To Those Who Carry The Weight of The Dream

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God and I cried this morning as we listened to the conditions my government has imposed on migrant children. “Yours is the only species I’ve had to make any sacrifices for,” God said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“I know,” I said. “I’m so sorry. You did such a great job on trees.”

“What do you think keeps going wrong?” God asked. I took a few swallows of stale beer, trying to rise from despair to contemplation. People should try this more often. It’s hard. I got caught in the downward suck of anger but kicked free and grabbed the buoyant green of early summer.

My old bike was nearby. I wanted to ride away, ride fast down a gravel hill, ride into the rising sun, buy things, crash, scare people—anything but hold steady. Somehow, I managed to keep my rear end glued to the chair and my soul open to the broken heart of this gentle God.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I think about this all the time. Is it fear? Do you let some people turn out evil just for the fun of it? What’s our attraction to suffering? Why do we inflict it? It seems like we are always in a great civil war, unable to identify the enemy.”

God was listening intently. This was unnerving. I babbled on. “Okay, so clearly the enemy is not hungry children or despairing parents…” I stopped cold. How do I know they aren’t the enemy? Their needs terrify me. The solutions might involve sacrifice on my part. The unwashed masses, the ignorant hoards, the surging Other. Their demands might overwhelm our systems and end life as we’ve known it. They may yank us down into their awful misery.

“Exactly,” God said. “They have that effect on me, too.”

We started crying again. I cried for myself. My lack of wisdom. My selfishness. My inability to channel my anger constructively. The bruising pain of hitting the wall with compassion thinned down to nothing.

God cried for the children. That’s all. The children.

“They aren’t pawns,” he choked out.

“Yes. they are,” I said in a cold voice I did not want to recognize.

God laid his head on the table, wrapped his arms tight so I couldn’t see his face, and continued to grieve. I found a stack of handkerchiefs and left them beside him as I slipped out the back where my friends, all white and wealthy, were waiting with easy answers. I needed this toxic comfort. I confessed my sins all the way to the bakery where I intended to buy everyone scones and double-shot Americanos. So tasty. So good.

I rattled off the order.

“Got it,” God said. “Can I get a name on that?”

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised in the least. “Don’t you remember?” I asked. “After all, you named me. Was it that long ago?”

God leaned over the counter and whispered, “They aren’t pawns.” He shook his massive head, and small children rained down, tumbling and laughing. A storm of pure of children. “They aren’t pawns,” he repeated as he gathered them like clouds and flew away.

Be Ye Perfect

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God noticed me flipping through the book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. “What do you make of that?” he asked.

“Ah!” I said, startled. “Welcome back.” God had been hitching through Idaho the last I knew. I’d offered him a ride, but he was having too much fun. Now, here he was, dirty, tired, thin, and hungry. “Want a sandwich or something?” I said.

“Sure. Got any hot dogs? No mustard. Milk?”

He ate with gusto, swallowing enormous chunks of hot dog, chased by gulps of milk. “Why’re you reading Job?” he said, mouth full.

I didn’t want to get into it, but God can be quite insistent. “Abortion,” I said. “I’m seeing how Job expressed his wish to have never been born. You know, his longing to go where the unborn go. But it doesn’t matter. It’ll get twisted whichever way the reader wants.”

“Yeah,” God said. “But I didn’t take you for a Bible-thumper anyway.”

I grinned. Me a Bible-thumper? “As if,” I said. “But people use the scriptures with such hatred. I was trying to use them back—for freedom. Justice. Mercy. Common sense. Compassion.”

“Don’t waste your time,” God said. “Back in a few.” He went to shower. I waited, nervous. God was in one of those moods. I hoped the shower would make him sleepy. No such luck. He reappeared, hair slicked back, reeking of sweet aftershave. He stepped to the middle of the room with an air of authority and multiplied. The atmosphere shimmered with many versions of an embodied God. They all wore reading glasses.

“Oh great,” I thought. “God’s brought his own book club.”

They sat cross-legged on my concrete floor. On their laps were copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, poetry anthologies, other holy books, and an array of travel digests. All I had was the Bible I’d been paging through. But that was enough, right?

God sighed in unison. “Never, ever, think you can contain me in the thing you call scripture, or for that matter, words of any sort.” I nodded. I’d known it for a long time. God is God. Words are abstractions. All the Gods nodded.

“Nothing written is without error,” one of them said.

“Nothing can be considered in completeness,” said the next. “We are the Only Completeness.”

“Yes,” said an especially beautiful, fluid God. “You humans are simultaneously healing and dying, growing and receding. The firmament and all your infirmities are in a symbiotic relationship that define each other. There is no perfection, save Process—the pure flow of Compassion.”

“Then take me with you,” I begged. “Please, can I just go with you?” I tossed the Bible aside. God gently put it back and handed me Joy Harjo’s poem, She Had Some Horses  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/141852/she-had-some-horses-590104cf40742

“Soon enough,” she said. “You have a bit more to learn.”

“What? What do I have to learn?” I said, pretending I didn’t have a clue.

God smiled. “We’re hitching to Alabama,” she said. “Can I borrow a twenty?”

I handed her a hundred, and they were gone.

Nada

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God wasn’t present in any noticeable way this morning, but I had that spidey sense she was hovering somewhere close by. I thought maybe a little chatter would draw her out. “God,” I said. “Sometimes you and I have a communication gap. And I can see why. There’s me. An average, timeworn human–two bumpy hands, a couple of creaky knees, an increasingly unreliable memory, sporadic compassion–and then there’s you. From what we’ve observed so far, you seem to have created 10 billion galaxies, each of which averages 100 billion stars—one, (one!) of which is the fiery orb asserting itself in my own little sky right now.” I tried looking deeply impressed. No response.

“You are absurdly, incomprehensibly intangible, nonbodied, nonbound. You are without need for breath. You are breath. You are beyond time. It’s a toy of yours. You have no name and every name. You are the namer. We have little to nothing in common, but here you are, hanging around.” I thought maybe admitting I could sense her would cause a response. Nope.

“God, look,” I said. “You’ve always treated us humans with respect, even when we amputate compassion, act like idiots, and appropriate the idea of you for our own ends. I wish we didn’t do that, but you have to admit you’re difficult, you big old lunk of creativity. You tiny speck, you source of suffering and disaster, comfort and shelter. You ladybug, sea monster, apple fallen close to the tree. You infectious laugher, chill of death, you decomposer. You teller of the final truth. Most of us don’t like the real you very much.

“I know,” God said, finally speaking up. “But I’m grateful when I can absorb even a little bit of liking. I make do with very little.”

“Someday, I won’t exist,” I said. “Then what?”

“Do I exist?” God answered.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Then, darling, we have something in common after all, don’t we?” God took a long swig of an awful tasting green smoothie I’d made and spit it back in the cup.

“Good lord!” she said. “Why in the world do you drink things like this?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “In fact, right now, I know nothing.”

“Excellent answer,” God said. “You’re lying, but that’s okay. It’s an aspirational nothingness. Another thing that we might have in common. Eventually.”

I thought about that for a minute. Yes, I know nothing for certain, but I speculate endlessly, grabbing what appears to be solid, holding on for dear life. We are splintered, me and God. But there’s something. Something. Or maybe I have it wrong. There’s Nothing. A deep, resonant Nothing where our trueness will finally be at peace.

“Could you give me some space?” I asked God. “Today, you’re too much.”

God gave me a regal nod and complied. In the dead silence, I was as bereft as I’ve ever been. And as loved. And as complete.

The Frogs of Summer

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Every damn morning, the frogs of summer ruin my dark, silent sleep. Their exuberant greetings of first light pull me into resentful consciousness. I don’t quite want to kill them, but I can understand people who do. This is never how I greet first light. Couldn’t they stay hunkered down, mudded over until midmorning? Why do they go on croaking even after night fall? And the birds. And the river running high and brown, reckless and noisy. And for that matter, the sun and earth, in a morbid relationship that results in harsh, insistent light for far too long. A hot radiance I can’t handle. I need my rest. Where is darkness when I need it? The silence that renews my soul? Creation is badly done. Royally screwed up.

“I should smite you,” God says, joining me on the couch. “You aren’t very grateful.”

“Yeah? Well, I should smite you,” I say back. I know who’d win, but when I’m in this kind of mood, I don’t care.

“Smite away,” God says.

I realize I don’t actually know how smiting works. “I may need some help,” I admit. God tries to hide the smirk.

“So, you want me to help you smite myself?”

“Yes,” I say. “Exactly.”

It occurs to me that this is a common conversation for God. The cursing and fist-shaking are familiar. The selfish pleading, blaming, walk-aways, come-backs, the stomping of little feet, crossing of puny arms. All these Centers-of-the-Universe, throwing cheerios on the floor, grinning, kicking, bowls on heads. God-directed road rage, drunken stupors, broken promises, punched out lights. Lack of skill is no barrier; we are blindly determined smiters. God absorbs as much smiting as possible, but there comes a time when God lays down on the pavement so we can see all the ways we are smiting ourselves.

In the raucous light of dawn, this smite-absorbing being has curled up tight beside me on our oversized couch, innocent as a napping puppy. So circular and cute, I’m lulled into complacency. But then I remember the sharp teeth, my thin skin, and the long day ahead.

Hair

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“Hey, God,” I said. “If you waited tables at a pub, and you’d been hired for your beautiful breasts outlined by your tight tank tops, would you shave under your arms or let the delicate curls of dark hair define that space?”

God raised an eyebrow and shifted his weight. He was posing nude for a crazed-looking Italian painter. “Depends,” he said.

“On what?” I said.

“If you were a burly guy would you grow a long beard?” God asked.

I recoiled. I don’t like long beards. “Why is body hair…I mean, why did you even…why do we grow it? Shape it? Color it? Add more? Why do we shave it off?” I wasn’t sure what I was asking exactly. Back when I was a hippie chick, I didn’t shave anywhere. This bothered my family tremendously. I’d jokingly blame God, saying that’s the way we were created. My sister would counter with “And that’s why God gave us razors.”

“Things evolve,” God said. “Your fur used to have a different purpose, but now, with all that creative energy and your nascent consciousness, you play with it. I get a kick out of the wild ways you decorate yourselves.”

I thought about my chemo-baldness and how it felt to have my hair come back. I thought about Afros, Mohawks, gray hair, purple hair, plucking, waxing, chemicals, wigs. Lately, I’ve been favoring blue.

The painter handed God a silk robe and signaled it was time for a break. God sipped his tea and stretched. “Hair is a way you express yourselves. Like art. Like words,” he said. “I haven’t run the stats lately, but I imagine most first-worlders spend more money on their hair than they do on the poor.”

This made me want to gnash my slightly yellowing teeth. God grinned and said “Boom.”

I went outside to pull some weeds, muttering. Like it’s easy to know what to do for the poor? Like it’s easy to find a balance? Go gray? Go bald? Like we can handle the shame society inflicts if we fail to contort our exteriors to look as young, faultless, and beautiful as possible?

After a while God came out and started helping with the weeds. He looked preposterous in his shiny robe, kneeling in the bright sun. I got him a straw hat and said “Do you want some sunblock?”

“You know,” God said, ignoring my question. “I fancy myself up all the time. Blankets of stars, blooming jasmine, burning bushes, spectacular storms that accentuate my cheekbones.” He glanced back at the painter, who was standing in the doorway. “I’m even thinking of cataract surgery so I can see myself more clearly.”

“That’s brave,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to see myself more clearly.”

“Takes practice,” God said. “It helps if you remember who you are.” He patted my shoulder, waved to the painter, and joined a flock of starlings circling overhead. I sat, bleach-blond among the withering weeds, trying hard to remember who I am.

Wrestling Match

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I’m lost in a pile of morning words, thrashing like a rainbow trout that has taken the bait, uncertain if I am a victim of catch and release or soon to sizzle. The bait? Fame and fortune. Vast influence. The ultimate saving of the planet. Or at least meaning beyond pulling the stubborn cheat grass in the raised beds. The strawberries are in trouble and the chives. Even the mint is being overtaken.

“What if I were the governor or a movie star?” I think to myself.

“You’d still die,” God thinks back.

“What if I were rich beyond measure?” I think to myself.

“You are,” God thinks back.

“But I could be richer,” I counter with narrow eyes.

“Sure, but why? Even the outer limits are limits.”

“I don’t like that.” I shook my head.

“I know.” God smiled.

So apparently this day is going to inch forward and end–like every other day and no other day. It’s hardly begun, but as I argue with God, each moment slips quietly into the past. I watch the wind move the new leaves. They’re relatively secure for the coming season, assuming no tornadoes or killing frosts. What a brilliant celebration of all that is transitory.

“God,” I said, “You are a pain in the butt.”

“So are you,” God said as she sat down in one of the chairs that scratch the floor if you move around very much.

“What if I bought a camper van and drove to DC and parked and protested for the rest of my life? Huh? What then? Would that fix things? What if I piled my possessions on the sidewalk and labeled them ‘FREE’? What if I shaved my head and wore a robe? What if I climbed a tree and sat in the limbs on hunger strike? What if I chained myself to the wall? What if I gave everyone the right kind of light bulb? What if I broke all the glass in sight, shattering everyone’s phony security? What if, God? What if?”

“Sure,” God said. “Those all sound feasible. Which wall and how big of chain?”

I swore and threw my beer bottle at God. God ducked, spun around, and rammed a shoulder into my stomach. We fell like children wrestling in green grass and dandelion fluff. We shouted and shrieked in glee, startling a magpie and the neighbors. Our molecules were drunk on a bacterial invasion that made us come apart. To my surprise, I liked disintegrating. God and me. Me and God. The Great I AM. The Jokester, the Coyote, the Source of All That Is. And me. Me.

“Don’t forget the bacteria,” God said as we lied on our backs, panting. I shrugged.

“You know, God, I’m kind of artistic,” I said.

“True,” God said. “Maybe go with that.”

 

Mercy

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A confused Canadian Muslim wants to go home after veering into a nightmare that hasn’t ended yet. He wandered off to Syria to fight his version of the enemy. We’ve got him now, somewhere off some coast, in solitary confinement. He admitted to having thoughts of suicide.

Soon, if certain people have their way, there will be women in Alabama with unwanted pregnancies. These women, too, will be having thoughts of suicide. And when God was living in our basement, after he started using meth again—I’d be willing to  bet suicide occurred to him as well.

Our house is made mostly of trees that died in a forest fire but were not consumed. We peeled the scorched bark and ran them through a sawmill, creating slabs and beams, trim and studs, enormous posts, and artistic pieces good only for admiring. Our house makes a lot of noise. It cracks and pops like an arthritic skeleton. It scares me. Impermanence. Sounds from the dead as they twist, protesting their static existence. Once they were proud Douglas fir trees, drinking rain, basking in sun, rooted. Now, they hold the frame. They are flammable shelter. They are already dead, but even so, I wonder if they wish for transformation into smoke and ash.

“They do,” God said, confirming what I already knew. “I assure you, they do.”

“Some days, I don’t think I can stand the guilty anymore,” I said, touching one of the larger, smoother posts. God nodded, but said nothing. I blathered on. “Some days, I am afraid of fire. Other days, dry rot. Other days, mold. And I tell myself I deserve whatever happens to this house. This land. This earth.” God listened, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This is always unnerving.

“But no one deserves anything, right God?” I thought of men and women deprived of basic freedom. Their bodies legislated, their mangled souls desperate. Penitent. Defiant. We are all once-burned trees. Waiting. Uncertain of how to go on.

“Walk with me,” God said. “Let’s go to the river.”

We sat on a fallen cottonwood, watching the muddy water. God was quiet for a while, but then said, “You know what you need? You need mercy.” I teared up. God went on. “Mercy is beyond forgiveness. Beyond fairness. Beyond sympathy. Entwined with justice. This is what you need. Mercy.” God paused to make sure I was listening.  “And you know I’m willing. I’m always willing.”

I felt a rush of relief, but it was quickly followed by indignation. I have a house and a truck and a savings account. Mercy? Who wants to be in need of mercy? “You do,” the cottonwood said as it continued its descent. “You do.”