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.”

We Have No Sheep

Any minute now, God is going to show up with a new tattoo. He calls them Prison Ribbons. Medals of Honor. He’ll be revving a stolen Harley. He’ll be broke. If arrested, he will be killed.

Any day now, God is going to knock meekly on the outside door, waiting to be welcomed in. She will be crying. There are things too painful to bear alone.

Sometime in the afternoon, God is going to hear someone praying to win a soccer game, begging for help with an obstinate child, asking for healing, or relief, or just one more day, alive on the planet.

This evening, God is going to corral the sheep for their own safety. There’s been a mountain lion sighting. Even the dogs are nervous.

And me? Oh, I’ll be friendly enough. I’ll do some weeding in the garden. Bake some bread. Read. Think. Write. Plan. Argue. And I’ll wait. That’s the hardest. The waiting.

Unbearable, unthinkable companion, could you wait with me? Unload the guns? Unpack the anger? Could we dismantle our fears together? Maybe we could examine our jagged little pieces of hatred and throw them in the river. They won’t skip, but over the eons, they’ll smooth into gleaming stones.

I want to build a translucent wall of agate and quartz that everyone can touch—the living and the dead—the livid and the lucid and the lame—the wayward sons and daughters of a very wayward God.

But I find myself chewing my thumbnail, drinking my beer, rocking in the recliner like the old fool I’m becoming. I want to buy a donkey to protect the sheep. We have no sheep. We have terror, borrowed time, and limited vision but, as of this moment, we have no sheep.

The Not God

The Not God stops by frequently and introduces herself as if we’re meeting for the first time. I play along. No need to upset her; she’s lonely and vicious. I offer the same cookies, coffee, beer, and fruit I offer Real God. The Not God refuses with a condescending comment about her restrictive diet. This makes me want to eat like a voracious pig, stuffing my mouth so full that crumbs fly like gnats every time I chew. I doubt many of us welcome visits from the Not God, but they happen. Shit happens. The Not God happens. I curl my hands into fists under the table, extending my middle finger. In my head, I sing “Eff you, Eeeeffff you, oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”

This helps.

But the Not God ignores social cues. She’s so full of Not Self, so sure of royal status, so human. She exists at Absolute Zero. Not fluid or spirit. Solid, jagged, arrogant, overjoyed by the apparent demise of all things bright and beautiful. In her spare time, she writes video games and mini-series with endless carnage, but her main source of income is discord sown generously in ground made fertile by fear and greed.

Her harvests are plentiful.

The Not God often stays the night, insisting on clean towels every morning. She’s working on a trilogy and uses our internet even if we aren’t home. She might be a bot. She might be Russian or Chinese. She has refused to fill out the census paperwork, won’t open the door, and screams at children who cross the lawn. Childhood is an irritation. Old age disgusts her. She wears expensive perfume.

She smells of death.

The Not God dresses up in fancy formulas, promises, and guarantees. The Not God baits and switches. The Not God has a lot of drunken orgies, discount sales, and prayer breakfasts. Give her a nod, she’ll take your head. Give her an inch, she’ll write you into the trilogy or turn you into an avatar that avenges her imagined slights. She assures you she’s the only one who knows you.

She lies.

The Not God wants to be God in the worst way. She longs to sit on the throne issuing commandments. The fantasy of judging the quick and the dead is orgasmic. Addicted to power, she preens in the mirror and carelessly exposes the dark places we try to cover. She has a lot of money. Quite a few guns. And millions of frightened followers that she plans to eat someday—from the inside out. But as Real God gently reminds her; that restrictive diet of hers makes a final feast unlikely.

Exceedingly unlikely.

Influencer

“God,” I said to my coauthor, “we need to try and appeal to a younger audience. Maybe we shouldn’t focus on disease, death, plague, poverty, and pestilence so often.”

“Ya think?” God said. He’d stopped by in the guise of distinguished looking diplomat, trimmed beard, clear blue eyes, three-piece suit. Trustworthy. Then, just as he sat down, he aged into a very old man in baggy clothes, legs bent to the chair like sticks, vision clouded by cataracts. “Stop worrying that pretty little head of yours. Come give me a little peck on the cheek,” he said. “There’s smoke in the chimney, fire in the belly.” He jiggled his torso. It was repulsive. What in the heck was God up to? After a couple of lurid winks, God morphed again. She leaned over me, sweet cleavage burbling out of her scant bikini inches from my nose. She smelled of sunshine, youth, hope, and laughter—utterly delicious. “How’s this?” God asked.

“Mirror, please,” I said. God handed me a simple mirror, and I turned it on her. “Oh,” she gasped. “I forget how beautiful I am sometimes.” Then she turned it back on me. Given my 66 years, pajamas, and wayward hair, I did not have the same reaction.

“So you want a younger audience, eh?” God said. I pushed the mirror away. “Why?” she asked, not unkindly. She slipped a beach cover over her perfect shoulders.

I thought about it. Why would I want a younger audience? Why would I want an audience at all? I don’t even like people very well. “Influence,” I said hesitantly. “I think you should be a social influencer, and I’m willing to help.”

“Thanks,” God said with a wry smile, “but I can handle it. There are so many idiots, zealots, fanatics, and frightened people speaking for me, explaining me in formulas, thinking they have a bead on who I AM, I don’t really need any more help.”

I tried to be thoughtful, but God could see my feelings were hurt. She added, “Sometimes, sweetheart, diminishment amplifies the truth and lets the light in through the cracks.” Diminishment? The old Shaker song, T’is a gift to be simple got into my head, and as I hummed the tune, God grew large, black, and soft, and I relaxed into the familiar comfort of the unknowable. Her name was Diminishment. Her name was Truth.

“Why do you come by?” I asked.

“Why do I love you?” God asked back.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it’s your only viable option.”

“Nope,” God said. “It’s a choice, and it happens to be the best way to influence anyone. Ever.”

In this vast land of fear and loathing, we hunkered down and snuggled. Then God packed up the mirror and left, taking most of the available light. She left me a little. Just a little. But I think it will be enough.

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.

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.

So that’s how it is…

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When I touched the thick, leathery skin on God’s neck, she slowly turned her head and met my gaze. “What do you think you’re seeing?” she asked.

“You,” I answered.

“Honey, you know that’s not possible,” she said. I nodded, rubbing lavender-scented lotion into the papery skin on her arms.

“What do you think you’re touching?” she asked.

“You,” I said in a gentle voice.

“Ah, so that’s how it is,” God said. “That’s how it is.” She turned to face the wall.

A billion years. A trillion galaxies. Yesterday. Tomorrow. All abstractions. Best guesses. Notions caught like flotsam and jetsam in the ragged netting of our minds. God gets tired of being a best guess. She tries to deny it, but I can see it in the way the hills are wearing away, the slope of her shoulders as she carries herself into the night.

“Would you like some soup?” I asked. “Or a bit of Jello? It’s raspberry. There’s whipped cream on top…”

“Go away,” God said.

“I can’t,” I said. “I have nowhere to go.”

God sighed. “You have everywhere to go. Everyone to love. Why me? Why are you here?”

“Seriously, God,” I said. “I have nowhere to go. You know that. You’re just being stubborn. I understand you’re tired, but I can’t leave.”

“Too bad for you, then,” God said. “I’m not responsible for your decisions. You make your own bed. Your own busywork. I’ve told you this so many times I’ve lost count.”

“No, you haven’t,” I said. “You never lose count. You never lose anything. Not a hair on my head, not a desolate widow, not a falling sparrow, not a melting glacier. Not farmers or rock stars, queens or queers, suicide bombers or sacrificial lambs. Nothing. No one. Ever. This is why you’re so tired. You need to eat something.”

God raised herself on one elbow and looked at the tray. “Pshaw,” she said. “At least bring me something worth the effort of swallowing.”

I shrugged. “I have no idea what that would be,” I said.

“Right.” God said, her voice stronger. Sharper. “Like I’m supposed to believe that? Get out there and get me a steak.”

“But you’re vegan,” I stammered. “I mean…I assumed you were.”

God glared. I glared back.

“So that’s how it is,” God said.

“Yes,” I finally agreed, admitting to everyone’s greatest fear. “That’s how it is.”

4 years, 25 days ago

20150408_073319 (2)April 2, 2015

Surgery today. Awake early and off and on through the night. city noises. Ivan and his lover directly above us having boisterous sex on a squeaky bed, sometime around 4 AM. I think Ivan may weigh a lot. Or maybe his lover. Or both. They walked around.

The garbage trucks and alley noises were random and abrupt. I felt irritated but in a slow-motion, sad kind of way. Like I felt irritated at the rules about not eating and drinking before surgery. Mindless broad application of rules that violate the body’s needs but protect in certain cases for certain reasons. I react irrationally to these things and insist I will eat right up to the last minute, and drink, and use the less invasive enema options. My family rolls their eyes, argues, but they back off and let me meander in my eccentric expressions of rebellion and self-determination.

While John slept, after my foray into food, the first Hibicleanse shower, the first enema, and the last coffee, I laid as still as I could, listening to his various breathing patterns, wondering about the dreams and workings of his mind and body as he comes along on this journey.

I feel a longing to get up and write. This would wake John up. I tell myself the weight of my words or ideas do not stack up against my love for John or my wish for him to grab some kind of rest out of this hostile environment. I watch the light arrive through the cracks in the vertical blinds. I send a loud shout of welcome to the day. Then it occurs to me that I will be losing a part of myself this afternoon. I begin the work of saying good-bye to my uterus and the companion body parts that will soon be disconnected and pushed out of me.

I thank that collection of cells I’ve called “Uterus” all these years. It was the nest from which my daughters flew. It did glorious work. I assure it that it will be joining the larger collection of cells. I tell it that we are all star dust. We are all just momentary compilations of DNA and it is our destiny to rejoin the Creator. I ask it/them to greet my father, and tell him about the children and the grandchildren that have sprung from his seed and the uterus of my mother. I am sad. I tell them not to be afraid.

I talk to the cancer cells. I scold them, but only in an understanding way. They are errant. They need a fresh start. It doesn’t work to be selfish and take things that are not yours. It doesn’t work to replicate oneself over and over again. I speak with them about their fears of diversity. Their arrogance and false assumption of immortality. Their lack of awareness of the greater world and the intricacies of individuality. I listen to John’s breath change. His gentle snoring. The occasional twitch or jerk of his warm body.

He drifts awake, dazed. I leap up to pee, come back to grab my computer and tell him I need to write, not talk. Then I break the rules and read him a loving text from someone. He reads me one that came on his phone and I snap “no talking.” Clearly a double-standard. But I get some latitude today—I’m going in to have some parts of my body removed, and hear how much of it has been tainted by these wrong-headed cancer cells. How many have snuck out and begun to corrupt other parts of me?

Soon, my daughters will arrive and the clamor of family love will overtake my consciousness and I will begin the push-pull, the dance….I will find my way through how much of my own need versus how much of their needs should shape the day, the conversation, the future… The younger daughter is obliviously cheerful; the elder, able and willing to talk about mortality in the tiniest doses. I’m grateful, but I am weary of trying to sort all this out. Oddly, I’m still willing to try. I feel magnanimous. Larger than myself. This brush with reality has broken me open, some of my self-centered, self-defining aspects have at least temporarily disintegrated. Their fleeting integration has given way to a fluid definition. A more universal identity, shared by all the fragments that make up what we think of as the Universe.

I am afraid to stop writing. I’ve lifted my fingers a couple of times—gone back and edited some. I’ve crawled into the words—they are a soft, warm shelter from the harsh hours ahead. Except for the work I have yet to do, and the pain my demise will cause, I wish I were already dead. Dead is the easy part. Living in this unknowing place, aware of the time-limits, wondering when the buzzer will sound, the referee will blow the whistle, the lights will go out—this is hard. Wondering what matters. If I have months or years left, what will they be like? What should I do with them?

I continue to feel humiliated about having cancer. I guess I thought I was unreachable by cancer—I thought our heart problems would get me. I’ve probably held unconscious beliefs that people who get cancer deserve it. Now that’s ugly to admit, but I suspect it’s true. Like all the other awful “isms” we find in ourselves. Hard to admit. Even harder to eradicate.

The other two dominant struggles/reactions are

1) I haven’t lived a good enough life—I’ve squandered what I was given, I haven’t done enough, I was undisciplined and lazy… and

2) I need to protect my loved ones from the pain of my illness, suffering, and death.

Knowing that my pain exacerbates theirs is like being trapped in an impossible and evil echo-chamber. A sadistic twist thrown into the perfectness of love. I’ve known that the Creator lives in this same place. Pain echoes pain. We carry it. It bounces back and forth. It rips things open. It strips away the extraneous. Like many of God’s ways, it seems like a bad design flaw. If I were the Creator, I’m pretty sure I would do away with many of the “ways of nature” and we’d all live on the shores of Hawaii forever. Well, not really that last part, but geez. It seems like She/He could have thought up something less painful and daunting than mortality, starvation, trauma, cruelty, abuse, loneliness, pollution, cancer, car wrecks, and knapweed.

Okay, I’m lifting out now. I can see the flippant side of me returning. I can stop writing now. Thanks, words. Thanks, God. Thanks, loved ones. Thanks, email, cell phones, air planes, sons-in-laws, and other generally blessed parts of my transitory life…I’ll stop now. I’ll be okay.

 

Sad

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This morning, long before daylight, I woke to the sound of someone crying. It was God. She’d been crying quietly all night, but as the wee hours waned, her sobs grew louder. The darkness just before dawn is a tough time for a lot of us. Years ago, when I first heard God crying, I was shocked. If anyone should be able to cheer themselves up, wouldn’t it be God? Just go make another planet or something, I’d thought, wanting to get away from that oceanic, gripping sorrow.

But if you’ve ever loved anyone or anything at any time, you know that backing away from the sadness only twists and distorts—it doesn’t make it go away. So after I realized I wasn’t going to abandon God or hide from the grief, we made a little deal. God doesn’t back away when I’m sad, and I try my best to stay present when God’s heart is breaking. The roughest times are when she considers how much hatred is leveled in her name, how much suffering we inflict on each other, or how trashed this stunning little planet has become. These things catch up with her sometimes.

I often find comfort in the lap of God. It’s far more awkward when God tries to fit on mine, but that’s what needed to happen. My lap expanded to the size of a mountain range, my arms grew a million miles long, and I wrapped them around her, nice and snug. Then I swayed to the subterranean beat of the cosmos, murmuring the bits of hope I could muster, singing fragments of lullabies that came to mind.

“Sweet Lord,” I whispered. “You try so hard. You love so deeply. You’re a worthy, excellent God.”

Her head was tucked, body curled. Her vibrations were pulling me to pieces. She was in real pain.

“Gentle God,” I said. “Remember the good old days? When you were having so much fun, setting earth in motion, and sprinkling stars everywhere. Remember that? It must have been awesome.”

“Yes,” she said, her voice murky with grief. “So much I remember. So much I hoped.”

“And you can still hope, right? I mean, it isn’t over yet, is it?”

“I don’t know, my friend,” she said, with a deep, unsteady breath. “I honestly don’t know. You tell me.”

Dawn arrived. God wrapped herself in light, splashed her face in the falling snow, and thanked me as she became the song of the great horned owl, calling it a night. Heading for bed. This was good. We both desperately needed some rest. And then, it’s clear, I have work to do. We all have work to do.

God and I win Big…

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Or should I say biggly? No. Not biggly, right God? We should not sink to that level of mockery…

We shouldn’t even brag, but it is sort of Mitch’s fault (https://mitchteemley.com/2017/02/09/my-blogger-recognition-award/) because Mitch, someone I’ve never met except in the form of shared words, nominated me and God for a BLOGGER RECOGNITION AWARD. And unless he made this whole thing up (which Mitch is entirely capable of doing), I need to reciprocate. Of course, I would nominate Mitch, but he already got nominated, so I will play by the following rules:

Blogger Recognition Award Rules

  • Thank the blogger/s who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  • Write a post about it the Blogger Recognition Award
  • Briefly tell how your blog started
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers
  • Select 15 bloggers to give this award to

How I started

It seemed like the thing to do. I’ve been interacting with creation and the creator for a long, long time, and the urge to capture some of that in words and then find a way to share it overcame my natural reticence and skepticism.

Two Sagely Pieces of Advice

  1. Open up space in your soul whatever ways you can to grow and become a wiser, kinder human being. That might result in better writing, but if will for sure make the world a better place.
  2. Remind yourself how very, very short our lives are–and if you are inclined to write, get with it.

And now, my nominees and a confession. I’ve not been blogging long, so I only have a few followers and only follow a few blogs. I can’t nominate that many…

I get a kick out of Belfastfoodman because of the places his foodie posts take me in  my mind. He also appears to be able to step out of his usual mode and express real human concerns. https://belfastfoodman.com/2017/02/01/fair-weather-so-called-friends/

My buddy who bravely began blogging before I did has this blog:

https://yakkityyakblog.wordpress.com/    and it is a funny, insightful, carefully crafted piece of writing every time she posts.

Ok. That’s it, but I have a worried feeling that the links I’ve pasted in aren’t going to work. That’s how techie I am…and let me assure you, God is even worse.

Peace. And thanks again Mitch.