Month: January 2023
Keeping the Beat
“Rough night?” God asks gently from deep within the wee hours.
“You know it was,” I say with some desperation.
“Yeah, I guess I do.” God looks haggard. “Thanks for not pelting me with your anxieties. I needed the rest.”
Though it may be blasphemous to report this, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve glimpsed God limping across my consciousness, disillusioned, tired, and sad.
The act of construing (or being) God beyond the guarantees and constraints of our limited vision is sometimes labeled blasphemy by those with frightened rigid streaks. And it can be dangerous. There are still people defending God by killing other people.
We sit. The day lumbers forward.
I have a gallon of forest green paint and an array of possible surfaces. God has a universe in mortal pain. Is it blasphemous to pity God? If I forget the dance steps, is it heretical if I just move in a way that meshes with the music and the tempo?
“Funny you mention tempo,” God says. “I could use a new set of drums. Mine’ve been beat to hell.”
“No surprise there,” I sigh. “Everything about you has been beat to hell.”
“And back?” God asks with a hopeful tilt of the head.
“And back.” I nod. “Maybe that’s why you get so wiped out. Hell and back is a rugged journey to make over and over.”
We sit. Afternoon has somehow arrived.
“You’ve made that trip for me a few times, haven’t you?” I don’t have to ask; I was along for the ride.
“It was worth it.” God ruffles my hair, looking a little perkier.
“Want some pasta?” I offer a plate of leftovers I’ve warmed up. “Happy to share.”
“That’s kind of you,” God says. “But I think you better eat it yourself. And open the paint. And get on with what’s left of the day. There’s another night coming.”
“I know,” I say. “And I’ll do my best.”
An army of motley angels is marching by.
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
“Gotta go,” God says, and begins to parade down the hall, a whole battery of raucous and enthusiastic drummers. I want to cling or march along, but God waves and shouts, “Baby, open the paint. And even if it gets crazy dark, try to keep the beat.”
When I finally realized that people are just pieces of newly broken stone tumbling downstream in the flow of time, I began to hope that I could be smoothed into something shiny and beautiful and then roll onto an exotic beach to glitter forever. But I see now that being shiny doesn’t last and I’m well on my way to dust.
God laughs and then sneezes. “See how powerful you’ll be?” She blows her nose and wipes her eyes. “Dust allergies are the worst.”
I ignore her, grab the ash bucket and a few of the dirtier rugs, and step into the wind.
“Don’t be afraid,” she says, following me.
The wind dies down, and river nymphs skim lightly across the surface of clear mountain water, moving without resistance toward the salty sea.
“That’s not quite true,” God says. “Nothing on earth moves without resistance. But it’s less at higher elevations if you can handle the thinner air.”
I consider the lungs of the sherpas, the gills of the shark. I remember watching the eye of the lamb I held in my lap grow dull as life lifted itself away. And I remember flying.
My days are filled with gleaning from piles of flood debris. I yank out planks and bent fence posts, drag burnable wood to the stove, intriguing wood to my gallery, and have a plan to bury the rest.
“Your gallery?” God chuckles. “Um, which surface or shed qualifies for that label? I’d like a tour.”
“Well, it’s a splintery, infested, movable feast, mostly in my head, mostly benign, but occasionally, I use toxic glue or graffiti paint and the fumes are outrageous.”
“I think I can handle it.” God grins.
“Oh, I wouldn’t ask you to,” I say. “Someday, I’ll have it all cleaned up and nicely displayed. I’ll serve muffins and Earl Gray tea.”
“No, you won’t,” God says. “But that’s just fine. Now, let’s take a look, shall we?”
We spend the day considering toxicities and redemptions, the wonders of fungi, the process of fermentation, and the fantastical cottonwood stumps with twisted roots and embedded stones, now tipped skyward. She’s not bothered by the disarray and in fact, she’s intrigued with the idea of making rainbows out of curved sticks. Tonight, we’ll share a glass of rhubarb wine near the flame, and she can help me decide which broken branches are worth burning.
Oh Ye Who Forget That Thou Art Prey
When God stops by as humble as the Kirby salesman or the Fuller Brush Man and shows me his wares, I buy. I can’t help it. Love looks so good in the abstract. But love enacted is often irritating, complex and exhausting. It can take so damn much time and energy that I long to renege, retreat, and eat bonbons.
Well, maybe not bonbons but something mind-altering and self-indulgent. I’d be willing to eat my words if that would help, since I offer up a lot of verbiage urging acts of kindness upon myself and others.
A mountain lion killed our neighbor’s little dog this week. I’ve watched the instinctual responses of predators when edible creatures flee. Vicious jaws, brutal endings. Could instinct be a justification for bonbons? Aggression? Guns in the basement aimed at anyone planning to overpower me and eat my extra pasta?
“I’m sorry,” God says after listening to this rant for a few moments. “I can’t get into these concerns today.
“Why?” I ask. “Busy with that new little dog in heaven?” Okay. I admit I can be a real jerk when I feel scared, short-changed, or entitled.
God looks at me with compassion, turns, and walks away.
“Wait!” I shout, stricken with the shame of abandonment. “Please.”
“I can’t,” God says. “Use your new products. I’ll be back.”
I slam the door behind him, kick love to the corner, dig deep into the candy drawer, and pile wood on the fire. “No!” I bellow into the room, chaotic with yesterday’s attempts at decluttering. “Not me!!!”
The not-me arrives. She shows up whenever I yell for her and stays until she’s gorged herself on my best intentions. She’s unattractive and mean. When she finally slinks away, I’m usually sprawled on the couch, cursing my laziness, bad judgment, nasty temperament, and inadequate excuses for not saving the world or at least some little corner of it. There are chocolate smears around my mouth and thick socks on my feet.
Oh ye who forget that thou art prey; beware. And woe to ye who ignore thy forward eyes and pointed teeth reflected in thy steamy mirror. Thou art predator and thou art prey. Yet thou art also family. Therefore, thou must enter into sacrificial space, ready to share thine chocolate and thine life. That’s how it works.
That’s simply how it works.
Shadows of the year now gone stretch long in the setting sun as they strut and prance through orange willows one last time. Imposing slabs of ice have accumulated. It’s late. There isn’t much left to believe in.
“Seeing is believing,” God says in a teasing voice.
I don’t feel like being teased. Or loved. Or spoken to. The costs run too high. All around me, endings. Winter. The charred remains of fire and flood. Memorials planned, attended, forgotten.
“Fruitcake?” God asks, sliding a plate toward me. “Coffee? Beer?”
“C’mon,” God says. “Get over yourself.”
“I AM over myself.” I straighten my spine and adjust my scarf. “And I’m over you.”
“Nope,” God says. “Neither.”
She’s right. I’ve bid the year goodbye, but it hasn’t disappeared. My body bears evidence of tenacity and time. There are debris piles chafing my soul, defiant streaks in my hair, and protests on the streets of failed and failing states. Star athletes are still on their knees. I would drop to mine in a nanosecond if it would further the cause of justice, but I’m not on the team. I don’t go to the games.
“Wrong again,” God says. “Everyone’s on the team. Even you, slugger. Here. Eat up.”
She pushes the holiday Chex mix toward me. I push back. She kneels and gives me a wide grin. Then she tips her head back and pours the entire bowl into her mouth. She chews obnoxiously loud, her tattooed hand rubs her ample black belly, and she sways back and forth, moaning as if the stale snack is the most delicious thing she’s ever tasted.
“You can stop now,” I say, laughing. “You’re ridiculous.”
“No!” she declares. “I’ll never stop.”
I shake my head.
She continues, “Honey, there will always be leftovers and reasons to drop to my knees. This is the communion of saints, the eternal transmutation, the saving of that which can be saved.”
“And what exactly can be saved?” I ask. But I know the answer. Nothing. Everything. God is energy, mass, and the speed of light. The maestro. The melody. Scientist and clown. I’ll never understand why she takes time to make me laugh, but I’m glad she partakes of leftovers with such gusto.
“Have a happy, blessed, sacred, holy, peaceful prosperous new year,” I say to God with a grin of surrender.
“Thanks,” God chuckles. “You crack me up.”
We link elbows, and the Magnificent, Unattainable God of Now waves the billions in. Together, we bid a sad farewell to that which will not come again and bravely greet that which is coming but will not last.