Windbreak

A crumpled pile of receipts rests on the table in front of me. And a beer. And a list of things to do. Outside, dawn light sparkles on the frosted frame of what might become a raised bed garden next spring, assuming spring arrives, and I can lift a shovel. A green wheel-barrel with a flat tire has blown over, hollyhock stalks bend and whip, and solar holiday lights that’ve twinkled for over a year still twinkle. The tool shed door has come unhinged in the screaming wind, brilliant red flashing helplessly back and forth. This view is not the one I will have when I become molecular, reconfigured, and nearly weightless, but I’m grateful for the shelter. It will do for now.

The troubles have been thinning God down again. His head looks too big for his skinny neck. He has no appetite for violence. The drug-induced haze of belief and disbelief, bad dreams, and short lives, twist around his frame like invasive weeds choking airways God had hoped would stay open. The assumption of permanence in a brutal, impermanent, world is just the kind of folly a hopeful God might fall for. I don’t want to make things worse, so I let God sit. And God lets me sit.

I wonder if the molecular structure of a Nazi or a billionaire is significantly different than God’s. Or mine. I wonder if the molecular structures of those whose actions have ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are similar to the molecular structures of those they’ve killed. I wonder if the wind will be able to tell the difference between strands of human humility and jagged fragments of human arrogance when it carries these remnants into the stratosphere. I suspect so. God rides this wind. God is this wind.

When we sniff the soft round head of a baby, don’t we realize we’re inhaling God? When we execute an inmate or take an officer down, the audacity is an accelerant for the fires lit by fear. The costs are horrific. I know. The receipts are scattered on the coffee table. God sometimes considers going back to the drawing board; he has lists and ideas. He has an app. He has a heart and bodies and a vision. His surnames are Evolution, Compassion. Charity. And Sacrifice. And no matter what he creates, who he marries, or which children he adopts, he’s not going to change those names. At least that much is permanent.

One of the reasons God and I drink a half-beer in the morning is that we dread the latest bad news here on this little earth. Ritual can be calming. All week, God’s been taunted, tortured, abused, executed, raped, starved, and burned alive; things done to feed cancerous egos in the names of various gods, all of which are vicious. All of which are dead. But whatever it is that God is, it is not dead. A word to the wise: Even when it’s howling, it’s best to befriend the wind.

The Great Communicator

child with gun (2)

“Let’s face it, God,” I said this morning, sleep deprived and stuffy with allergies. “You’re maybe the worst communicator ever.” God said nothing. I glanced across the back of my brain where bright-eyed children met my gaze more directly than God ever does. I usually don’t like children lingering at the edge of my consciousness, but today I welcomed them.

“Hello, Green-eyed Children,” I said. “Brown-eyed, Blue-eyed, Hazel-eyed, Black-eyed Peas. Hello, hello. How are you, eh? Futureless? Naked? Afraid?” The children were watchful. “Got an uphill battle, don’t you?” I continued. “Not much food on the table. No presents under any trees. No trees, actually. No soap. Well. Why are you here? Why did your mothers have sex? Where are your fathers? This is all your fault, you know. Your own fault.” The children moved closer together, sheltering each other. They’re accustomed to blame. Deprivation. Abuse.

I glanced at my expressionless God. “Say something,” I demanded. “Anything.” I needed to break the accusatory silence, but the silence was breaking me. “Some people think we have souls,” I continued, staring into empty space. “Receptacles where you could leave a message. Minds. Free will.” No reaction. No response. My mind returned to the children. I handed them a deck of tattered cards.

“Play,” I said. “Old Maid. Go Fish. Rummy.” They touched the cards, shy and curious. I pushed a box of Milky Ways toward them. “Eat,” I said. I handed them a jug of fake juice. “Drink,” I commanded.

The twisted charity nauseated me. I whirled, trying to locate the still-silent God. “You phony bag of wind. You know about leafy greens and educational toys. Most hymnals filled with praise to you cost more than a week of healthy meals. Who are they singing to? Who am I speaking to? Say something loud and lovely, something wise. Helpful. Anything. Just communicate, dammit.”

I saw a flash and heard a distant rumble. Was it thunder? The rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air? Was it God? Or the dull roar of an artificial nation sinking in the mire of itself? Actually, it was a truck, diesel engine roaring, lights flashing. The children looked hopeful for a minute, but then mystified as the drivers swung open the back and began handing them guns. Big guns, little guns, long guns, short guns–light-weight and loaded.

“This will be your best friend,” one of the drivers said as he rubbed the head of a tiny girl. “Just aim and shoot. The bad guys will fall down and be gone.”

“What’s a bad guy?” the child asked, as she examined the weapon with wide, iridescent eyes.

“God!” I yelled in utter disbelief. The child turned to me and repeated, “What’s a bad guy?” The gun, a semi-automatic, naturally swung my direction. I flinched, lowered myself to my knees, and raised my hands above my head. Her eyes deepened to holy purple, a luminescent acceptance of my surrender. She smiled like a beatific Madonna as her weapon turned to dust, and she slowly disappeared. I laid myself prostrate on the cool cement and waited. I knew she’d be back.

When I was a child

Sandstone

When I was a child, I wandered the hills seeking treasure, searching for diamonds– settling for flint or jasper. I also saved sick and abandoned animals or stood watch as life ebbed away and their eyes dulled into death. The funerals were elaborate, with grass-lined cardboard coffins and all sorts of prayers offered up. Magpies, sparrows, kittens, and lambs. I knew God then as a kindly grandfather who, like me, stood watch from the clouds that rested on the shoulders of the nearby foothills. His hills. His feet. His world.

But now, God and I have a more complicated relationship. The magnitude of the cosmos has impressed itself on me, and the minuscule mass of quivering molecules cloaked in my skin are slowing down. People are dying in fires and floods. Children are mangled and hungry. When they wander, they’re not looking for pretty rocks. They’re looking for food.

I raise my fist in God’s face, as if there is a God, as if there is a way. And God flinches. She is traumatized, bleeding, bruised…and regal. She is hungry, angry, scorched, and stubbornly vital. “You can’t scare me,” she says, after regaining her composure. “You can’t scare me.”

But in my heart, I know I can. And I’m sorry. I am so, so, sorry. God, I am so sorry. Universe, I am so sorry.

God puts her knife down. I throw my arms around her. The pettiness of my worries shames me. I promise to do better. To make donations. To live simply. To march. To express my indignation. I will reduce the number of hours I spend hating. Hating. Hating. But I can’t actually do this. I am weak. I have to ask for help.

“Um, God,” I begin. “I have a compost bucket for a heart.”

“I know,” she says. “Compost is good. It breaks down. Rest. Stay warm. Try to love people a little better.”

“I already do that,” I say, disappointed. I was looking for diamonds, not the common stuff of existence.

“Flint and jasper, petrified wood. Quartz, granite, even coal,” God says, and then adds, in a knowing voice, “Sandstone.”

And miraculously, I see it. Sandstone. With lichen growing, just the right colors of orange and green. Yellow and gold. So fragile. So irregular in its jagged perfection. So contrite. Diamonds are cold and hard, slicing deep wounds in the open hand of God. Sandstone yields and crumbles. I am sandstone, soon to become a granular part of this sweet and tiny earth. With help from my broken friend, I can choose the lower places. It makes me a little nervous, but if God can flinch and recover, so can I.