Thinning

When I finally realized that people are just pieces of newly broken stone tumbling downstream in the flow of time, I began to hope that I could be smoothed into something shiny and beautiful and then roll onto an exotic beach to glitter forever. But I see now that being shiny doesn’t last and I’m well on my way to dust.

God laughs and then sneezes. “See how powerful you’ll be?” She blows her nose and wipes her eyes. “Dust allergies are the worst.”

 I ignore her, grab the ash bucket and a few of the dirtier rugs, and step into the wind.

“Don’t be afraid,” she says, following me.

The wind dies down, and river nymphs skim lightly across the surface of clear mountain water, moving without resistance toward the salty sea.

“That’s not quite true,” God says. “Nothing on earth moves without resistance. But it’s less at higher elevations if you can handle the thinner air.”

I consider the lungs of the sherpas, the gills of the shark. I remember watching the eye of the lamb I held in my lap grow dull as life lifted itself away. And I remember flying.

My days are filled with gleaning from piles of flood debris. I yank out planks and bent fence posts, drag burnable wood to the stove, intriguing wood to my gallery, and have a plan to bury the rest.

“Your gallery?” God chuckles. “Um, which surface or shed qualifies for that label? I’d like a tour.”

“Well, it’s a splintery, infested, movable feast, mostly in my head, mostly benign, but occasionally, I use toxic glue or graffiti paint and the fumes are outrageous.”

“I think I can handle it.” God grins.

“Oh, I wouldn’t ask you to,” I say. “Someday, I’ll have it all cleaned up and nicely displayed. I’ll serve muffins and Earl Gray tea.”

“No, you won’t,” God says. “But that’s just fine. Now, let’s take a look, shall we?”

I shrug.

We spend the day considering toxicities and redemptions, the wonders of fungi, the process of fermentation, and the fantastical cottonwood stumps with twisted roots and embedded stones, now tipped skyward. She’s not bothered by the disarray and in fact, she’s intrigued with the idea of making rainbows out of curved sticks. Tonight, we’ll share a glass of rhubarb wine near the flame, and she can help me decide which broken branches are worth burning.

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.