Driftwood

Today, I examine the curves and contradictions of driftwood and stones rolled by the river while I sip small amounts of soothing beer and let ideas of God come and go as they will. Some stay longer than others. Some wake me up. Some put me to sleep. Some are a comfort; others are profoundly disturbing. Even when I utter prayers beyond words, I laugh at myself. I don’t ask for much. No, that’s a lie. I ask for everything.

Everything. Why not? Ask and ye shall receive, right? But here’s something I’ve noticed: Don’t ask and ye shall receive anyway. Or ask and ye get nothing ye asked for. So ye makes up ridiculous sayings like when God closes a door, she opens a window. What? A window? I’m too old to crawl through most windows. See why I laugh? Windows let in light and air. It’s nice to sit and look out a window. It is not nice to crawl through one. So if God has shut a door, maybe sit on the couch and appreciate the view.

Maybe invite God to sit with you. Maybe give God a chance to explain herself. She won’t, but that’s okay. Humans are ingenious inventors, projectors, and deniers. I have no doubt you can think up more clever sayings about God or about Not-God to offer the grieving family, to scold the misbehaver, to justify your choices, judge yourself or others, get even, or get ahead. It’s so easy. Just sit there and make things up, drawing from ancient writings, evangelists, humanists, feminists, misogynists, economists–whatever your sources, brew up an elixir, gird your loins, and… No. Wait. Touch the driftwood.

Wait. Take the fingers on your left hand, run them gently up and down the tender skin on your right arm, feel the tingle, and marvel. Marvel. Fill your lungs with air you cannot see, and marvel. Blink your eyes, wiggle your toes, taste the inside of your mouth, and marvel. Glance at God, smile sheepishly, and apologize for everything. Then regroup and ask for everything. Eternity. Driftwood. Stones shaped like broken hearts. Everything. God will hold the ladder as you crawl out the window. Try to laugh all the way to the ground. It will help you manage your terror and the enormous sadness you should never wish away.

The Words Live On

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This past week, Ram Dass died. He’d had a stroke in 1997, and his acceptance of that disabling event was inspiring. This morning as I read over quotes that capture his sensibilities, I feel envy. Don’t we all want to be a guru? An old soul? But I say to myself, “Choose your poison, choose your longings, choose your savior. But most importantly choose your words.” Ram Dass knew the power of choice and the power of words, especially after the stroke. Words are part of the way we build up or tear down. We can hurt each other with a simple twist of the tongue. We can speak vicious untruths.

One of the reasons I like God is that God lives so far beyond words. Sure, she stops by, and we chat in English (I am hopelessly monolingual), but sometimes she lifts me by the back of my neck and nestles me down in something indescribably warm and delicious. “What is this place?” I ask by lifting one eyebrow. She laughs.

“I call it forgiveness,” God says. “But you might think of it as gratitude. The place where the best ideas are born. I don’t know. Call it whatever you’d like. Use your words.”

I throw a holiday pillow at God. She’s put a Christmas stocking on her head and wrapped solar LED lights around her waist. “In the beginning was the Word,” she says, teasing, almost giddy. “Why do people ignore that? Word. Word. Word.” She then begins singing. “All you need is Love…da da da da da…All you need is Love. Love. Love is all you need.” She leans in, holding a golden microphone. In the glow, I feel old. Unshiny. Words are escaping me at ever accelerating rates. I want them back. I want fresh starts, clean sheets, no scars. And lots of fancy words. But God just shakes her booty and turns up the volume.

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be
It’s easy…Love is all you need.

“Lennon and McCartney.” She kisses her fingertips and takes a bow. “Brothers from another planet.” Again, envy. I want to be a brother from another planet. I want to be Ram Dass, Maya Angelo, Sir Paul, Lady Gaga, Nancy Pelosi, Mother Theresa, and Harriett Tubman. I want to matter. The glib assurances of salvation from a distant God, formulas and pat answers—I spit them out. I want to eat first fruits from the magic tree.

“Oh, no you don’t,” God says, suddenly quite serious.  “No, you absolutely do not want to do that. Why on God’s green earth do you think such things?”

“Because someone has to save us from ourselves,” I say. But I know that isn’t true. It’s already too late, and the saving has been neatly wrapped in the dying for longer than anyone but God can remember. God grins at me. “Been there, done that,” she says. “And to tell you the truth, sometimes I wonder if it was worth it.”

Now I’m the one who is suddenly serious. “Oh, it was, baby God,” I say, letting those words take my entire being. “It absolutely was.”

Mice

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‘Tis the season for the battle between humans seeking untainted cupboards and mice seeking warm, tasty accommodations. Humans have superior fire power. Mice have elastic bones. It’s a version of David and Goliath. And yes. Humans are Goliath. We are big, smart, and temporary. They are small, but they are many. We will eventually lose. But in the meantime the traps are set, ultrasonic sound devices are plugged in, and steel wool is stuffed tight in every conceivable nook and cranny.

Finding their bodies broken and contorted in the snapped traps is distressing, disgusting, and sad, but not as sad as finding their poop turds in our rice or oatmeal or my neatly folded towels. I don’t like war. I don’t like killing. But I draw the line at surrendering to rodents.

The previous owner of our home had given up. Frail and confused, she lived among the mice, littering her leftovers around the house, letting them have the run of the place. I suspect their offspring remember the halcyon days. The remnants of their reign are mostly cleaned and gone now, but just last month in the root cellar I found a long-necked bottle with a perfectly preserved skeleton. Decades ago, the mouse had squeezed itself in, dropped to the bottom, and belatedly discovered there was no way out.

“I remember that little fella,” God says, reading over my shoulder.

“Oh, hi,” I say, in a friendly voice. I wave my hand toward the easy chair. God settles in with a sigh and says, “Thanks. Do you mind if I put my feet up and take a quick nap?”

I shrug and nod, my face conveying fond approval. God’s eyes close. I consider the weight of omnipresence, momentarily glad I did not create the ever-evolving universe. I am not God.

Wind moves warm air across the snow, and an eagle flies by with a fish dangling from its beak. I think of a phrase from a long, sorrowful poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: nature red in tooth and claw… and the line Dorothy Day loved from The Brothers Karamazov: Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.

I have seen the way of a cat with a mouse. I have seen the way of an owl with a kitten. My entire being strives to accept the turning of the seasons, the transformations, the endings with unknowable beginnings, but I can’t quite get there. I am tender with grief.

God dozes while we sit warm in the risen sun. I’m everyone and no one. I’m alone, but I am together. I am the fish and the eagle. I am a mouse in a dark brown bottle. There is no escape, but I’m glad for the company.

Sometimes God is known as Eddy

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Sometimes God is known as Eddy, and he drives an older Oldsmobile. He dates an Asian lady who sells apples off her tree. Perfect crimson apples, cheap and crisp. Everyone admires their simplicity. The union of the holy and profane.

Sometimes God is known as Wonder. It’s lonely at the top, lonely on the edges, lonely in the alleys, lonely deep inside. But Wonder turns the tables and leaves a giant tip. Wonder drinks bad wine with relish and greets the coming storm. Wonder drops all pretense and bares its glistening soul.

Sometimes God is known as Bastard, parentage unknown. A conception so spectacular it must forever go unseen. Protested, but unseen. Tortured, but unseen. Orgasmic, but unseen. Left flailing in a dumpster, flushed in desperation, wrapped and suffocating in discarded plastic bags. So much blood. So much blood.

Sometimes God is known as Alpha, other times Omega. Still other times a word of praise will drop him to his knees. He has no knees. He has no wallet, has no reason, has no home and no idea. If you find him close to midnight, he’ll be sober. You’ll be drunk.

Sometimes God is known as Nothing. Sometimes known as Gone. Fallen through a fracture, inhaled as poison smoke, a dream that turns to nightmare, a promise come undone. Don’t pretend this isn’t true. The slaughter of the innocents is common, like falling off a horse. Falling off a horse.

Out of nowhere comes the rainbow, out of broken comes the whole. Sometimes God wears hyacinths and gains the upper hand. The fragrance overwhelms you and drops you to your knees. You do have knees. You have your reasons. You have wallets and ideas. Sometimes what you know is God. Sometimes, not.

Dismembering is easy with the ligaments of love, your muscles and your tendons giving way. But God braids these threads like water in her ever-flowing hair. The strands you think you’re made of are called Hyacinths. Or Eddy. And the only way you’ll ever make it home is come apart. Just come apart.

Seven Onions

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Today, I harvested the last seven onions, but the beets and carrots can wait in the dark autumn dirt a while. Frost only makes them sweeter. There’s a chill in the air. I wore my mother’s jacket. She died three days ago, against her will, but in the end, peaceful. That damn body betrayed her–the one she’d shoved into high gear every morning until it gave out. As I signed the papers, I knew she wanted that body burned to ash and flung into the wind–the same wind she knew as well as she knew the neighbors over the years–but I cried anyway.

I am in mourning. God has flitted in and out, respectful but adamant as I rail against her awful ways of doing things. The ways of God. The ways of God. What does that mean?

God is trying to be a soft barrier between me and despair. I prefer despair. God strokes my hair the same way I stroked Mom’s as she lay unconscious, her spirit moving slowly up the other side of the ravine between life and death. I push God’s hand away, angry and ashamed.

“Don’t do that,” I say.

“Okay,” God says. She tears up with me. “I loved her too, you know.”

I nod, reluctant. “I know. But you have a strange way of showing it.”

God nods. “The birds have started migrating,” she says. “I suspect another brutal winter is on the way.” I frown. The unstable shelter of the seasons is little comfort.

I look into the craggy face, the sad eyes, and realize that for God, this might be the hundred-millionth brutal winter. For God, everyone is dying, their bodies transforming, their warm, frightened souls flowing to where they will be known and welcomed. I want to know how. I want to know why. But God’s face is etched with a kind of wisdom I’m not ready for. I look away. Instead, I look to the hills. They are my oldest friends. I trust them. “Take care of her,” I tell them. “Make sure she finds her way.”