Grieving in the Old Blue Chair

IMG_4833 (3).JPG

Today, I sit in the light of the rising sun, rocking myself in the old blue chair–the one I loaned my mom before she died. It’s an unusually small recliner. For a few months, with planning and effort, she could get out of it by herself. But then she couldn’t. She fell and laid helpless on the institutionally-bland carpet for who knows how long? They found her tangled in the floor lamp, alive but not coherent, her body bruised from her efforts to get up. That was Mom. Never stop trying to get back up.

Dylan Thomas would have approved. Mom did not “go gentle” into any dark nights. In her stubborn way, she raged against the dying of the light. When faced with a challenge, she’d clamp her thin lips tight, stomp on the gas and shoot down the road, her ever-shrinking body taut with determination. She’d arrive in her shiny white Ford, peering at the road from just above the steering wheel. She never stayed long.

God has stopped by to reminisce. He’s wearing decades on his shoulders, and our whole upstairs has become quite crowded. “Oh God,” I say, shifting to make room, glad for the company. “Remember how she believed that when she got to heaven, she’d have to give Dad an account of how she managed the ranch after he died?” God nods, a little teary. He really admired my mom over the years. “And remember how much she gave away?” I added. God smiles with pride.

There’s not much else to say. Those last three days, death pulled her tenderly down through the layers of life until it was just her brain stem fighting for air. The Wasabi sting of emotion threatens my placid mood as I sit with the memory of her  insistent breath, sucked in and out, in and out, irregular and awful. Not a memory anyone needs to have.

After she fell out of this chair, she never sat in it again. I brought it home—slightly more worn. I’ll keep it a while.

“Tell her, will you?” I ask God.

“Tell her yourself,” God answers, and holds up a mirror Mom carried in her purse. She used it to reapply her lipstick and smooth her hair. God slips open the purple plastic cover, and I see the unadorned eyes and lips of eternity–of now and forever. I see the eyes of God, wide like a baby, and the lips of God, as full as Bob Marley’s, singing.

I fight to let God’s swaying body save me–to believe in mercy and compassion in this broken, greedy, hungry world. To use my breath for good, and welcome my demise with grace. I rock in the old blue chair, sun warming my bones, while God, as audacious and angular as ever, dips and weaves as he hammers out the beat on the steelpan drums.

God Comes Back

IMG_2838 (2)

After that short break, God came back rested, full of new ideas, in one of those rare moods where I knew I could say pretty much anything that came to mind. Over the years, I’ve liked these times a great deal. I’ve asked crazy questions or pushed God for proof of something or the other, often getting dramatic responses. Rooms filling with liquid orange. Inner voices warning me not to jump. Lightening. Severe clairvoyance. One time, the face of God went by, inches from the window of my van. He was driving a semi, loaded with cars. Thanks to the ice, all hell had broken loose on I90. God made eye contact and I knew my life had been handed back again.

Today, the topic on my mind was drag queens. A famous drag queen had made the statement that we’re all God in drag. This seems unlikely. No matter how dressed up I get, I know I’m not God, even though I’d like to be. But the other direction? In my experience, when God comes by, the drag queens sigh in envy.

“You sure look happy,” I said as an opener. God grinned and nodded. I continued. “So I’m assuming you had a good vacation.”

God acted like I’d said something very funny. He belly-laughed for a while and then said, “Vacation?”

“Yeah. Remember? Your break?”

“Oh, that,” God said. “That was all about you, chickadee. I never go anywhere.”

My defenses went up, anger flared. “Don’t call me chickadee,” I said. God can make me unbelievably mad sometimes.

“I’m not blaming you,” God said. “I totally understand your frustration. Yes, I took a break, and of course, I never left. I’m still in the Garden. You’re there with me. Your substance is mine. Mine is yours. It’s just that you have boundaries. And it turns out, I don’t. I’m God.”

I stuck my fingers in my ears, sang la-la-la-la-la, closed my eyes, and staggered out of view. From a cosmic perspective, I’m sure I looked ridiculous. A whirling dervish of denial. But as any alcoholic will happily tell you, denial is useless.

After a few minutes. God caught up and tapped me on the shoulder. She was wearing bright red heels. Her platinum blond hair was piled high, her face heavily made-up. She was oddly beautiful. Oddly safe. She wrapped me in the baby blue boa around her neck, slowed the music, and we swayed in the outrageous splendor of being together, moving exactly to the beat.

Charitable Giving

IMG_2809 (2)

I positioned my cold feet in the warm sunlight, determined to sit until the embers in the stove or the chickadees outside the window convinced me that anything matters. So far, it hasn’t worked. I’m in a wicked post-holiday mood. I just threw out three beautifully-rising loaves of bread after discovering that flax can indeed go rancid, and this is not good for you. I’d taken a little taste of the dough. It was unusually bitter, which led to the research, which led to the painful placement of the loaves in the compost bucket. I hate that things go rancid.

I want everything to stay whole and healthy, even in large quantities. I often cloak my hoarding tendencies under colorful claims of creativity and eventuality. But I know the truth about me. I’m a mixture of pioneer ancestors and an excessive culture. Like God, I see potential redemption in even the worst of the worst, and try to make use of everything. I hate letting go.

The chickadees are gone. Wild turkeys are pacing the perimeter of the garden, calculating whether flying over the tall fence will result in enough nourishment to justify the energy expenditure. They don’t know about the rancid flax-laden dough about to appear. This may sway their decision. I trust their digestive systems can make use of rancid flax, or they’ll know enough to turn up their pointy beaks and strut away.

“And you?” God says gently, speaking from deep within the pile of nearly-rotten wood I’m trying to burn up.

I pause to think of myself as a calculating turkey, pacing the outer edge of Eden. “No idea,” I answer. That kind of wisdom is a distant memory in the oldest part of my aging brain. But what I do know is that a great, rancid toxicity is blanketing the earth from massive accumulations of wealth. And I don’t know how to shake it off. Even as I scorn the greed of those who have too much, I wonder how I can get a little more. I hate this about myself.

I try my usual cure. “Give until it hurts, you selfish hypocrite,” I say in a nearby mirror.

God rushes toward me like a grandmother saving a child from a coiled rattlesnake.

“No!” she shouts, waving her arms. “No. Stop it. That kind of talk doesn’t help anyone.”

I jump back, startled. She throws a blanket over the mirror.

“Take a beer and sit among your possessions,” she says sternly. “Be in your body. Be in my body. Open your soul. And notice where it hurts, darling. Then, gently, give. But give until it heals. That’s all. Give until it heals.”

This is a complete impossibility. But that’s one of the things I like about God. She often pairs the impossible with dark beer.

 

Hunting

VID00169 (2)

God likes a big campfire when he’s out hunting in the fall, cavorting with the creative forces in the universe. “Smoke follows beauty,” he jokes, working his way to the upwind side. Back when I was innocent, I liked campfires too. Now I know too much. I want to impress upon God the need to minimize polluting recreational activities such as jet skis, snowmobiles, travel on airplanes, NASCAR, and fire, but it seems unlikely he’ll listen. I guess when you’re God, you can clean up after yourself with wind and rain, more assured of balance in the long haul than the average human.

And I’m not the average human anyway. I’m an angry worrywart. I hate the idea of the massive environmental “corrections” future generations will face, and the scarred up, battered little earth they’ll call home. I feel chronically guilty and uncertain. God has a slightly larger perspective. In fact, after toasting his third marshmallow, he asks a few of his extended selves to double-check the pressure on the subatomic particles to make sure no more big bangs occur until he’s ready.

Then he winks at me. “Guilt is a conversation, not a resting place.”

The wood he throws on the fire is from Belize—little pieces of hardwood he salvaged from decades of devastating logging practices. His cavalier attitude has me hopping mad. I grab his arm to stop him, but I’m off balance. I fall into the flames. He watches for a minute, then joins me. We disintegrate in the brilliant light, but it doesn’t hurt. God is the wood. God is the fire. God is the oxygen, depleted and rare. We burn to the ground. We burn into heaven. We’re ash, floating in the frigid air.

“Let me go,” I beg. “I don’t want to be this expansive. I can’t stand being this small.”

God ignores my pleas but his cosmic children come up from the ground, down from the clouds to repair my body. Living water flows in their veins. I drink. In silence, God offers me venison from his recent kill. It’s been seared perfectly black over his blazing holiness. With reluctant reverence, I eat.

“Go, now, sweetheart,” God says. “And take some fire. There’s plenty.”

“No,” I say, looking him straight in the eye. “I won’t.”

I plead for a different outcome. I remind him of the beauty in a single ladybug, and his regrets after the flood. He wavers. For a nanosecond, I see down into the sweet center where guilt is nothing and trying is everything. This is what I love about God. He wavers, and we have a chance to see.

Pieces

IMG_1936 (2)

Stirring a small white cup of thick gruel with arthritic brown hands, God glanced up at me and smiled. She was missing some teeth and her dark oily hair was mostly tucked under a tattered scarf. I knew she was going to offer me that cup, and I didn’t want to take it. Usually, God’s offers are nicer than that, and I still refuse them on a regular basis.

My eyes began to water from the strong spices in the air. I was certain whatever was in that cup would sear my throat and leave me begging for a crust of bread to calm the fire. Birds of prey circled overhead. The ominous light of pre-dawn settled on the hills as I tried to find a path that would take me safely away from this insistent old woman. I knew there was no such path, but still, I searched. What I found was a large troop of frantic fools that looked a lot like me. A pool of living mirrors, selfish and afraid.

“Well, shit,” I said. I rarely use that word, but there it was. I’d ambushed myself. With no pretense of gratitude, I took the cup from her steady hand and gulped down the terrifying liquid. It burned its way to my center, thick as blood.

Those who love me came with bread, broken and ready. I ate. Another harsh day had arrived, but I was nourished. I roared. I punched the air. I ran my hot red psyche into the nearest wall at full speed and shattered myself into jagged little pieces. Pretty little pieces. Useful little pieces. That’s the best I have to offer. Useful little pieces. And usually, by noon or so, I’m okay with that.

Infinity and beyond

IMG_1725 (2)

“God,” I said.  “Do you care if humans believe in you?” We were gazing out the filmy curtains in a motel in West Virginia. God was relaxed and amicable. I wasn’t. My physical being was tormented by lack of sleep, stiff joints, road food and irrefutable evidence that the world was in big, big trouble.

“What do you mean by ‘believe’?” he asked.

Oh great. God was in a rhetorical mood.

I fought the impulse to shout YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN and said instead, “I mean like feeling sure you exist.”

Exist is an odd word,” God said, stroking his chin like a retired philosophy professor. “I actually don’t exist in any sense of the word you can grasp. I just am. And to answer your question, yes and no. I don’t care for my sake. I’m perfectly sufficient unto myself. But for your sakes…”

His voice cracked. He looked away, smoothed his robes. “For your sakes…” He shook his head and took a couple deep breaths. “I wish I could be of help.” His longing was clear.

This scared me. I said, “Well, some rather large groups down here have formulas. If we believe a certain way, you’ll save us. And forgive us, and reward us in heaven, or something like that.”

God shrugged. “I know. Humans seem to need that. It’s basically okay with me, but they waste a lot of time judging, fussing, and worrying when they could just relax and live the Truth. And there’s not a lot of time to waste.”

I did double-take. This is how I feel—apocalyptic—but I didn’t want God feeling that way.

“What?” I said. “There’s eternity, right? You’re the beginning, the end, the middle–the forever, right?”

“Sure,” God said. “I’m infinite. But you’re linear. For now, you’ve got this chance to do good things, little by little. To get better, deeper, wiser, kinder. To figure it out. I’ve mostly cleared the way. Opportunities abound.”

“Ugh,” I said. “That’s so hard. I’d rather be infinite.”

“Oh, don’t I know it,” God said. Then he burst into laughter, slapping his thigh, screeching with glee. “There’s the problem, right there. What a truly bad idea. You, in your current condition, infinite.”

I laughed, too. Tentatively. God laughed harder. He could barely breathe. His eyes squeezed shut. The jagged linearity in the room softened, as infinity dribbled down God’s weathered cheeks. I touched my hand to the shimmer, hope against hope, but the seconds on my digital watch blinked relentlessly forward.

After the shooting

IMG_1902

In the morning, I say “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God,” and hold my hands on my heart and push inward. But I am not praying. God is very busy helping people who are still alive find ways to stay that way for a while. To cope. I don’t want to interrupt.

But suddenly, here she is, eating muffins, admiring my recent artwork.

“What in the world are you doing?” I ask. “Get back to the places you’re needed. I’m okay.”

“I know,” God said. “It’s the muffins. They’re delicious. And I love how you arranged those little rocks. I remember when that heart-shaped one surfaced eons ago. Good eyes.”

God settles into the outdated bent-wood rocking chair and helps herself to another muffin. I give her the last of my cold brew coffee, and sit. I’ve been a therapist long enough to know this is one of those times it’s better to wait.

Sure enough, the tears begin. I should’ve realized how bruised she’d be, and how drained. We throw a whole lot of shit at God. And we throw it hard and mean. I let her cry a while, offering my ugly collection of hankies, confessing my part in it all, and silently begging her to pull it together.

After a bit, she lifts her head. “I guess you’ve noticed some trends that don’t bode well for you all,” she says, sighing. “Violence isn’t new, just deadlier. And ignorance has gotten so damn popular. Almost no one tries to think anymore. And vengeful hatred is all the rage.”

I nod, miserable. God rocks rhythmically, sipping coffee, wiping her nose, staring out the window. The leaves have outdone themselves this year. Such brilliant declarations of transition and death. Soon, they’ll fall and become the elements they once were. Another generation will unfurl in the spring, lime green and innocent. This, of course, assumes intact roots. Food and water. Light. I close my eyes and imagine myself vivid magenta, gleaming gold, letting go. A transitory entity that prays and listens. A tattered shelter. A friend of God’s.

The chair is empty. The muffins, gone. And I cannot find the heart-shaped rock. I hope she took it with her.