Eat Fat, Get Nicer

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“God,” I said. “What do you think of that eat-fat-get-skinny diet?” God looked at me like I’d lost the few marbles I have left. It wasn’t the best conversation starter but it was on my mind. Who better than the architect of this whole ragged universe to answer this? I know it’s a first-world question, but that’s where I live.

God sat quietly with her hands folded over her large, shapely belly. I ran my hands over the skin on my chest, which was all bumpy from having a few moles frozen off yesterday. Vanity is painful and expensive, and trying to stay alive forever is even worse. Omega 3, a key ingredient of this magical new way to eat, is a pricey substance for land lubbers. But it might save me from heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and post-nasal drip.

And if I manage all that, I want nice skin, right? As the dermatologist zapped the moles with liquid nitrogen, I mentioned that my lip had mysteriously swollen up yesterday. She pulled it down and said, “Looks like an allergic reaction. You need to see an allergist right away. Another reaction could kill you.”

Often, I find I don’t love the medical profession.

“Not a bad way to die,” I said. I wasn’t in the mood for further testing.

“What? Asphyxiation?” Her eyes narrowed as she wrote a referral I knew I’d throw away.

“Yeah,” I said. She was scornful. I was defiant. “It takes less than a minute to lose consciousness.”

I don’t have to see her for another year. But God’s sitting right here, messing with my thoughts, which are swirling like the snow outside. “It’s so much bigger than that,” she said. “So much bigger.”

Oh, yeah, I thought. That’s so helpful. Like I don’t know the planet will die some billions of years from now, and the sun will burn out, and the cosmos will birth new stars, new planets. There’ll be new steps to the dance. But in the meantime, do I eat sardines to prolong my short stay?

“Yes and no,” God answered. “If you eat them so you can be kinder longer, yes, eat away. But if you eat them out of fear, no. If you eat them with gratitude, yes. If you eat them like a life-hoarder, no.  She paused. I gulped. The air was crackling

She continued. “I cannot stress this enough, honey. The fiber you add to your diet matters little, but the fiber you are made of is screaming for a life well-lived. Transform your greed to charity, your anxiety to bravery. Transform your rage to action. Transform those little lies and excuses to outrageous honesty. Use your intellect to the max. Stroke each day like it’s a purring kitten or a happy dog. You’ll know when you should die.”

I looked at her in despair. I wasn’t sure I knew when I should do anything. She could sense my fear. My deep doubts and flailing good intentions. She rubbed my back and stoked the fire as the hills disappeared in the storm.

 

Texas hold ’em

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Just outside my window, near my elbow, a mourning dove is calling. It’s God. I know because of the way the sound has cracked me open. There are days when I wear layers of down, warm and pliant. It’s easy to move, propelled by gratitude, aware of eternity. And there are days I when I roll out of bed straight into my specially-made armor—harder to make breakfast but easier to hold it together. In my armor, there’s very little light, even less wonder, and it’s a bad idea to cry. This day began with armor. Now, I’m going to take it off. This may be a day I’ll need to cry.

The wind howled from the mouth of hell through the night. Only a breeze remains. Enough to lift the blue spruce branches so they can wave and remind me of what they’ve seen. Later, I’ll gather the fallen bits and pieces and make a wreath from the shedding and stripping of all we endure. Nothing goes unnoticed. Nothing goes unused or unattended. Nothing goes uncounted. And nothing remains unscathed. This is the promise of second-hand ribbons and wind-fallen sticks.

Usually, I think God is the source of pain in my heart, forming and reforming the never-ending questions of compassion, autonomy, endurance, and finality. Of course, alternatively, the pain in my heart might be indigestion or cardiac blockages soon to dislodge and take me out.

Life is one big game of poker. I like to sing along with Kenny Rogers, my spiritual guide: You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.*

I’m still sittin’ at the table, grinning like a damn fool. I know my face gives me away. I suspect I’m in hock up to my ears, but I know the Dealer. He happens to own this place. I wish he had higher standards. Some of these players smell terrible, some appear almost dead. And the table needs work. But the cards keep coming, so I’ll ante up. For now.

 

*Kenny Rogers sang it. Don Schlitz wrote it in 1976.

Shotgun

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Driving along I 90, God and I spotted an ominous black billboard with red letters proclaiming “After you die, you WILL meet God.” The absurdity made us laugh. When God rides shotgun, the drive gets much more interesting.

“Now there’s an eyesore! Who do you think put that up?” God asked. Oh fun, I thought. A road game, like I spy with my little eye. (I play this with the grandchildren.) We’ll call this one Who put up that billboard?

“Well,” I said. “I’m guessing it’s someone you know quite well, but who only knows you through the lenses of judgement or vengeance. Am I right?”

“You’re warm,” God said.

“Okay. Let’s see. It’s got to be someone who’s unaware of all the places you hang out. Someone who doesn’t understand you make everyone’s acquaintance long before they open their eyes.” God nodded and gazed out the window, wispy tendrils of lavender floating around his head.

“And someone who has trouble understanding your infinite, ongoing, outlandish forgivingness. A bully, even. Trying to scare people into thinking you’re a bully too.”

God looked at me, grinned, and adjusted the seat. “These Prius seats are worse than economy class on the newer airplanes. Really hard on my lower back,” God said. “Think you can get the answer before Butte?”

I shrugged. The game was losing its appeal. I realized I didn’t like the person behind that billboard. I wanted to put another one alongside that said “You’ll meet God too, buddy. He’ll be gay. She’ll be the hungry one to your left. The homeless, uninsured drunk. He’ll be the one you put in the private, for-profit prison. She’ll be cold. Broke. Possibly abused. You will have crucified her more times than I can count.”

“Any more guesses?” God interrupted my line of thought. An answer had occurred to me. I didn’t want to say it, but with God, there’s no such thing. I hemmed and hawed. Then I just blurted it.

“It’s my neighbor, isn’t it?” I tightened my grip on the wheel, eyebrows knit together, angry tears welling up in my eyes.

“Right!!” God said. “Ding, ding, ding. You win. Way to go.”

“Ah, shit,” I said, using a word I usually avoid. God had tricked me again. “I should’ve known. I can’t love people like that, God. I just can’t.”

“Sure you can,” God said. His gnarled black hand covered mine for a moment, sending a wave of heat through my body. “I believe in you. Go for it. Remember, I’ve got your back.”

“Nonsense,” I said, giving God a punch in the shoulder.

“Nonsense,” God answered. We stopped in Butte for coffee.

Taxes

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God and I stayed up really late last night, watching pretty much anything we could get on regular TV. Except we avoided the news, or anything like the news. Being both omniscient and omnipresent, God has a harder time avoiding current events than I do, but we colluded as best we could. I ate left-over soup. God wasn’t hungry.

God stretched out on the loveseat, and I got my yoga mat, intending to do a few sit-ups during advertisements. The TV droned on.

“What’s on your mind?” God asked.

Nothing,” I said. “Why do you think we’re watching Big Bang reruns? Just call me Empty Mind. Checked Out. Clueless. In fact, let’s not talk right now.”

“Okay,” God said. The TV droned on. God got another pillow and dozed. I turned the lights down low and watched her instead of the TV for a while.

“What’re we going to do?” I silently asked the sleeping God. She was so beautiful. The steady rise and fall of her chest, the perfection of her eyebrows, her out-breath filling the room with a wild mixture of sage and lilac, animal musk, homelessness, and newly-minted money.

My human condition crept into the room, and settled beside me. I tried to slap it away and just watch God at rest, but it snuggled up, greedy, ugly, lazy, mortal, needy, vengeful, and as afraid as ever.

Look,” I whispered to it. “What if we could rest like that?”

My human condition gave me a sideways glance. Almost a dare. Then it eased itself alongside God and went to sleep. I curled up fetal on the floor. The TV flickered, grabbing at my attention like it was for sale. Which it is. Everything is for sale. We all have our price. Except God. Some may not realize this, but you can’t buy God off. And God really isn’t into tax breaks that hurt the poor. With God, it’s more of an all or nothing kind of thing. But she’s never believed in trickle down economics. Never.

God stirred. “Rough week,” she said sleepily. “C’mere.”

My human condition had sprawled itself into all the available space. The loveseat looked uncomfortable to say the least, and I was about to refuse, but God had opened her eyes. I can never resist those deep pools of unspeakable welcome.

So I awkwardly squeezed in, between my human condition and God. In the tangle of all those urges, elbows, and defeats, God found my hand. “Tomorrow, do what you can do,” she said. “Tonight, rest.”

“But that’s the problem,” I said, already drowsy. “I don’t know what to do.” Then I slept. And now she’s gone. And my human condition is awake, demanding breakfast. I’m struggling to be hospitable.

“That’s it,” I hear from the corner. I make more toast and watch the snow drift down.

Lifelines and Little Gods

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We’d survived another Thanksgiving, welcomed by others who were excellent cooks and hosts, and to be honest, I felt smug about it. No skeletal remains to deal with, literally or figuratively. We’d manage to locate ourselves firmly between generations, contributing only rolls (purchased) and our willingness to engage in small talk or do dishes. I made no attempt to locate God in the national news or football games. I engaged in no fleeting glances into the shadowy corners where God often lurks. The hatches were temporarily battened down. Placid.

This state never lasts. God shook me awake this morning, insistent. Large. I crawled out of the dream to the edge of the bed, and fell into a seething sea of meaninglessness. I flailed and hyperventilated. The lifeline God threw me was a twisted old tow line named tradition. It cut into my hands, but I had to hang on. These were deadly black waters. Not a good way to die. Or was it? As I debated this, the waters receded, along with a whole school of gleaming little Gods, small piranha that had nibbled away the dead flesh around my cuticles. In some exotic countries, you can purchase this sort of visitation.

Big God was digging in my suitcase, looking through Goodwill purchases. Mostly colorful scarves. I have a weakness for colorful scarves. She wrapped herself in a turquoise beach scarf, tied Irish green silk around her neck, and topped things off with hunter orange on her head.

“Why do you do this sort of thing?” I asked. “Isn’t this beneath you?”

“Nothing is beneath me,” she said, filling the room. “Nothing. You’ve mistaken me for a little God.”

“Oh, and how would you know that?” I asked. My voice was not warm.

“Ah, child, I think you know this.” she said with patience. “Little Gods are the products of little minds trying to make sense of things. There are lots of little Gods, lots of little minds. I’m well acquainted with them all.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m sick of them,” I said. “Can’t you at least make mine go away?”

“No,” Big God said. “That’s your job.”

I threw a snow boot at her. She ducked. Laughed. Faded. I kicked at the suitcase and considered braiding the scarves into one long rope so next time, next time, I could save myself. This struck me as the funniest thing ever, and the day began again.

Confessions

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I don’t know if there’s a God.

(Neither do you)

I’ve witnessed or been the center of miracles. Full-on, Shazam miracles.

(So have you)

I listen to the news and scream inside.

(There are millions screaming, weeping, withdrawing, and dying)

I am Christian like Jesus was Jewish.

(You can decide what this means)

I’m a believer of all things because I choose to be.

(Having a choice is the defining feature of what it means to be conscious)

I am conscious.

(This is one of those miracles mentioned earlier)

Joy is different than being happy. Gratitude is different than self-satisfaction.

(Each involves courage)

Love is a word most of us misuse. It might take many lifetimes to grasp this Word.

(I like words)

The light in my brain greets the light in your brain.

(And that is enough for now.)

 

Debt

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There’s a guy who’s owed me $50.00 for over a year. The original debt was much larger, but with steady reminders, he grudgingly paid it down until it hit the fifty-dollar mark, and I’m pretty sure that’s where it’ll stay. I won’t remind him anymore. I’ve run out of kind words to pair with little nudges, and I’m tired of this struggle.

For a while, it was about the money, but now that it’s dwindled to $50.00, he’s making a statement of entitlement and resentment, and if I hang on, I’ll have to continue using shame to wedge myself into his conscience–a small space that makes me claustrophobic. Not worth it. I will passively forgive this debt, but I feel a little sorry for myself. Indignant.

In graduate school, a whiny woman I didn’t like borrowed two stamps from me. She never paid me back. It is astounding that I remember this, since I cannot recall what I read a half-hour ago, nor what I need at the grocery store, nor whether I’ve taken my vitamins yet.

Forgiving is a complex endeavor. There’s a highly-activated receptacle in our brains for perceived injustice, debt, and harm, and a longing for justice if not revenge. I’m not entirely sure how to forgive sometimes. Since God ‘s a specialist, I decide to check in.

“Hey God,” I say. Nothing.

“Um, God, I have a question.” Nothing.

I squeeze my eyes shut in serious prayer. Suddenly, I’m in a graduate-level course on forgiveness.  I raise my hand from the back of the classroom, but the instructor has stepped out. I take my hand back down, glancing at my classmates. Whoa. I should have looked around earlier. There’s a guy with a bloody machete, a haggard woman lying face down on the floor, with four children underneath her. Two are dead, one with an arm shot off. I see the woman is actually dead too. There’s a man holding a picture of his wife. Three people are on fire. Five soldiers stand in the back, two have amputations. One has no eyes. They all have a vacant look, slumped shoulders, automatic weapons at their feet.

I manage to stifle a scream and slip out of the room, hoping to find a back door. Instead, I find God. She’s created a makeshift kitchen in the hallway and she’s cooking soup. Baking bread. Singing. She tosses me an apron. The man who owes me $50.00 is handing out apples. The woman who took my stamps is standing, confused and inadequate, near the end of a table filled with desserts.

“Help her,” God says. “She’s a little shaky today.”

I’m not thrilled with this idea, but I see few options. I muster up a small smile, pick up a mint brownie, and hand it to this pathetic woman. Her face transforms. Of course, it’s God. I should have known. She wolfs down the brownie, grabs my hands, and we swing dance while she yodels.

“Now, about those stamps,” she says, finally slowing down.

Yeah. About those stamps.