It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere

Lately, I’ve been taking the world apart little by little. Originally, I had planned to put it back together once I understood how everything worked, but I’m afraid I’ve misplaced some key pieces, and occasionally, I’ve gotten impatient, pulled too hard, and broken things. So, my new plan is a simplified version. Let things come together as they will. Sandstone with lichen. Rain that soaks the just and the unjust. Lightening that strikes on a whim. Fire that burns selective and incomplete. I can’t keep track of the passing hours or the imagined threats anymore.

I told God about my undoings and lingering responsibilities, hoping he’d take a hint and be of some kind of help, but he’s so busy. “It’s July and I haven’t even got my snow tires off,” he said.

“Yeah, but it’s snowing somewhere,” I said–an old happy hour joke—it’s 5:00 somewhere. We like being happy, me and God. We laughed.

“I know you could use some help with your projects, but with all the cotton blowing off the cottonwood trees and old people dying like honeybees, I just don’t have the kind of time it would take to put your world back together,” God said. His face had a pointed, parental look.

I didn’t believe him because God is not bound by time or space, but then I’m not always honest either. For instance, I’m not actually taking the world apart. The world is taking me apart, and it’s me who won’t be coming back together. Someday, I will be the lichen on the sandstone and the falling rain.

“If you’re lucky,” God interjected.

I knew God was still joking around, wanting to laugh and keep the mood light. And why not? When the time comes, I’m guessing God will give me a different way to see what has always been and will always be. I’ll have new jobs and a new name.

“But not yet,” God said to my wandering mind, sounding impatient with my inwardality. “Your old name still works. Like you said, it’s snowing somewhere. Let’s get a move on. Make hay while the sun shines. Don’t you trust me anymore?”

“What’s not to trust?” I muttered, mostly to myself. But I got dressed anyway, found my purple work boots exactly where I’d left them, and dragged out the mower. God was right. My old name still works. For now.

Driftwood

Today, I examine the curves and contradictions of driftwood and stones rolled by the river while I sip small amounts of soothing beer and let ideas of God come and go as they will. Some stay longer than others. Some wake me up. Some put me to sleep. Some are a comfort; others are profoundly disturbing. Even when I utter prayers beyond words, I laugh at myself. I don’t ask for much. No, that’s a lie. I ask for everything.

Everything. Why not? Ask and ye shall receive, right? But here’s something I’ve noticed: Don’t ask and ye shall receive anyway. Or ask and ye get nothing ye asked for. So ye makes up ridiculous sayings like when God closes a door, she opens a window. What? A window? I’m too old to crawl through most windows. See why I laugh? Windows let in light and air. It’s nice to sit and look out a window. It is not nice to crawl through one. So if God has shut a door, maybe sit on the couch and appreciate the view.

Maybe invite God to sit with you. Maybe give God a chance to explain herself. She won’t, but that’s okay. Humans are ingenious inventors, projectors, and deniers. I have no doubt you can think up more clever sayings about God or about Not-God to offer the grieving family, to scold the misbehaver, to justify your choices, judge yourself or others, get even, or get ahead. It’s so easy. Just sit there and make things up, drawing from ancient writings, evangelists, humanists, feminists, misogynists, economists–whatever your sources, brew up an elixir, gird your loins, and… No. Wait. Touch the driftwood.

Wait. Take the fingers on your left hand, run them gently up and down the tender skin on your right arm, feel the tingle, and marvel. Marvel. Fill your lungs with air you cannot see, and marvel. Blink your eyes, wiggle your toes, taste the inside of your mouth, and marvel. Glance at God, smile sheepishly, and apologize for everything. Then regroup and ask for everything. Eternity. Driftwood. Stones shaped like broken hearts. Everything. God will hold the ladder as you crawl out the window. Try to laugh all the way to the ground. It will help you manage your terror and the enormous sadness you should never wish away.

Raven

Courtesy of the amazing Ben Reed

I sit here now with my life in my hands, my future in my feet, thoughts in my mind, reluctance in my spirit. I’m trying to make myself throw a friendly arm over the shoulders of ignorant fools who eat propaganda for breakfast. False reassurances are so tasty. Comfort food for the complacent. Minute by minute, hour by hour, I do battle with the urge to hate. I want to hate those who deserve to burn in hell, but I will not. I will not hate the violent, scum-sucking, selfish, sadistic liars. I will not hate their tragically-seduced followers. Hate is comfort food for the self-righteous. We are all self-righteous, and we are hungry.

I will eat chard today and vegetables–the fruit of someone’s labor; sun beating down on dark soil, soil releasing what it has to offer. With gratitude, I will eat.

Raven lands to survey her world. What are you seeing, Raven? Decades ago, I watched a thin boy roast a cousin of yours over a small fire in India. In my world, eating crow used to mean eating your words when proven wrong. This saying has fallen out of use because no one can be proven wrong anymore. But in that child’s world, eating crow was literal. It meant he could live another day. What am I to make of this, Raven? You are my totem, my shiny black spirit guide. You are my wings.

Raven shrugs. The chokecherry bushes hold seven or eight red winged blackbirds, supple branches bending under the weight of this momentary group of dignitaries.

They won’t stay long, nor will I. As wisdom accumulates, flesh dissipates. While Raven lingers, my mind drifts to the exotic neon birds of the tropics, but Raven calls me back with shimmering shades of black. Maybe, someday I will understand iridescence and the angles of illumination. I will love my enemies and even bid them a fond farewell. “Until we meet again,” I will say, with warmth and conviction. “Until we meet again.”

Roots

In the bioluminescence of adoration, God stroked my bedhead hair, and I felt powerful. From the safe distance of her corpulent lap, I glimpsd the dark tentacles of fear wrapped tightly around the human heart. I saw the malevolent vine choking off compassion, strangling kindness, and feeding the voracious twins: greed and envy. I imagined taking an axe to the roots of fear and chopping us free. God laughed. Me and Paul Bunyan to the rescue. I laughed too and snuggled in, dreamy and half-conscious.

“What are humans so afraid of?” I asked my big-breasted comforter.

“The truth, honey,” God said. “You’re all deathly afraid of the truth.”

The innocent fun was over. I had to ask.

“What is the truth?” I whispered, hoping God would just gaze off toward the horizon and keep cuddling. But I knew she would not. Nor would she tell me fairy tales. Nor would she sugar-coat whatever I needed to face.

Her voice was even. Steady. Not cold, but compelling. “Honey, the truth is this: You are not perfect. You are mortal, restless, uncertain, and terrified of rejection. You are a member of a species that rapes, maims, tortures, enslaves, starves, and kills its own—a species frightened of all the wrong things.”

She paused and sighed. “Pain, loss, and death are immutable realities. They are part of the definition of life. Any number of accomplishments, offspring, accolades, facelifts, personal trainers, holy wars, conquests, or bank accounts will not take these realities away.”

“Stop,” I said and covered my ears. “I hate where you’re going with this.”

“You have no idea where I’m going with this,” God said. She pulled my hands away from my ears and crossed them over my heart. “In here,” she whispered. “Look in here.”

I felt waves of resistance but tried to hold still and listen. God continued. “Where I’m going is where you’ll go. But don’t worry. I’ve been there forever, and I’ve hidden some surprises.” She chucked me under the chin.

I stared at her, indignant. Defiant. What did God think I was? A child? Surprises? “C’mon, God,” I said. “Give me a break.”

“I already have,” God says, laughing again. “You have no idea.”

I gave up my pride and we settled back in. God, big and soft. Me, small and limited. Imperfect and afraid. God is wrong. I have lots of ideas. But God is also right. I do like surprises.

Flat Tire

“How do you measure success?” I asked God. “A weed-free garden? A billion dollars in savings? Well-behaved children? Unburned toast?”

“Nolite te bastardes carborundum,” God muttered as she pushed a strand of hair away from her sweaty face. She was trying to get a flat tire off her rig, but the lug nuts had been machine-tightened.

I watched in disbelief. “Just zap it with a bolt of lightning,” I said, exasperated. If there was ever a time for some well-aimed lightning, it was now. Our little world is in flames, our bodies in peril, and here’s God, trying to change a flat tire by herself, offering only a language-mangled quote as her version of success: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Fine. “Which bastards?” I demanded as God tried to find a way to use her entire body weight on the lug wrench. Today, God was thin. I almost wondered if the bastards had already ground her down some, but that’s ridiculous. We all know the bastards are no match for even the thinnest of Gods, don’t we?

“Could you steady the jack?” God asked. “I’m going to try and jump on this damn wrench.”

“No,” I said. “That’s a terrible idea. Call AAA or something. You’re going to hurt yourself.” She hadn’t even blocked the jack very well. It was sinking into the soft ground. I put my hand on God’s bony old shoulder. She shrugged it off and stood to her full majestic height. A string bean of an angry God.

“Is your van available?” she snapped as she dropped the wrench. “I don’t have time to mess with this. I’ve got to go.” My old van burns a little oil and pulls slightly to the left, but it still hauls an impressive load and gets me where I need to go. I had plans today that involved the van, but I couldn’t deny the request. Ride along or stay home; we all know where God’s going, and it’s no place to go alone.

“Shotgun,” I said with a reluctant attempt at humor.

“Oh, that seat’s taken,” God replied. “Ahmaud’s riding up front.” I flinched and looked down. “No worries,” God added with a piercing look. “There’s plenty of room in the back.”

“But there are no seatbelts,” I protested, ashamed of myself.

 “There’s air,” God said grimly. “There’s air. Now, let’s go.”

Inner Ear

In the basement there’s a machine that lets me hang upside down to improve my spine. Today I overdid it to the point of complete disequilibrium. I managed to pull myself upright and crawl up the stairs, but my eyes will not hold their focus because sinus pressures are distorting their shape. The world is falling around me at odd angles, and I have to look straight ahead, or I will vomit. The inversion of perception can seriously confuse the inner ear.

Three more books on suicide, death, and dying arrived yesterday. God and I have started a book club, but we’ve limited our membership to the two of us. Digging into death is as disorienting as hanging upside down. Even God looks queasy when we consider the ramifications of human mythology and cruelty, vulnerability and stupidity.

“Let’s skip our assigned reading for today,” God says. “We can go for a nice walk. You don’t look well, and I’m tired of the topic. It’s intense. Here. Let me hold your elbow.”

I give God a look intended to communicate both agreement and accusation. Tough topic. His fault—as in who invented death?

“Not invented,” God says. “Byproduct.”

“Of what?” I already know the answer, but I like it when God gets all cosmic and chatty.

“Creation. Consciousness. You see death as an end. I see it as the rearranging of raw materials and all that was learned along the way. I waste nothing. I am within. Without. Over. Under. Throughout.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “Big talk. But you don’t like the outcome of human foibling any better than I do. I’ve seen you in excruciating pain. I’ve seen you die with a knee on your neck.”

“No, you haven’t,” God says.

“Yes, I have,” I say. I don’t always recognize God when I see him, but I was pretty sure about this one.

“Okay, yes, but what you’ve seen is me sharing the pain. Shared pain. You haven’t seen me in my own pain. Not possible. Not sharable. Not visible. The size and magnitude of my pain is beyond your ability to perceive just yet. Your word for it is pain. Mine is love.”

The iris buds are swelling. They will bloom soon. I found the bulbs discarded in an alley. In this small truth I take refuge.

In Praise of the Human Way

Stubbed my toe this morning because I left the light off thinking I’d reduce my carbon footprint by groping my way through a dark place. If I’d been more mindful the plan might’ve worked. My toe paid the price. The capacity to learn from our mistakes is a human phenomenon that squares off with denial–a constant horse race; the outcome undecided.

“Why?” I ask God as I run my fingers over the rough surface of a threatening sky and remember my overfilled barns. I have long splinters festering with resentment. The rain advances and recedes. I live in the eye of my own perfect storm, held together with frayed orange twine.

“Pain is not the best instructor, ” God says, looking slightly impatient. “You don’t have to hurt yourself to get things done.”

“Oh, but I do,” I counter with righteous indignation. “Isn’t that what suffering is all about?”

A flash of anger crosses God’s face, and the earth shudders. Angels with enormous teeth bite their own fingers, knuckles crunching like popcorn. Birds feathered in brilliant blue dip and glide as if they owned the air and then crash into the window. I bow my head and wait, penitent but unwilling to cede my point. Never back down in a fight with God. She’ll spit you out like bad water. Her respect for you will fade like the waning moon and rebuilding things will be costly. Better to ask forgiveness but hang on to what you think you know. You’ll be proven wrong, or you won’t.

God reaches toward me. I flinch but stand my ground. She runs her fingers over the deep contours of my misshapen ideas so tenderly I barely feel the touch. It’s the warm, moist exhale of creation, the murmurings of the Mother.

She moves me to disturbed terrain and directs my gaze to the dandelion– vixen and vagabonds, mavens and madrigals–all things brilliantly defiant. Flattened and subdued, shy strands of spring bend toward me, and I almost understand. In the place where I can still expand, I do, and there’s God bustling around, her apron filled with eggs, rhubarb in her fists. She is going to bake something nice for dessert, and I will help. I am setting this intention: I will help. This is what humans can do. And, yes, perhaps sometimes, it doesn’t have to hurt.

Those Little Brown Birds

Scott yellow bird

Something scares the little brown birds feasting on the front lawn, and most of them fly to the fence, using precious energy for no cause. This time, there’s no predator, only wind. A few of the dull ones stay behind, calmly pecking at the dirt. Those clad in coats of many colors are male and skittish. They drop back to the dirt, shiny and chagrinned.

But now the orange cat slinks by. All the little birds disperse; this time with good cause. They land on the wires, tailfeathers twitching, reminding me of the ragged and precarious ways I cling to life. Like dry grass in the fall, my longings could be braided into baskets or burned away like chaff.

There’s a shallow ravine I’ve known since I wandered the land as a child. I liked hiding there, lying on my back, sheltered from the winter wind. The long dream will continue in this small and private canyon because there’s so much sky. Sandstone gives way here and there to reveal outcroppings of flint and jasper, agate and granite. Someday, I will feed the wilder animals and join the great upheavals and slow erosions of creation.

For now, my dreams are short and dim. God reaches into them occasionally, and I chase him out with a broom, my hair covered in a kerchief, my voice low and menacing. But God crouches even lower, his tail snaps back and forth, his fangs perfectly white and bared. His amber eyes burn with a question, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

And I admit I’m not. Not sure. Not solid. Frightened by wind and fire. The long-awaited greening seems as far away as justice. I did not waste my youth, but it has not come with me. Some days, I’m too tired to fly to the fence. How long can I hold these things at bay? God goes belly-up at my feet, the pads of his magnificent paws soft and tender. I see the spot that makes him limp and bandage it with my shirt. He thanks me. We rest.

God’s Mothers’ Day Chat with White People Toting Guns

IMG_4025

I would like to speak with your souls today. We’ll need to bypass inflated egos and false defenses. Quiet those quick rationalizations. Lose the aches and pains, your fears and hungers, and gingerly touch the dark walls of your short lives. Let go of the protective gear hidden in your pockets, strapped to your ankles.

You would be wise to surrender. Don’t be afraid. You can drop the best of these words along the path so if you need to, you can find your way home. But for now, lay low. Lay down low. Lay down so low that all you see is your mother. Turn your ear to the earth and listen to her heart beating inches from your body. Curl inward. Remember, everything curls inward. Notice the pulsing cord attaching you to this good earth. For now, you are sustained.

The body broken is necessary. When you try to elevate yourself beyond terror or save yourself with weaponry, remember the trajectory of a bullet is not linear. It takes the curve of the earth. The kind you carry explode on impact. The fragments make their way back weeping and bloodied. They reassemble in the womb.

Did you know you shot my son? Did you know he was your brother?

The garden gates are open. I’ll be waiting there for you. We’ll plant spinach and daffodils, potatoes and beets. We’ll pray for water and pull the weeds. I will knit you back together with fine merino wool, and we’ll use your stony hearts to build a monument. A testament. A tomb.

And then, when you’re ready, here is what I’ll say: Let there be light. And with all creation, I will say again, “Let there be light.” And as the sun reveals your nakedness, your mother will hand you freshly laundered clothes.

Gate Open, Cow Out

Big cow

The blister on the inside of my right thumb is almost healed. I got it raking moldy straw and disgusting debris into a small fire intended to renew an abused and neglected half-acre of land. This was some weeks ago. Healing takes time. There will be scar tissue. While in human form, we get bunged up, knocked down, damaged, and sometimes, miraculously (but temporarily) restored.

For instance, a raging cow caught my sister by surprise a few days ago and roughed her up. My sister is tough. She’s bruised and sore, but she’ll be fine. That cow, however, has got to go. Her maternal instincts were disproportionate to the situation, and she was willing to kill to protect her ailing calf from the help it needed. This genetic disposition is unhelpful in a herd cow. Likely, her next life will involve dog food.

On my mind this morning is my wayward friend, likely in jail again because of his addictions and bad taste in romantic partners. Given how we treat prisoners, especially right, there’s a decent chance he’s sick or dead. We aren’t in touch anymore.

Such is life. Sometimes, we make slight advances, sometimes not. Next time, I might wear gloves; my sister might carry a baseball bat and close the gate behind her. Next time, maybe humans won’t disproportionately punish their fellow beings for mistakes. Maybe common sense will replace blind, projective revenge. In the meantime, I have to dispose of the possessions my friend left behind.

“Oh, I’ll deal with them for you,” God says as he settles in for coffee.

“Really?” I say with genuine relief. I should know better.

“And I’ll shut the gate, remind you to wear gloves, sketch some plans for the new addition, fix some lunch, check the kefir, return those calls, and write a thousand words by nightfall.”

I roll my eyes and give God a cookie.

“I’ll sell that cow, plant the kale, and do something about the potholes. I’ll buy some goats to eat the weeds, dig up the dead apple tree, clean the garden shed…I’ll be so moving so fast it’ll be nearly impossible to see me.” God’s beaming and spewing cookie crumbs everywhere.

“Oh, I’ll see you, you goofball” I say. “You’re hard to miss.”

God’s grin widens. “It’s all so easy,” he says. “Just dress the part. I hate to mention this, darling, but you’re a tad underdressed these days.”

Ha! This from an unshaven God in prison orange. A God in old purple running shoes. A God in sheep’s clothing howling like a wolf, a whirling dust devil, fanning the fire…a cookie crumb God demanding I top off his coffee.

His eyes twinkle as he offers me a cloak the color of kindness. It smells like fresh linens. I drape it over my shoulders. I realize it could also be a shroud, but oddly, I’m okay with that.

PS: Along with a few other writers involved in the MT+NY Collaborative (http://www.mtnyccollaborative.org/locations ) I’ll be reading a couple God Blogs tomorrow at 5:00 Mountain Standard Time. Feel free to tune in. And message me right away if you have a favorite you’d like to hear aloud.