs her nose and wipes her eyes. “Yeah, I’m allergic to some things you’d never guess,” she says. “And besides, you can’t think of everything. Want me to do a little thinking for you?” She grins.

“Oh no.” I say this in a very firm voice. “No. Absolutely not.” I figuratively wrap my arms around my brain and hold my hand up like a guard at a school crossing. “No.”

One thing I’m clear on is this: God’s thoughts are not my thoughts. God’s ways are not my ways. I prefer my own thoughts. Otherwise, what’s the point? God has grown Vulcan ears, and her eyebrows are thick and angular. “Mindmeld, anyone?” she says, clearly having way too much fun. “Oh my God!” I say, starting to laugh despite myself. “Could you just leave it alone?”

“It, or you?” God asks, and adds, “I can drop a subject as quick as anyone, so yes, I can leave it. But you? Sweetheart, you might think you’d like a little distance, but you can’t understand how bad that would be. So, you? Nope, I won’t be leaving you alone. Ever. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but I’m God. I have certain prerogatives.”

My face is stony, but the glare is facetious. I just don’t feel like admitting my relief. Right now, a nap sounds good. “Excellent idea,” God agrees.

“Yes,” I say. “I’m glad I thought of it.” Then with exaggerated dignity, I crawl into her chest cavity, very near her broken heart, and fall asleep.