Instructions

Photo credit: Scott Wolff

God’s face will come off in your hands if you pull hard and twist.
Your own face is a fluid river. Not something you should readily admit.
The mysterious whispers from the shadows are ancestors sighing. Sigh with them.
After a hearty meal, a small bird balances on the tip of a branch. This is impossible.

If you aren’t stoned or near death, the day might seem ordinary. It’s not.
If you assume things will remain the way they are, you’re mistaken.
What you see, what you hear, what you believe–all unlikely. All contingent.
You may think you understand the ways of the world. You do not.

Your petty fears are confetti in a gale force wind. Celebrate their flight. You’ve won.
The rotten cottonwood with the eagle’s nest has blown down. For this, grieve.
There is nothing left to win or lose. Take God’s face out of your pocket. Wear it.
Use jagged stones to chew your food, and you will be briefly sustained.

Let your guard down, put your feet up. Be playful with the local delusions. Laugh.
You’ll notice the joke is on you, which is very good news. Rejoice.
Music blares into the wee hours of a morning you don’t own. Listen.
God will say unto you, “May I have this dance?” You wonder what to do. Dance.

In certain moments, you imagine that your angular finger is a twig. This is true.
When the sparrow lands to groom herself, you suspect it is the end. It is not.
Put your better ear to the ground or on the thin chest of newborn child. Say hello.
You’ve never fully lived here, but you call this place home. And it is.

Downhill

My downhill acceleration is alarming some days, but I reduce the gravitational pull by using switch backs and sensible shoes. God is one of my better switchbacks. She decreases the angle of decline and therefore the risks of freefall. Even though she refuses to make anybody immortal, she doesn’t mind being used as a switchback. Life on earth is unpredictable; sometimes brutal, sometimes disappointing, often too short, on occasion, too long. It is a brief opportunity to practice being kind.

I’m watching a couple of male deer lock horns in the snowy field, but I’m their only audience. Wisely, the females are focused on breaking through the crusty snow and grazing while they can. Sheltered in place, I like the visibility of dirt in the vacuum and the splintered wood with tough knots and gnarly twists waiting for the fire. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Day to day. Hand in hand.

On the other side of the pell-mell race that will never have a winner, the shimmering Now is a breakfast of excellent coffee, a blueberry scone, a vision beyond my nose, and the kind of silence that holds no threat. No demand. No promise. No direction. Only an abundance of breathable air.

God has moved into view carrying my best boots. She kneels and helps me slip them on. She’s shoveled a path through the snow that leads toward a certain horizon, but I linger over my scone. “Don’t make me move,” I beg God. “This might be the last blueberry I’ll ever taste.”

“Yes, it might,” God agrees. She pulls my snow pants down over the boots and tightens the drawstrings at the bottom. “And it might not.” She pats my thigh. “Either way will be fine.” She points to the hills and begins to die the thousand deaths required of her every day. She’s running a temperature, struggling to breathe, and there are gaping holes in the ozone.

On 9/11, the passengers on Flight 93 decided to bring the plane down rather than let it crash into the White House or the Capitol. Passenger Todd Beamer was recorded saying, “You guys ready? Let’s roll.” With whatever they had at hand, they stormed the cockpit. Right now, the cockpit is filled with plastics, poisons, hatred, and greed.

“Breakfast is over,” I say to my well-clad feet. “Let’s roll.”

Bad God

Here’s how it started: I spotted God strolling in the fading garden at sunrise and shouted, “Okay, God. Get in here right now. You’re in serious trouble, old man. Serious.” If God had a middle name, I would have used it. Like, “God Henry, I mean it.”

God heard me and waved. God heard me and pointed at the sky. God heard me and heard me and heard me because I didn’t stop yelling until I had dissolved in a coughing fit from over-exertion. It was only then God approached, slapped me on the back, and helped me catch my breathe.

“Pretty upset, huh?” God said.

“Oh, don’t try that Carl Rogers stuff on me,” I said. “You know damn well you’ve got to do something about your fake followers. Have you seen them, enshrining cruelty? Greed? Millions dancing at the thought of women forced to carry unwanted fetuses to term as if that’s what you want, rejoicing about your amazing creation being endlessly “developed”? Have you noticed the air quality? The hurricanes? The fires? The poor?”

“Slow down, partner,” God said. “Last day of good weather for a while. And it looks like you’ll have your first female Vice President, and she’s from Indian and Black parentage, and she’s smart. There’s that.” To my surprise, there were tears in God’s eyes. I mellowed a little, but the image of my neighbors wearing those detestable red hats with insulting slogans didn’t fade enough. I live in a beautiful place that voters have placed in the hands of the rich and morally corrupt. I live among people unwilling to pay taxes to care for the sick, the widowed, the poor, the broken. Unwilling to even pay their fair share for the common good.

God saw my despair. “Well, honey. You all have a long road ahead. I’ll give you that. Let’s try something, O.K.?”

I nodded. With God, a nod is a dangerous thing but not as dangerous as saying no.

“Pick a neighbor with a red hat. And get the image of the face clear in your mind’s eye.”

I complied, but there was a low guttural sound in my throat.

“Now, take the face gently into your hands and let your eyes speak love. Let your pain show. Let the truth generate a kind of holy light around you both.”

My hands clenched. My eyes burned. “I can’t do this,” I said to God. “I just want to snap the neck and be done with it.”

“I know,” God said. “But then who’d pay the taxes?” He laughed at his own bad joke, extended his elbow to my imagined neighbor, and they walked arm in arm back to the garden. God offered my neighbor some carrots. My carrots. My garden. My Bad God, out there loving my damaged, vicious neighbor, sharing my harvest.

I remained outraged, but I didn’t dare summons Bad God a second time. Who knows what else he’d give away? I just watched and sipped my beer.

Body Snatching

Today, I painted the fingernails on the plastic hand that I bought at an estate sale last summer. Apparently. the hand fell off of a mannequin into the pocket of an older individual who took it home. Who knows why? The daughter was selling everything, and I didn’t blame her. Her inheritance was mostly junk, though I did get a nice brass lamp and some decent pillowcases along with the hand. The graceful curl of these fingers reminds me of my mother’s hands. She kept her shapely nails immaculate, and on very special occasions, she painted them red. Mine were always chipped. This bothered her.

I have other projects, too. So many meaningful activities, it’s hard to choose among them. I’ve already answered emails, done Facetime with a friend, texted God twice, and eaten half of a pumpkin pie. Soon, I’ll take care of some other dreaded items on my list. But first, I need to gather myself in my dim navigational mirror and chart my way. God’s answer to my first text was garbled and long, filled with comically misspelled words. Essentially, it said “Hang on a bit longer, little buddy. I’m gathering fallen leaves, breathing over the surface of a thousand planets, and birthing stars. I wish I could bring you with me, but you must stay put. I’ll circle back.”

“Wait,” I texted back. “WAIT.”

I’m not sure what one does with a waiting God, but I didn’t need to figure that out because God refused. “No,” God texted. “You’re the one who has to wait.”

I know the fog will burn off, only to gather again, storms will rage, subside, and rage. The eternal is comprehensible only to a broken man lying on the side of the road–and only for a moment.

I am bereft of mother and father, bereft of a God that will submit to containment and do my bidding. But while I can, I will name the hatreds so hot, so wrong, they are burning holes in the fabric of hope. When I’m at my best, I, too, wait broken on the side of the road, and as darkness gathers, I, too, look up and see the cold light of stars—ancient light that has made its way over terrain I cannot imagine. As the sure and final darkness falls, I hope I will remember to pry my fists open and paint my broken nails florescent red. And then, when God circles back, I hope I’ll wave my fancy fingers like a shameless fool; defenseless and overjoyed.